For years Hollywood has been churning out high budget movies that depict the fictional near wipe out of the human race, either by Aliens/Zombies or natural events. Sometimes these films are scary and sometimes just damn right comical, but for me the least comical thing and by far the scariest thing is as follows…
Picture the scene, all the old city, towns and dwellings are lost to the disaster, it is as it was in the beginning, seas, forests and desert. A group of survivors walk through a forest; they are hungry tired and cold. They are surrounded by bushes and trees that all bare food, but without the knowledge and skills to climb trees, identify the right fruit and fungi and light a fire to cook a meal, their survival will most definitely be short lived.
Yes, this may be a little bit far fetched and pushing it a rather, but none the less these are important skills, maybe not for everyday life, but important all the same. Understanding nature is the key to man’s survival on this planet, whether it is to forecast the melting of polar icecaps or the route a tornado might take. So before he can study these things, as a child he needs to kneel down in mud and watch a slug crawling along a brown leaf on wet day in autumn or watch a misty spring sunrise from the slightly opened zip of a sleeping bag to create interest in the natural world.
As time goes by and the years roll on, we are changing the way our children act and react. The media report more and more murders and violence on a daily basis. So we react by keeping the leash shorter, not letting them out of our sight and giving them a mobile phone and a games console. By doing this we are letting our children, our grandchildren and great grandchildren down.
There are fewer heart warming moments in a parent’s life than seeing a muddy and weather beaten child drift off to sleep after a day in the outdoors with a collection of insects or leaves by the backdoor.
As children, myself and friends would roam the woods and fields of our area, swim in rivers and stay out after dark. Sometimes against out parent’s wishes, or at the very least with the words “Be careful!” shouted down the road as we left.
Fast forward 30 years and during a talk before a swimming lesson I attended at a local swimming pool, a group of 7-9 year olds were asked what the differences were between swimming in a river/lake and a swimming pool, one child answered “The river hasn’t been risk assessed” this answer is very sad on so many levels, but it is not the fault of the child, not really even the fault of the parent, but most definitely the fault of a society that has seen the word risk out-weigh the word fun.
The amount of traffic on the road grows year by year and is obviously a real risk to our children’s safety, but stopping our kids from crossing a busy road is not the answer, teaching them to cross it correctly is.
As children growing up in the 1970’s we taught ourselves the skills to asses risk as we went. A lot of the time we got it wrong, and ended up with cuts, scratches and on the occasion broken limbs. But these are called life lessons, and to grow, evolve and prosper we need such lessons. The inquisitive minds and the freedom to roam as kids are most definitely the seeds of many a famous explorer’s finest hour.
As technology has grown to be more and more a part of our lives, it has also had a huge impact on the amount of time kids spend in the outdoors. These days it is not uncommon after the purchase of the latest XBOX or Playstation game, kids spending nearly every hour of the weekend with a controller in their hand. One of the most ironic things about this, is it often spent in the virtual reality world of a wood, field, mountain, snowboard or bike!….
Don’t get me wrong, there is a huge part for Ipads, PC’S and televisions in the lives of our young, as well as entertainment technology can be used as a great tool for knowledge seeking. I guess the first point of information sourcing and collecting for the next expedition by the modern day adventurer is Google. It’s up to us as parents to get the balance right though.
Studies show time and time again that letting children explore their outdoor surroundings increases their well-being and health. Obesity and depression are just two of the problems on the rise in children say experts, and this is linked in most cases to the lack of both physical and mental exercise in the natural world.
- British kids have never been more disconnected from the natural world. The roaming distance that children play from their home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years with time spent playing outside down 50% in just one generation. Source Projectwildthing
- 21% of today’s kids regularly play outside, compared with 71% of their parents.
- Only one in five (21%) of children aged eight to twelve years old having a connection with nature.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are groups and organisations whose aim it is to reverse these depressing statistics.
The Wild Network is a collaboration of organisations in the UK committed to tackling the issues of re-connecting kids with nature.
Traditional groups like the Baden Powell Scouting Association the GirlGuiding group the National Trusts Kids Council and Duke Of Edinburgh awards are still leading the way in keeping young minds and bodies active within the outdoors.
There are also a growing number of websites that deliver great advice and fun things to do with your children and families as a whole. Get Out With The Kids , Little Trekkers and Do Try This At Home to name but three.
So in conclusion, my advice to parents who are reading this and wondering how to get their kids to enjoy the outdoors again, take a moment to cast your mind back to what YOU would be doing at the weekend as a child growing up. Remove and hide the batteries from the games console and get out there with them. If the horse chestnut trees are laden with conkers, let them throw a stick up and knock some off, if the ground is covered in deep snow, build an igloo, but remember if the stick falls on their head or the igloo roof falls in, the next time they try, they will adjust their aim or change the design and eventually they will be rewarded with the satisfaction of success. NO WRITTEN RISK ASSESMENT NEEDED!
Karl Wait is a father, a husband and a big kid at heart who still wants to build dens and bury himself in leaves. He regularly sets out on mini adventures with his daughter and also spends time with other kids installing his strong beliefs through his role as a Cub leader and a DofE leader.
As well as these, he is one of a group of like minded people setting up a brand new outdoor based festival in his local town aimed at getting both kids AND adults into the outdoors. www.wooleroutdoorweek.com, Website – www.karlwait.com, His daughters blog – www.daisywaitsblog.blogspot.co.uk