Tag Archives: kids and nature

Swallows and Amazons 2.0

Seeing all of the posters promoting the new ‘Swallows and Amazons’ film made me think how much the ability of children to roam free will have changed since the book was published in 1930.

December 023

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Barely a week goes by without new stats being published about kids spending less time outdoors than ever before and the impact that this will have on their well-being and the skills needed for life. If Arthur Ransome were alive today would his equivalent book be all about a group of kids marooned in their bedroom playing minecraft for weeks on end with little or no connection with the outside world.

You could argue that Ransome’s vision of a ideal summer spent mucking about on an island in a beautiful lake in Cumbria is a Utopian vision that never really existed. However, reams of research shows that children’s connection with the natural world and spent time outdoors has diminished drastically in the last couple of generations.

I spent alot of time outdoors when growing up. Every time I went out to play my Mum would ask me to make sure that I was home by tea time. I disappeared off into the countryside and had amazing adventures with my friends. This was only in the 1980s and yet it feels very different today. There are a plethora of barriers that have led to children becoming almost invisible playing outdoors or in local parks.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Why shouldn’t every child have a right to the kinds of experience that the children in Swallows and Amazons had, where ever they live in the UK, and that millions of Britons had when they were growing up? I don’t want to be part of the last really free-range generation.

The brilliant thing is that once kids get a sniff of the outdoors they’re hooked. Children have that deeply natural sense of adventure and thirst for learning (something that seems to be educated out of many people). The boom of the Forest School movement and the rise of campaign’s by charities such as the National Trust and Wildlife Trust is making a difference. Places on den-building days or adventure courses will often sell-out as quickly as tickets for Glastonbury.

I know from my two children that they love nothing better than wandering through a wood, playing in a stream or hunting for crabs in a rock pool. We need to unleash that inner wild child in every kid and let them discover the simple joy of being outside.

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Its time to save our butterflies

The world of butterflies in the UK has changed pretty drastically in my life time and not for the better.

adonis blue swellshill rodborough common 20 8 13 matthew oates

Adonis blue sparkle on a late summers day

Over the last 40 years 75% of resident and migratory species of butterflies have declined, according to a new report by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The abundance of these symbols of summer must have been a wonderful sight when I was born in the 1970s.

It really saddens me to think of this loss and what it says about the state of the natural environment. Finding places full of butterflies is becoming a rarity and when you do experience it, as I did on the Isle of Wight in September, it is a mind-blowing experience.

The cause of this dramatic fall in butterfly numbers is clear: an intensification of farming, habitat loss and a changing climate.

Butterflies are brilliant indicators of what is happening to the countryside and coast. And its not looking great.

I don’t want to be part of the generation who lets species of butterfly become extinct in this country. To see less of these little beauties on the wing from spring to autumn was be a massive loss for our quality of life in the UK.

Collard Hill

Things can change for the better as shown at Collard Hill in Somerset where the Large Blue was successfully re-introduced.

My kids love butterflies. Like so many children they are a great way into nature: watching them flutter by or landing on a flower. I remember the squeal of delight from my daughter when one landed on her hand when we were on holiday last year. And we’ll often see them fluttering across our garden on a sund-drenched day.

There is a need for all of us to shake off the complacency about nature. We can and must do something to reverse the fortunes of butterflies. If they continue to decline other species will suffer a similar fate.

Doing more to make our gardens more wildlife friendly and thinking about taking a landscape approach to nature conservation can help.

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they miss the beauty and wonder of living with butterflies. It would make the world a poorer place and if we all do our bit now then things can change for the better but we must act before its too late.

wild time 365

As the length of daylight hours begin to shorten and the weather starts to turn, for some parents the struggle to get their kids outdoors becomes one battle too many. The lure of cosy days in, watching films or playing on the X-box becomes very strong for lots of children.

December 023

Kids need their nature time, what ever time of year it is, and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

 

When it’s wet, increasingly cold and dark it might feel that the great outdoors isn’t that tempting. Getting soaked through on a walk in the countryside or the prospect of washing basket full of dirty laundry piling up at home can feel a bit too much.

And yet the outdoors is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Yes the nature of our landscapes can look very different but the winter months can throw up a real sense of adventure and excitement. Living on an island in the Atlantic means that we should be use the fickleness of the weather. Nature does grind to a half as the clocks change and we head towards winter.

It’s so important that if we are to live in a country where every child is wild, that they have an experience of nature all year round and not just on the sunny days. There is something exciting about wrapping up, putting  on you boots, filling the flask with hot chocolate and setting off for a day at the coast or countryside. The natural wildness of windswept days, crashing waves and tumbling leaves makes you feel alive.

