Children Need Wild Places

Children need other children-parents and carers need other adults – and everyone needs to be outdoors, enjoying air and sunshine – even rain and wind, up to a point! It’s not always easy to find people to join up with and suitable places to go to- play parks are great, and even better, places where it’s a bit wilder – where there are birds and worms, squirrels and insects, long grass and tall weeds, piles of leaves, water and mud: where small children can notice and enjoy the un-fenced, un-paved world around them, share this with other children and their adults, and discover what you can smell and hear, see and feel, outdoors. What happens when you get water in your welly? Or when you fall over a tree root and get a bump? (It hurts, your mum or your friend helps you up, and you feel better quite soon). What happens when you and your friend both want the same stick – how do you work that out? And you have a good idea for a game or for making something – but it needs more than one person to make it work….

More and more, it’s being realised that children’s learning, health and happiness all need them to be active outdoors: school are developing ‘Forest School’ time as part of the curriculum, and many children belong to the Cheltenham Woodcraft Folk group, which has been running for many years.

Even babies and toddlers can benefit from their experience of the outdoor world. Transition Town Cheltenham has been encouraging parents and carers of children up to about four to meet informally to enjoy each other’s company in ‘wildish’ areas: our most popular venue so far has been the watery end of the Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve – where one three-year old excitedly claimed that he had seen ‘a sock and a shark’ in the shallow stream! Children outdoors learn to trust themselves and develop their practical, physical and artistic skills: can I climb that tree – walk along that skiddy bit – what could I make with these stones – what would happen if… It can be both more rewarding and more demanding than screen-based time.

Understanding about ourselves and the world – it’s the ‘transition’ in thinking that’s happening. Are we separate from the earth, taking from it what we want, not thinking of the needs of others, or the future? Or do we see ourselves, and our children, as learning to ‘live within our means’, value the earth’s resources, and living well with others, even when difficulties arise?

TransitionTownCheltenham– Echo column