Sunday, 19 April 2015

50 Things to do Before You're 11¾: Getting Kids Back Into Nature, National Trust Style

Have you ever camped in the wild? Built a raft? Canoed down a river?

Many of us have fond memories of our childhoods, and I'm willing to bet that many of those memories involve nature in some way. Kids are naturally drawn to animals, rivers and mud - we are all born ready to learn as much as we can about our natural environment, so that we can learn how our world works (and perhaps how to survive).


Sadly, kids these days spend more time in front of TVs than in front of campfires - I saw Mark Sears from The Wild Network speak recently, and he told his audience that children today only spend 3% of their lives playing outdoors. Most time is spent sleeping, at school, or in front of a screen of some kind.



The National Trust has a wonderful thing going on at the moment, called 50 Things to do Before You're 11¾. The idea is to inspire kids to be more active in nature, after all, if future generations aren't excited and inspired by the natural world, why would they care what happens to the environment? On top of that, spending time in nature is key for kids' development. 


The list contains great ideas for kids, such as climbing a tree, tracking wild animals, playing conkers - as well as guides for parents on how to stay safe while chaperoning these activities. My first thought on seeing the list was to reflect on how many of the 50 I had already done. Growing up in North Wales, surrounded by rivers, fields and trees, I can say that I have probably done almost everything on that list at some point. However, consider these saddening findings from a 2011 study by Savlon and Play England:


 -42 per cent of children report they have never made a daisy chain
- 32 per cent have never climbed a tree
- A quarter of children today have never had the simple pleasure of rolling down a hill
- 47 per cent of adults built dens every week as a child, yet 29 per cent of today's children say they have never built a den at all
- A third of children have never played hopscotch
- One in ten children have never ridden a bike 


Thinking back to my Huckleberry Finn-like childhood, or my idealised memories of it, at least, this seems so tragic! But why are kids missing out on these vital parts of childhood? Back in Project Wild Thing, David Bond explored some of the reasons why nature might have lost its allure. He set out worried that children were distracted by tablets and games, that nature was not "sexy" any more. However, he found that most kids loved nature given the chance - it was parents who were afraid of letting their children play outside. It's not that simple, of course - parents are sometimes too busy to chaperone play, they're bombarded by paedo-fear, and access to safe green space is declining. One mild-mannered young boy in the documentary explained that he and his friends would get ASBOs if they dared to play football outside their block of flats. 


So, have you had a look at the list yet? Are there any on there that you haven't done yet, regardless of your age? Even if you completed them all as a child, are there any on there that you might enjoy doing again now?


Personally, I love the thought of star gazing or camping out in the wild, and I'm planning to bring more little adventures like that into my life in the coming months. It's important not to let adult life take away the magic that a clear night sky or a colourful butterfly can bring... and of course, this isn't just about excitement, adventure, play and fun - it's about reconnecting with the natural world, which is something we could all benefit from. 




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