Today the mid and southern parts of England and Wales are feeling the effects of the “St. Jude” storm, with power cables broken, trees uprooted and general chaos happening across the nation. In the main, children are on their half-term break from school, and following advice from the Met Office are probably sheltering in their homes, avoiding the winds and the weather.
Better safe than sorry, and having heard about the poor young lad lost at sea in the storms yesterday, it’s right to be somewhat cautious.
However, today is an exceptional day weatherwise. Despite our propensity to moan about the weather in the UK, it’s fairly temperate most of the time, and certainly shouldn’t in most instances be used as a reason for keeping our children and young people inside.
Last week there was a report on the BBC website that told us what we already know all too well – our children are spending too long looking at the screens in their homes and not enough time in the outdoor environment.
There are many reasons for this but two significant ones.
Firstly, the iPads, smartphones, X-boxes and the like are interesting, exciting, innovative and appealing. Modern technology is brilliant, and as we’ve discussed on this site before, in many ways it’s under-used as an effective tool for learning.
Secondly, we are risk averse. As children, many of us were afforded the freedom to play outside on a regular basis, whereas nowadays we have all too often succumbed to the negative media portrayal of imminent dangers around every corner. In our minds, we’ve distorted the truth about the supposed dangers of the big, bad and dangerous world outside every front door. This, incidentally, was a concern reiterated by child psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron on Desert Island Discs yesterday. Do catch the programme when it’s repeated on Friday at 9.00am or on the BBC iPlayer if you haven’t heard it already.
We’re not letting children play outside.
Even those of us fortunate to have our own back gardens are sometimes reluctant to let our children play outside in case they get too cold or too muddy.
Yet, children are clever little souls. If they are too cold, they’ll let us know or they’ll come inside when they’ve had enough. As for mud – well children rather like mud. Despite our protestations they enjoy jumping in mud and puddles. They enjoy shuffling through piles of autumn leaves. It’s a spiritual thing, and this is something that we should be encouraging all young people to experience. As for being uninspired by or uninterested in the great outdoors, well it’s simply untrue.
A child can pick up a stick from the floor and be completely entranced by its form and its textures. They can rush carefree along a pathway – simply enjoying the moment. They can see for the very first time a spider weaving its web, and stand in astonished amazement. Furthermore, they can entertain themselves as they disappear into a delightful world of their own imagination, transforming the trees in the woods into another world that only they can enter.
Our city dwellers can do the same, only with different stimuli. A child can look at a disused door and imagine a world behind it. They can cycle happily up and down a street simply feeling the freedom of the wind on their faces . . . if only we allow them to do so.
Our children are inspirational creatures, and they can be inspired by the simple things in life. Since they haven’t been worn down and become jaded thanks to the more negative aspects of life then they experience the world with a wonderment that we adults would do well to experience ourselves, and perhaps embrace a little more readily.
So much of their imagination comes from those times when they’re alone with their thoughts or sharing in a made-up game with their friends that requires no equipment to engage them.
The world outside our doors is a vast education, waiting for children to experience and to learn from. And it’s free!
Take a look at the link below.
This is part of a campaign for children to reconnect with nature. It shows some horrifying messages that we’ve managed to place in the heads of some young women about the supposed horrors of being outdoors, and also pleads with us to let our children play outside.
As we’ve said in previous posts on this site, our children can learn so much through play, and as many of our brilliant Early Years colleagues point out, children grow incredibly when they have the opportunity to learn outside.
We’re not saying throw away the technology. It has its place. Indoor and outdoor learning and play are not mutually exclusive. Just as we say that learning core life skills doesn’t detract from learning how to read and write (actually it enhances it), then so too with the balance needed between learning and playing with computer technology and getting outside in all kinds of weather to experience life in a different form.
It’s half term. Parents and carers of the UK, after the storm has passed, please consider taking your youngsters out there for a walk, for play, for a ride on a bike. Let them get muddy if they so desire. It can be washed off. Let them talk. Talk with them. Let them teach you whilst you instruct and inform them. Pick up conkers. Look at the colours in the leaves. Talk to them about the buildings that you pass. Wrap up warm if necessary but just get outside and embrace the pleasures of our built and our natural environments . . . and enjoy!