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BE HOME FOR TEA

By Peter Shirley on May 6, 12 09:09 AM in

Those words will be familiar to many of you from your childhood, heard in the distance as you disappeared for another afternoon of tree-climbing and den-building. Apparently today's youngsters are increasingly denied this simple pleasure by a risk-averse world which offers them much which is virtual, but little which is reality.

According to 'Natural Childhood', a recent National Trust Report, children are missing out on many benefits because they are not given the freedom to explore and experiment outdoors which previous generations enjoyed. Amongst the Report's findings are:
 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)
 Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local 'patch of nature', compared to over half of all adults when they were children.
 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.

This is despite the fact that many local woodlands, wetlands and open spaces are safer, more accessible and more welcoming than ever before. There are also more organised and supervised activities for children than there used to be, including holiday play schemes and forest school activities. Whilst these equip children to be safe in outdoor environments, they are different to two hours spent with friends exploring and investigating whatever comes to hand. Scratches and grazes are just as much badges of honour as a lollipop from the play leader.

So wary are we now of children being out unsupervised that the sight of a group of youngsters is likely to cause alarm: either for their safety or for fear of anti-social behaviour. Of course there are risks and of course not all children are well-behaved, but this has always been the case. Surely the overall benefits of giving more freedom to more children outweigh the disadvantages?

You might well not agree - that's fine, the National Trust wants to hear what people think. They are asking people to answer the following questions:
1. What do you think are the most important barriers to children spending more time outdoors?
2. What can individuals and families - including grandparents and godparents, as well as the parents themselves - do to help their children engage with nature?
3. How can community groups, local and national organisations support families in getting outdoors and closer to nature?
4. What policy changes are needed ensure that every child has the opportunity to develop a personal connection with the natural world?
Go to http://outdoornation.org.uk/ for more information and details about how to respond.

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