Reconnecting Children with Nature

October 2022

Fiona Danks, Wild Oxfordshire trustee

Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of time spent outdoors. Rolling down sand dunes in Pembrokeshire, climbing trees in our garden, walks in Warwickshire fields full of cowslips, swimming in the icy cold water of a mountain stream. Outdoors was freedom, it was opportunity and it allowed me to become immersed in the nature. But outdoors was also where we were expected to be until we came home for tea.

I am sure many readers also have vivid memories of wild outdoor childhoods, when they were free to explore local green spaces beyond the adult gaze. Perhaps you made dens, played hide-and-seek, and discovered some of nature’s secrets. Perhaps you also scratched your knees, got dirty and learnt from experience how to judge risk. Even for children without access to the countryside, playing outdoors in the street or at the park was the norm.

In today’s fast-moving, risk-averse, high-tech world, children don’t have that same freedom to play outdoors and the ever-increasing allure of electronic devices provides tough competition. Many children are disconnected from nature; it is not a world they are comfortable in. Yet if you take any toddler outdoors, he or she will be naturally curious about the world, completely absorbed by a daisy, a muddy puddle, or a bird in the sky.

Rhiannon with children doing "a bee or not a bee" activity

Although Wild Oxfordshire’s remit does not specifically include the delivery of “environmental education”, it works with and supports many groups which run family events and natural history guided walks, and it shares information about Oxfordshire’s biodiversity with a wide audience. Wild Oxfordshire understands the importance of giving as many people as possible the opportunity to discover, learn about and enjoy nature in a range of settings. For example, art can be a powerful way to engage new audiences in nature, as demonstrated by a recent Art project - featured in the Wild Oxfordshire bulletin. In 2020 the Watlington Green Plan Art Trail used art to highlight the importance of local habitats, an event supported by Wild Oxfordshire’s Community Ecology project.

There are encouraging moves to raise the profile of environmental education in the UK. We welcome the recent decision to introduce a Natural History GCSE from 2025, providing the opportunity to teach nature-literacy about British wildlife and how it relates to the rest of the world. We need to create the natural historians of the future but teaching about the environment should be cross-curricular and start from an early age. Many pre-school nursery providers are very much focused on the outdoors and The Forest Schools movement is gaining strength in Primary Schools, ensuring many pupils have regular contact with a local green space.

My friend Jo Schofield and I share a belief that all children need to spend time outdoors in nature, and together we have written twelve books to inspire more families to get outside. Our first book, Nature’s Playground, published in 2006, came out when the number of books in this genre was limited. However, the publication of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv at about the same time led to a turning point, highlighting the body of research indicating that exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the emotional health of children and adults. There are now many books out there sharing ideas to get more children and families outdoors. The reality is that children need nature for their health, well-being, and survival. Nature also needs children for they will become the biodiversity custodians of the future.

Jo and I believe our books play a key role in providing ideas and inspiration to make such adventures more accessible. Our latest book, Make This Book Wild, published by Quarto Kids in March 2022, aims to get children to create their own magical scrapbook, by filling the book with wild materials, observations, and imaginings while outside. We hope it will encourage more children to immerse themselves in nature and look in detail at the world around them.

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