Jumping in puddles is one of the memories that many of us will have as kids. Those carefree moments of running up, jumping and hitting the water and soaking your parents; followed by laughter and the desire to do it time and time again is what wild time is all about.

For kids to flourish and grow there is a real sense of avoiding a sanitised world where the cold, wet and windy is absent from their every day lives. Feeling the full force of elements will often lead to the days that children will remember more than any other as they grow up.

Living in a country where every child is wild

I grew up as a pretty free-range child. Like most of my friends I’d spend as much time outdoors as possible, whether on my bike or having a kick about in the local park. When I was growing up I wouldn’t say that I was deeply engaged with nature but was totally aware of it and it was the backdrop to my life.

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

Once upon a time this would have been the norm but in pretty much one generation things have changed pretty radically. It was when working on the National Trust’s seminal Natural Childhood report, published in spring 2012, that the stark evidence of children losing touch with nature became all too clear. The statistical and anecdotal evidence pointed to a real problem. Kids were become more sedentary, screen time was on the rise and there were lots of barriers to children spending time in the outdoors – traffic, health and safety, stranger danger.

It felt as though childhood was changing. Children need freedom to roam, to explore, to play and to let their imagination run wild. Limiting this is bad for their health and well-being and detrimental to their personal development. The outdoors is where we build our social skills and the confidence to take on the challenges that life throws at us. Sometimes it feels as though, as a society, we’re becoming less tolerant of children having fun.

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

That is why the launch of #everychildwild by the Wildlife Trusts plus the ongoing work of the Wild Network around the concept of #wildtime is so important. We need to celebrate our own personal love of nature and encourage schools, parents and society to accept muddy knees, kids climbing trees and think about what the restrictions of too many cars on our streets and the loss of green spaces mean for children in primary and junior schools means.

One of life’s real pleasures for me is spending time with my two kids in the outdoors. Splashing in the puddles on a wet and windy day in a park, trying to catch the leaves as they tumble out of the tree or standing rooted to the spot as a sparrowhawk hovers gracefully in the sky looking for lunch.

I want my two kids to have the opportunities to explore and discover that I had. And I can clearly see the sense of wonder and joy that they get from looking for tadpoles in a pond or collecting apples from a tree on a sunny autumn day. When my daughter set up her own nature club at school it became an instant hit with her class-mates.

There is a danger, however, that a technology dominated childhood with a plethora of educational targets and tests takes the childhood out of our children and forces them to grow up too fast. That is why we need to make nature part of all children’s lives and make it easy for them to discover the joy of the natural world. I want to live in a country where every child is wild!

Made in Britain: a den-building revolution

Barely a week, and sometimes a day, goes past, without a new report about children in the UK losing touch with the natural world.

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Despite the best efforts of a lot of people it seems as though the long-term trend isn’t looking good. This could be a generation of children that has little or no connection with the natural world – something that feels shocking to say as I write.

The spontaneity of playing outdoors for hour after hour has diminished pretty dramatically in no time at all. When was the last time that you saw kids playing out in the street where you live (too many cars) or a local green patch (what are they up too?)?

And yet there is I detect a glimmer of hope on the horizon. There is a very British revolution happening: people quietly going about their business, making some bold changes. No big bang, more incremental change but tapping into an apparently dormant and untapped demand for more nature time among children and families. Think about the brilliant Forest School movement and how they have become the norm for many schools with spin off’s for holidays.

Without these interventions any concept of having a wild time outdoors might pass this generation of children completely by.

People might bemoan the fact of organised events but if it sparks that interest which then cascades into family life, it is a positive step forward. Remember that barely one in five children have any sort of deep connection with the natural world and outdoor play and until the next RSPB survey we don’t know where that figure is heading – it could be north or south.

Last summer I spent a day at the beautiful Fyne Court in Somerset – helping out with Wild Wednesday. My impressions from those few hours in the sunshine have been deeply ingrained in my memory: kids fanning out across a south facing slope looking for butterflies and children racing snails. Yes it’s organised but there is no doubt in my mind this day was helping to create a sense of nature as fun and something exciting. A National Trust ranger also told me that when they advertise den-building days the phone rings off the hook a la Glastonbury festival on the day that tickets go on sale.

