Go Outdoors Week – children and nature

We often have special memories of the outdoors from when we were small. For children the outdoors is a magical place full of new experiences and a sense of freedom and adventure (for adults too, come to that). Building dens, playing hide and seek, having picnics, going off with friends on bikes, getting dirty and hungry, scratching legs, getting stung – all make strong memories and are healthy active pastimes.

Sadly, today’s children spend less than 10% of their playtime in the outdoors but around 2.5 hours a day inside watching television, according to a National Trust survey. To deny children an introduction, and regular visits, to the great outdoors is to do them a profound disservice. In today’s cotton-wool culture, parents are often too worried to let their children play out without an adult, yet they make no effort to go with the child. Children need guidance, they need to be taken to wild places and open spaces and to be shown the wonders of the natural world; to be played with, walked with, talked to about nature and to be taught a love for their wondrous planet. And eventually they need to be trusted to look after themselves out there, with their friends.

It’s not just parents; schools are now so focused on SATS that they often fail to teach children about the natural environment. I know at my child’s school, which is in a rural area, they have never been taken outside to learn about nature or the use of their local landscape and they have some of Britain’s finest wildlife sites nearby. If it rains they have indoor breaks and sports clubs are cancelled!

Aside from the effects on general happiness, many children are now suffering health effects from lack of exposure to sunshine. Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise because of children’s lack of time outdoors, and because of the fashion for covering them in sunblock and hats if they do go outside. Many more suffer boredom and anxiety from an indoor existence, denied the right to roam and play, as all children should.

I recently asked fitnaturally’s followers to recall their earliest strong memories of the outdoors and how it shaped their love and use of the natural environment. I think the answers show what a strong influence adults have. I hope it encourages more families to get their kids outdoors every day and to rate it as highly as learning maths and English….

I loved hanging out and playing in streams with my friends and going for adventure walks through the fields and climbing over haystacks. My nan used to take me for walks and tell me stories whilst we walked.

I have two. The first is playing out for hours and hours in the local woods in West Sussex, but also on the massive new housing estate we walked through to get there. Trees and wet concrete are both fab! The other is being in my Nanny’s garden in Brighton. Almost every memory of spending time with Nanny and Grandpa was outside, in some kind of fancy dress costume (a pink tut tut and Wonder Woman I definitely remember) she’d made me, busily pretending to help them do the gardening!

My swing attached to the tree at the bottom of the garden. Mum and dads garden in general (and the capturing of many slow worms!) Devon and the walk to the tea rooms. Wells next to the sea, those beautiful pine forests with glorious soft sand dunes waiting the other side. Ferry meadows, paddling

My first outdoor memory is of being in the sea at the beach. My parents loved the coast as much as I do and during the summer we would head for the beach with a picnic as often as possible. I remember one particular day being in infants school working quietly, when my Mum came in to class to collect me. She said she had forgotten I had a dental appointment to go to. It wasn’t until I got in the car that I was told it was going to be such a lovely day that we were going to Tenby for a day on the beach! Ahem! Bit naughty I know but it’s a fun memory. I spent most of the day bobbing around in that sparkly blue water.

The reason I was so determined to do Ironman Wales is because I have so many lovely and happy memories of that area. I am literally in my element when I’m at the beach. Whatever the weather I love the coast

As a child on a family holiday in Wales, camping, scrambling up hills, across rocks, damming streams, getting wet, getting cold, getting sun tans….fabulous!!

The Cubs or the Scouts. Building stuff, knocking it down and setting fire to stuff with mates. Great memories.

I could never ever live where I couldn’t walk to the sea. I love it. When life is tough going, a run along the coastal path is the best therapy I know

At around 8 or 9yrs old, I used to ride a little pony for miles on my own around the country lanes and bridleways, chatting away to her as we ambled along. Such special times. And like you, I used to go bikeriding for hours too. Showing my age here but my cousin and I used to go ‘bottle scrumping’ and bike all over in search of discarded Corona bottles on the roadsides or in the spinneys. We’d put them in our bike basket, and then bike to the shop in Lutton for the money back on them (this was in the day they paid you to return them!) Enterprising for youngsters eh? (but won’t tell you what we spent the money on

I was lucky to spend a lot of childhood holidays in North Devon – walking in the woods on my own picking spring flowers for nan. The same nan who knitted me a bikini (yes it was wool!) that I used to wear when I surfed on my wooden surfboard!

My dad’s allotment (which he still has!) forced me outside. Even though I hated picking veg/planting, I loved running about an eating blackberries. It is next to a massive meadow, which is full of horses and cows and dogs – I love it now as much as I did then. That and dog walking when I was little – all made me love the outdoors!

I went to a boarding school in Surrey that had 200 acres of woodland, lakes and fields. It was a fabulous place to be. I went just before my 10th birthday til I was 16. When I left we lived near the Forest of Dean and I used to horse ride and rock climb (no ropes or anything) and took my dog for yomps in the forest. I have been very fortunate

Mine: doing the Mam Tor walk with my lovely husband; cold rainy and sitting on a rock in a field eating a sandwich, coffee from a flask surrounded by sheep who fancied a bit of sandwich. Bloody lovely.

No such thing as bad weather in my view just wrong clothing

Family walks in the Chilterns and my dad with his knot skills tying ropes to trees in the woods for us to swing from

I think it’s a real shame about lack of freedom for kids. Was quite nice to hear kid on radio 2 tonight saying he was looking forward to building a den in the woods. He was 14.

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
Kahlil Gibran

Eat better and be active every day with an eatnaturally plan.

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