Seriously. Would you let your child kiss a frog?

When was the last time your child climbed a tree. I mean actually climbed a tree, rather than the metaphorical “they were out climbing trees” that I’ve heard many parent friends talk about, when they’d never let their offspring touch a 2 foot shrub, let alone climb a real tree?

Have they grown anything? Not just planted it, and then moved on to the next thing, but actually nourished, watered, tended it until something sprouted that they could pluck or eat?

20131031 Nature With WifiThere’s a movement afoot to give kids more of the freest activity going: time out in nature. Last Friday, the discussion on BBC London in the morning was about this initiative, The Wild Network, which aims to give kids half an hour less screen time, and more time in nature.

Speaking on the show to Vanessa Feltz that morning, though, she seemed more intrigued by our trip to Latin America with our four kids and wanted to focus on that. I can understand that – it was one heck of an adventure. But nature played a huge role in that trip. For instance:

  • We all (including our two and a half year old) volunteered in a rainforest in Costa Rica. This was in the Children’s Rainforest near Monteverde. The beauty is that this is a rainforest that is almost unique as it is expanding again, thanks in no small part to fundraising efforts of schools in over 50 countries. The sad thing is that we were the only family they’d ever had volunteering. Individuals, yes. Families, no.

Sweeping Rainforests

  • We swam in the ocean in the Galapagos. My eldest children’s first experiences of snorkeling was playing hide and seek with sea lions.
  • We learned to surf. Again in Costa Rica (that place has SO much to offer).
  • We touched glaciers. We saw their mighty slicing, iced rivers larger than anything we’d ever imagined, through mountainsides and into the sea.
  • We were overawed by the Iguazu waterfalls, one of the highest and widest waterfalls in the world, and infinitely more beautiful to my mind than Niagara. Such a combination of grace and power that my brain needed a long time after we left to take it all in.

Now, admittedly, we were extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to do this. Though perhaps in a later post, I may go into why I think a lot more families can take time out for a grand adventure than allow themselves to dream.

But rainforests aren’t the only bit of nature that are worth our kids getting to know. Unless you live near one, they’re unlikely to establish a love for nature through something that is so distant. There are so many ways for kids to get to know nature through what’s on our own doorstep. Through activities such as digital capture, or creating natural sculptures which we found to be firm favourites with our kids.

Sadly, though, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that children are exploring nature in their own parks and gardens today much less than previous generations. Much of the cause of this seems to be parental fear, with stranger danger taking prime spot. Even though strangers account for only a tiny minority of child abuse cases, we are fed such a heavy diet of the danger of talking to strangers that a paranoia is stoked which results in children being over-protected indoors, or not being given scope to roam in the outdoors. But it’s not the only fear. Health fears also abound. From the mildest “they might catch a cold” through to “it’s dirty, and they’ll catch an infection”.

We seem to be unwilling to let our kids be exposed even to the level that we were in our own youth. Even though we survived to become rational, balanced adults. OK scrub that last bit.

But it’s not just fears – we are also increasingly crowding nature-time out of their lives. If you’ve scheduled every waking hour for your kids to be learning piano, doing ballet, learning Mandarin, going to chess club, and so on (and our family has been guilty of most of the above), you could well be systematically excluding time for your kids to just get out there and do stuff in the wild.

Add to that the addictive appeal of technology these days to fill in those small gaps of free time, and it’s easy to see how kids can just disconnect from nature.

Is this a problem? As you likely know, they’re missing out on more benefits than you could shake a branch at. Including to fitness, eyesight (yes, distance vision according to research in “What’s hot in Myopia Research” – I kid you not – in the Journal of Optometry and Vision Science), reduced bone and heart issues, relieving stress and the behaviours that come with it, emotional relationships and so much more. Let alone the pure fun of the great outdoors. The National Wildlife Federation has published a list of benefits worth looking at.

If we don’t find a way to allow our kids out more, they will be poorer for it.

So this initiative from The Wild Network is very timely . Check out the trailer for their film. Apposite. And funny.

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