Children and The Great Outdoors


Several recent articles on the BBC’s website have focused on what is seen by some as a worrying trend: the disconnection of children from nature. The appearance of the issue in the news is nothing new, but the growing frequency and relevance of its discussion is significant.

The words ‘children’, ‘outdoors’ and ‘learning’ have been hot media topics in particular over the past few months – individually and, more interestingly, together. A quick google search of these key words shows just how much interest this topic generates, with headlines ranging from ‘Recessions signals return of outdoor play’ (April 2013) to ‘Children denied joy of nature’ (March 2013).  ‘Cuts threat to outdoor learnig centres’ (November 2010) contrasts with ‘Should schools hold more lessons outside?’ And in July 2012, we learnt that ‘Safety fears ‘hinder outdoor play’’ – but we have recently been told that our children are being ‘…urged to put away screens and play outside’. It’s clear from this level of coverage that the issue of children and the great outdoors is an important one, and it’s also clear that we, as a society, don’t quite know how to deal with it.

It seems funny to be getting worked up about a subject which, just a generation or two ago, was such a non-issue. Kids used to be out and about all the time, climbing trees, damming rivers and getting into benign mischief, if Enid Blyton is to be believed. Indeed, from an educational perspective, the challenge used to be more about getting the pupils out of the fields and sitting down behind a desk. Now it’s the other way around. Increased road traffic, increasing concerns about stranger-danger, and an ever increasing choice of TV /internet /smartphone /tablet to distract ourselves with at home – all these things are reducing the amount of time that we, and our children, are spending outside. This reduction is having a negative impact on our children’s fitness and well-being, as well as causing them to become ‘disconnected’ from nature.

This all seems pretty serious, and it seems odd that the solution should be so easy: simply get the kids outside to play.  After all, playing outside in the garden needs no specialist equipment, no extra money needs to be spent, and it takes no time at all to open the back door and kick them out… except perhaps that’s not true. Not everyone has a garden, for one thing, and between school, work, swimming lessons and trips to the supermarket, not everyone has the time to facilitate it.

Would it be fair to say, though, that children who are educated at home have a slightly different perspective on this subject? As a tutor, one of my memorable early phone calls was to a parent who informed me that her child couldn’t possibly come to the phone right now – he was having an impromptu science lesson with his Dad in the garden, having found a bird nest up in a tree.  Perhaps another advantage to home education is that there’s a bit more time freed up in which to get outside. Does this ring true for you? We’d love to hear your views, both proving and disproving this idea…

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