Tag Archives: outdoors

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.

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Its time to play…

Play is an essential part of growing up. As kids we learn so much from the time that we spend playing; it has a kind of informality that appeals to children and can make a massive difference to their development. It fires the imagination, creative thinking and that sense of team work, without feeling like they are in a classroom. It’s also time for children to be children away from the adult world.

And yet in the last generation there has been a steep decline in natural play. Kids playing in the street or local park was once a common sight. No longer. The reason why this has happened so fast is down to a huge range of factors including the rise and rise of traffic and the temptations of screen time.

The new research out on the legacy from the Olympics and a lack of people taking part in sport is probably as much about kids not playing in their streets, whether football, cricket or tennis, as much as the cost of going to sports facilities. Think about where you grew up and the amount of time you spent playing with friends in your road and then fast-forward to now and the almost complete of kids playing out.

But things are beginning to change. There feels like a quiet play revolution is happening. Communities are fighting back. Parent are starting to see the importance of unstructured play in their kids lives.

The rise of forest schools, natural play trails and bucket lists of things to do has certainly helped. I remember chatting to a National Trust ranger who said that as soon as they advertised a den-building day the places sold out almost as fast as tickets for Glastonbury. At another Trust event in deepest Somerset kids from Taunton and Bridgewater spent the day chasing butterflies and racing snails, giving them an outlet for running about and having fun that has become restricted in many places.

And it’s not just happening in rural areas. Councils are looking at their attitudes to play and risk. People are coming together to close their streets so that the kids can play outside the front door. The city farm movement also plays an important role in giving children and families access to a little bit of the countryside in urban areas.

It will take time to see real change. But on play day 2015 there are grounds for some optimism. We can’t rest on our laurels and we’ll need to continue our hard work. But the momentum feels like its shifting and now is the time to start to grapple with some of the really big barriers such as traffic, making green spaces accessible and giving people the confidence to have a wild time. Every kid should have the right to play and as adults we have the duty to make that happen.

Reclaiming our natural words…

Words shape our history and our story. They provide the tools that allow us to create the narratives that define us.  Words are important because they give us the ability to capture the colour and scribble descriptions that connect us to the world that we inhabit.

And no where is this so important as the words that children learn as they grow up. That is why it really matters for the natural world that 50 words about nature and the countryside have disappeared from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Its something that needs to be reversed for the sake of our wild places and green spaces and for future generations.

At a time when the decline in the connection between kids and nature is well documented it doesn’t help children that they’re not able to discover more about the words that describe wildlife, the countryside, woodland and the coast. We need to do all we can to encourage children to see the importance of nature for their lives and words and phrases help equip them to do this.

In the last seven or eight years the Oxford Junior Dictionary has replaced many words that we took for granted such as catkins, conkers, otters and kingfishers with cut and paste and broadband.

As naturalist and writer Mark Cocker says: “Children need access to nature as never before in history. An Oxford Dictionary aimed at seven-year olds should go out of its way to help them.”

Yes technology has changed all of our lives beyond recognition. When some of the words disappeared from the dictionary back in 2007 smartphones and tablet computers didn’t exist and social media was in its infancy. In the last eight years there has been a digital revolution where technology has displaced alot of things in our lives and this is true of screen time taking over from wild time.

If nature is to stand a chance in an age of headlines about declines in the natural world its going to come from reconnecting kids to nature. Children are naturally drawn to wildlife and it can fire their imagination. But the absence of conkers from their dictionary, something that generations of kids have collected and played with, is a very sad state of affairs.

Our stories and memories are shaped by experiences that are captured in the words we write and speak. We need the diversity and beauty of the English language to give children the vocabulary needed to describe what they see and hear as they grow up.

That is why its so important that we support the campaign to get these words that are part of our DNA and enable us to describe the natural world back into the next edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Banishing the blues…

The 3rd Monday of January (the 19 January) is now officially known as Blue Monday: basically the most depressing day of the year.

The post Christmas glow has warn off, the bank balances need a boost and its two months till the clocks change and spring time arrives.

