Posted tagged ‘richard louv’

Let them play – outdoors

March 31, 2012

OK, a picnic isn't roaming free - but it surely seeds the idea of a free range childhood.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. All ideas that tend to encourage an outdoor childhood. For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here 

There’s a new shocking report asking us to reflect on how we bring up kids. It’s picking up the concerns first identified by the US’s Richard Louv, who coined the term “Nature Defecit Disorder”. See here or his provocative books Last Child in the Woods or Nature Principle which uses the first book’s theme – nature defecit disorder – and applies it to unhappy adulthoods.

Now in the UK, the National Trust report finds that in just one generation:

  • Fewer than ten per cent of kids play in wild places; down from 50 per cent a generation ago
  • The roaming radius for kids has declined by 90 per cent in one generation (thirty years)
  • Three times as many children are taken to hospital each year after falling out of bed, as from falling out of trees
  • A 2008 study showed that half of all kids had been stopped from climbing trees, 20 per cent had been banned from playing conkers or games of tag

Seems that children are consequently losing the sort of skills everyone used to have:

  • One in three could not identify a magpie
  • Half could not tell the difference between a bee and a wasp
  • But nine out of 10 could recognise a Dalek.

It’s horrible to think how little our children and their friends know about the natural world. Obviously it’s not every child – today my 10 year old and I identified the first flowering cowslip in a flowerbed on the way to Crouch End. Not long after we saw the first suggestion of bloom on the hawthorn tree (loads of people confuse this with blackthorn although once you know, they really are very different). Apparently you can teach nature ID skills so long as you get the child before they’re 12. Rubbish really, I learnt to identify native British tree species only after going on a BTCV course as a 30something.

A dog walking friend told me last week she often asks in writers’ workshops “what’s the most dangerous thing you’ve done?” If my mum was playing this game she could tell the times she and her elder brother flattened themselves against the gale to edge around the lighthouse light, 15m or so up, right over the rocks and terrible tides of Strangford Lough. I cringe thinking about the danger my mum put herself in. But it meant she had no worries about letting me go out riding on a pony (who wasn’t great in traffic, had no brakes and was far too strong for me!)  from eight-years-old onwards. In contrast my workshop writer friend says some of the children accompanying parents in her sessions say they left the top off a pen overnight… Silly? Perhaps. Dangerous? No!

Without understanding risk and danger it is hard to make good judgement calls about what’s safe for either you, or your friends – or your (their) children. Or your career, say, or what level of undress you should post yourself in on Facebook

Getting back to nature. It could be resolved says report author TV’s Stephen Moss:

Let them be free-range kids
“We have all seen the headlines about the decline in children’s play in the outdoors.

“We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do.

“But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the UK, our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors.

“The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience and whilst there remains a determination to do something positive in this area.

“Organisations that have an interest in this area, whether working in our towns and cities or in the countryside, have to connect what they are doing and commit to a long-term approach that really makes a difference.”

What next?
The National Trust is planning a two month inquiry – so you can provide ideas, suggestions, or just follow what’s happening as a conversation. See:

More information about the inquiry, including details of how to contribute

There will also be a twitter feed @outdoor_nation, where the National Trust will be using the hashtag #naturalchildhood to keep the debate and ideas flowing, or email: outdoor.nation@nationaltrust.org.uk.  The inquiry will close on 25 May 2012.

More ideas
Try looking at the link if you want practical help letting kids Love Outdoor Play, here  – all sorts of ideas and organisations are linked to this fab group.

The one about kids and gadgets…

January 3, 2012

3 oldie parents plus a 17yo, 13yo, 12yo, 10yo, three dogs and a pony go wild in the countryside...

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post hopes to give us all a happy new year – once we’ve sorted out how much time the kids can spend on their new gadgets… For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

  • In Homemade Kids there are loads of ideas and options looking at all sorts of ways to bring up children in a thrifty, and creative ways. But there are two assumptions about child-care:
  • One is that by loving our kids (and looking out for all children, in the sense that every child matters) things will be OK (pretty much whatever we do).
  • Two is that being outside – or having access and the clothing/skills to go outside – is vital for children. And their parents and carers.

Give them what they want
After Christmas – and the New Year sales – many readers of this blog will have seen new gadgets arriving into their homes. In the past few days I’ve already met a five-year-old boy who got a Wii (apparently all his friends had one!) and a 16-year-old who used his xmas money to buy  a reconditioned DS. Another eco-writer admitted she couldn’t do any green interviews for radio at the end of 2011 because she’d “succumbed to a Wii”… (again for a boy).

Tainted gifts
Why is it that parents of boys are so keen to give them gadgets? Or for that matter why were both my daughters given make-up by adult relatives? I feel if a child wants something then they should save up or borrow or have a taster over at a friend’s house. I am mystified (and angered if I’m honest) by grown-ups pushing unnecessary, not always age appropriate gadgets and lipsticks on to children. Mind you I’m a grouch and also hated people saying to my baby, “Oh what lovely blue eyes you have, you’ll be a heart breaker someday!” or – even worse – to my pre-schooler “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”

Rationing on the battlefield
Back to gadgets. Even if you haven’t thought about it yet, you will soon probably be thinking about how much time children (and teens) should be spending inside on little square boxes. The Wii, the Nintendo, the laptop, the notebook, the kindle, the smart phone, the TV… My 13-year-old Lola adores catch-up TV for Miranda, Merlin, The Big Bang and Friends – and she has literally years of catch-up to watch all these series. Nell, 10, is a fan of BuildaBear as well as Horrible Histories, Deadly 60 and, bizarrely, Escape to the Country. She’s even recently suggested she’d like to be an estate agent when she grows up…

Although we have some gadgets in our house (ie, no Wii, no Nintendo and I’d be loathe to have them too), modern life ensures there are plenty of opportunities for the girls to be goggle-eyed screen watchers rather than say read a book, get absorbed in a creative project or go outside.

Same problems down under
As I’m writing this in the worst weather – violently windy and wet – on the last day of Lola’s winter school holidays I thought you might enjoy finding out how an ecologist in Australia tries to use logic and adventure to tempt kids outside. It’s a good read – not least because you get to see pix of giant salamander survey hunting and duck-billed platypuses in the creek. Enjoy her piece about “Off the couch and out the door” here. Not surprisingly the American writer Richard Louv is quoted too. Louv’s the author of the best-seller Last Child in the Woods, and his more recent book – for adults – is The Nature Principle, again about solutions to nature-defecit disorder.

Over to you
Do you have limits for how long your kids can enjoy TV or screen games, or is it an all-you-want diet? And more to the point – what’s fun to do when the weather is really awful and you don’t live in Oz?


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