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little nature trail around Bath City Farm keeps them going

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

At my local city farm in Bath they have a fantastic one-mile nature trail with plenty of things to keep kids interested and they’ve recently added a little woodland play area. It’s very simple and it works drawing kids out into the green spaces where their imaginations can run wild; it gives them the confidence to try new things and have that real sense of adventure.

And never underestimate the power of children getting their friends into nature. My eight year-old daughter set up a wildlife club for her class-mates – complete with little membership cards. Demand was huge and they gather every week to talk about things that they have seen.

Organisations, large and small, the usual and unusual suspects are rolling up their sleeves and making change happen – and the amazing Wild Network is the personification of this, bringing people together to create real change.

Something is stirring across the UK, in schools, local communities and the conservation movement that gives me hope. The den-building revolution has begun and the road to reconnection with nature is paved with optimism.

Wild things setting up wildlife clubs

At the weekend I asked my daughter how her wildlife club at school was doing. ‘Fine’ she said. All available 16 spots on this little club had been filled and demand was high.

Back at the start of term in early January I came home to find her working on the creation of an A3 poster and membership cards for everyone in a new wildlife club that she wanted to set up at school. This act of spontaneity made me smile and feel really proud. I just love it when kids use their vivid imagination to create something so powerful and so inspiring without any prompting from parents or teachers.

She talked me through the poster – the rules, the sign up list and what they’d be doing – which was beautifully illustrated (she loves drawing birds, butterflies and flowers). The membership cards, lovingly cut out, even had a password (a well-known beetle spelt backwards). When everything had been finished she asked her teacher if she could pop the poster on the door of the classroom, encouraging her school friends to sign up. The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’ and its now become part of school life for her friends.

Interest was brisk and the wildlife club now meets regularly in the playground at break time or lunch time to discuss what wildlife they’ve seen or facts that they have learnt about the natural world. Most of the discussion seems to be about what they have seen at home, in the park or on the route to school; keeping it local and encouraging them to explore where they live.

For me this shows that kids have a natural fascination with nature. It doesn’t take much to get them interested and there is something really appealing to them about wildlife; and the great thing is that it doesn’t have to be something really rare, it could be a wood lice, common garden bird or the moss on a tree.

I think that the real strength of this little wildlife club is that it has been designed by a child for children. It’s not some top-down, over thought out proposition but something that is really simple and has that appeal of coming from their peer group. All it took was the idea in the first place, some plain white paper, lots of creativity and some colouring pens.

Nature’s guide

A couple of years ago I came across an old well thumbed copy of the Observer book of wild flowers. In the digital age its easy to forget the power and wonder of a tactile thing such a book.

As a kid I would spend hours looking in books to find out more about the world around me. One of my daughter’s favourite books, which is just about holding together, is a children’s encyclopedia. Its something she goes back to time and time again.

Recently we were sent a 1973 copy of booklet called ‘Spotter in the country’. It might look a little bit dated now but the words that jump out of the pages are all about inspiration, encouraging observations of nature and importantly having fun. Something which can be easily overlooked is that spending time in the natural world is one big adventure with lots of fun and constantly discovering new things.

These simple spotters guides have played such an important part in connecting generations of kids to the natural world. One of our naturalists at work came in with copies of a ladybird guides to the four seasons in four beautifully illustrated books. They told a wonderful story of nature through the seasons with barely a fact in sight. They’ll be out of print now but it feels as though it’s time for a revival.

And don’t forget that these are the books that have inspired the wonderful group of writers penning such fantastic poetry and prose about nature.

The premise of these often pocket sized books was about presenting information simply. Taking these books on days out or flicking through the pages to identify a plant or butterfly was all part of the experience of learning about wildlife. The words used were accessible and they took you on a journey of learning without realising it.

Turn on a computer or visit a local bookshop and the choice of guides to nature is huge. There is a wonderful array of information at our finger tips but kids connection with nature has been in decline for the last 30 years.
I’m worried about the desire to have too much information and too many facts. What is needed is to tell a story about nature, tapping into that innate sense of storytelling which is such a fundamental part of being human. Kids need to be drawn into nature and they have a natural fascination with nature that needs to be unleashed by creating a story related to the wildlife that they see every day.

Wouldn’t it be great if every seven year old in the UK got a copy of a wildlife spotters guide, helping them to identify some common species of trees, plants, birds, insects and mammals.

It would be a story of things they might easily see and a first step into the wonderful world of wildlife, encouraging them to stop, look and listen; and perhaps most importantly talk to their friends about it.

Kids at this age are like sponges, absorbing a huge array of information and I reckon that there would be a real sense of excitement finding out about the trees in a local park or the butterflies in their garden.