But fear not there are ways to counter feeling blue. Its all about making the most of the season and embracing the drama of winter and the gradual lengthening of the days.

So here’s my top five tips for banishing the blues and lifting the spirits as we await the arrival of spring:

1. Seeing stars – a cold clear night is perfect for looking up into the sky and seeing sparkling stars and the bright moon. You don’t need loads of fancy equipment and there are some really good stargazing app’s out there. Often the glow of streetlights in towns and cities can hinder stargazing but its still worth taking the time to look up; its an amazing experience and if you get hooked you can venture out into the countryside.

I started walking from a young age and haven't stopped.  It is such a great way to explore the place that you live.

I started walking from a young age and haven’t stopped. It is such a great way to explore the place that you live.

2. Walkies – for many going for walk is associated with a lot of kit and going on long walks through the countryside. But a walk around where you live is a great way to get to know your local neighbourhood, looking up at the buildings or finding green spaces. Walking helps stimulate the mind and is the right pace of exercise to bring real benefits. All you need to do is wrap up and go for a stroll – try starting with 20 or 30 minutes a day.

Birdsong can be all around all and its worth taking the time to tune in.

Birdsong can be all around all and its worth taking the time to tune in.

3. Tuning in – its amazing what you can hear if you block out the noise of daily life. Birds are starting to sing their merry tunes. Dawn is inching forward and the birds know it. The dusk chorus can also be pretty spectacular as the birds look toward the longer days. Birdsong is a real tonic to the winter blues. Listening to the wind blowing through the trees or enjoying a moment of silence in the countryside or a local park can be uplifting. You can find lots of information about bird spotting.

4. Wild time memories – if you’re struggling to keep up your New Year’s Resolution why not renew your vows and set up a wild memory bank. It could be a notebook or a tin where you scribble down all of the outdoors things that you do and then look back at them when you get to the end of 2015.

5. Drawing – I’ve really got into drawing recently. Not grand still life’s or wonderful landscapes. It could be a bowl of fruit or a favourite view. The act of sitting down with a piece of paper, a pencil and pens and taking the time to just draw or even doodle is a calming experience.

A Wild Time memory box…

By now some of the New Year’s Resolutions will have been broken but here is a suggestion that should keep you going during the year. Its good for you, is loads of fun and is free.

A Wild Time memory from my childhood on Dartmoor with my Dad

A Wild Time memory from my childhood on Dartmoor with my Dad

If like me you get to the end of a year and struggle to remember everything you’ve done outdoors, unless you keep a diary or have a photographic memory, I have a solution for you.

The Wild Time memory box. All you need is an old ice cream container or jam jar. Cut up some strips of paper and every time that you come back from time outdoors write down some of the things that you did.

Its kind of simple really and is a great way to keep a note of all of those wild experiences that you had. It could be just for you or for a family.

I experimented with one a couple of years back and it was great to look at the contents of the box and be instantly transported back to the places that you’d been. It doesn’t just have to contain stuff from holidays or big days out. You can include things from everyday experiences – in a local park playing tag or exploring some local woods and hugging or patting a tree.

The act of writing things down (and not taping away on a computer or tablet) seems to add something to the recording of activities and experiences. It could be some sort of phenological notes (the first of the season, when things come into flower, spotting the first swift etc) or doing something that creates a wow moment. And you can let your creative spirit flow with little drawings, by you or the kids, or the odd photo.

My daughter walking through Kensington Meadows in Bath looking for frosty leaves

My daughter walking through Kensington Meadows in Bath looking for frosty leaves

And as the memory box fills up you could start to set yourself monthly or weekly challenges. And why not get your friends and family involved sharing your experiences when you meet or via social media challenges.

Throughout our lives we have a blend of experiences that create a cocktail of memories that will last a lifetime. We’ll remember some things very clearly while others fade away. A Wild Time memory box is a great way to keep them in your consciousness and then when you get to end of the year you can write them down in a notebook or pick the favourites from the year (and you can look at them when ever you want).

Its something that I’ll be doing with the kids in 2015. Yes the spontaneous nature of digital photography means its easy to capture things you see and do on camera. But the act of physically writing something down connects you in a rich way, thinking of the words or images to capture an experience or a place.

