Tag Archives: natural childhood

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!

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Rediscovering the tree climbing bug

I was never a great tree climber as a kid. I always had a go but couldn’t say I went out looking for trees to climb. And now for the first time in a long time the urge to climb has come back from nowhere – my first conquest a beautiful old apple tree laiden with apples.

Some people have a natural gift for scampering up trunks and high up in to the branches. My six-year old daughter has just got the bug, always looking for the next challenge and gaining in confidence with each tree climbed.

Its kind of a natural instinct to want to climb and explore knarled old trees or trees with tempting branches at a low level. For generations its been a rite of passage: a way to express a sense of independence and tap into that deep human need for adventure.

The thrill of the climb and a sense of danger as you ascend is something that stays with you for a life time. Its one of those rich experiences which become engrained on your memory.

As you climb upwards, feeling your way and testing the strength of the branches, you enter the hidden and beautiful world of trees. The structures of trees amaze and captivate, a world of communities of nature with insects, moss and lichen among very complex branch structures.
Its the place that birds call home: a base for these wonders of nature that create such intense soundscapes for the anthems of our lives.

I tentatively put one foot on to the tree as the trunk split in two near to ground level. Slowly I found my footing and climbed into the centre of the tree. Suddenly the world became very small: focused on this sturdy and majestic apple tree, with me at its heart. Its branches were heavy with cooking apples. Dried out and crumbly moss clung to the branches full of lichens.

I was hidden from the world’s gaze, in my own private universe. All of a sudden I knew why trees mean so much to us. It felt good to have taken the unplanned plunge and climbed my first tree since I was a kid. Will I keep climbing? Who knows, being spontaneous is part of the thrill of being in nature, doing things on instinct.