Photos, memories and childhood

I was tidying out a cupboard when I came across a carrier bag full of stuff. I stopped what I was doing and began going through its contents. It turned out to be a bag full of memories with some photos I’d never seen.

Two pictures stood out for me. One with my Mum and me looking back, as we walked down a country lane. The second was a picture of me and my Dad on Dartmoor.

I’d never seen these pictures before but they transformed me back to my childhood. A click of a shutter (these were the days of film long before digital) captured on camera a moment in time that 30 years on stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about the amazing power of photography and the role of the outdoors in my childhood.

Photography shapes the way that we see the past. Long after the event a picture reminds us of a time long forgotten or a cherished moment in our lives. They help us tap deep into our minds to find those memories from years gone by.

Mum and me wandering along a country lane

Mum and me wandering along a country lane

Seeing the picture of me and Mum looking back to Dad as he takes the picture has unlocked a vivid memory of Sunday walks in the country. We’d often set off for a stroll, what-ever the weather. In this picture you can see that it’s been raining and looks fairly damp. We look really contented, even rosy cheeked; showing the power of the countryside and fresh air to lift the spirits. That puddle in the distance looks pretty tempting to me and you can get a sense of the journey ahead as the path meanders in to the distance. I keep looking at this picture and it makes me smile. Job done!

Standing in front of Haytor on Dartmoor with Dad

Standing in front of Haytor on Dartmoor with Dad

The picture of Dad and me is taken on Dartmoor with Haytor in background. As a kid I spent many happy an hour on the moors climbing up to the tors, having breakfast in a sheltered spot or looking out for the ponies roaming the unforgiving countryside. This snapshot of time shows that the outdoors is in my DNA. I’ve always had a love of the countryside and nature which has grown in recent years but this small colour photo shows that it’s been a constant in my life. In the picture you can see that the weather is fairly typical for Dartmoor with the wind wiping across our faces but we look happy and ready to battle the elements.

For me these two pictures neatly sum-up the importance of the outdoors to childhood. You get a real sense of adventure whether in one of the national parks or walking down a country lane near to where you live. You can feel the full force of the elements and create those snapshots in time that can fuel a lifetime of memories.

And I look to my life now, taking my kids out into the countryside on mini-adventures, safe in the knowledge that they’ll look back on their childhood as fondly as I do now these pictures have come to light.

Swapping screen time for real time

Three separate moments in the last week have led me to think about the all-conquering nature of ‘screen time’ and why it matters.

The first was a talk by the brilliant David Bond, who plays a starring role in the film ‘Project Wild Thing’ (which premieres in June) looking at why kids have lost touch with nature, does this matter ( short answer is ‘yes’) and how you go about reconnecting kids and nature. One of the big issues is the amount of time kids spend staring at screens.

The second was during a lunch with a friend when he said that friends of his son, who is ten, were getting iPads for Christmas.

The third was when the Comedian Miranda Hart expressed concern about the impact of screen time (spending most of their time glued to smartphones) on the next generations ability to be creative and just day dream.

For me there is a common thread. For large chunks of our life we’re ‘plugged in’ always checking our emails, seeing what the latest post is on Facebook or keeping an eye on a bargain on eBay.

Screen time has begun to take up large chunks of our day. I hold my hand up as I spend too much time looking at my smartphone or sat glued to a laptop. Even writing this blog I’m looking at a tiny screen while my kids play nearby.

And though the virtual world has given us loads of benefits we should perhaps begin to ration our screen time for our own benefit. We should rediscover the joy of face to face conversation, reading a good book or spending time in the outdoors. Perhaps now is the time to write a short manifesto about this.

At work most of us spend the vast majority of our day staring at a screen. Lets try and break free; talk to someone in the office instead of emailing or give someone a call. This real time can help you in the creativity department.

Technology has enriched and improved our lives beyond recognition. But we need to get the balance right otherwise screens of all sizes will come to dominate our lives, taking over from
the moments that build a life time of memories.