As a child I spent most of my time outdoors. In the days just before the IT explosion, playing out was the most necessary extra-curricular activity. We roamed streets and fields, woods and streams, explorers or scientists trekking through the suburban jungle; stalking beasts’ footprints in the sand each summer at the beach; searching for crabs and other exotic creatures in the rock pools.
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A large school field at the back became our ‘everything’; our football pitch, pirate ship, scientific expedition. It was as full during the summer holidays as it was through term-time. We convinced ourselves we’d found clusters of 4 leaf-clover and spent weeks staring at the soil and tiny plants and the minute creatures that live in our earth. But children and young people play differently to 30 years ago.
In 2008 Play England commissioned a survey which showed 70% of adults enjoyed most of their childhood adventures in natural outdoor environments compared to 29% of today’s children. Our expanding population and safety fears have seen a decline in the freedom and space to roam.
I moved away from my childhood home 20 years ago but circumstances have brought me back and while everything remains the same, all is different. The front gardens have been fenced in, the swing park was removed 10 years ago, and the school field has been surrounded by an impenetrable fortress of 8ft high metal fencing and 3ft deep Pyracantha. The oak tree out front, in its 45th year, is now sturdy enough to be great for climbing. But who would climb it? The survey also showed half of children (51%) aged 7-12 years are “not allowed to climb a tree without adult supervision” and half (49%) also report that they have been “stopped from climbing trees because it was considered to be too dangerous”.
Children need to push their boundaries, explore their limits, over-reach some times. This helps them to develop their own unique abilities. It helps them to build a greater sense of self-confidence as they become more aware of their abilities. Without adventurous play we are less able to deal with stressful and challenging situations later in life. Adrian Voce, Director of Play England: “Playing is an essential part of growing up…Adventurous play that both challenges and excites children helps instil critical life skills.”
Bushcraft is adventurous play learning useful skills to remember and more fully understand our true connection with nature. Research by the Children and Nature Network shows that children are “smarter, more co-operative, happier and healthier” when they have access to play outdoors. Nature is good for children. Bushcraft is the essence of living with nature, naturally.
What can be more challenging and more natural than building your own shelter, making your own fire and sleeping under a sky sprinkled with stars; listening to muntjacs and foxes barking and screaming through the night air, an owl hooting deep in the woods; waking up to a breakfast of hot, sticky porridge made over an open fire before heading off into the woods to search for sweet chestnuts, wild sorrel and pine sap; collecting nettles for making your own string, tracking the muntjacs from the night before and smelling the woodsmoke drifting, calling you back to camp.
This first appearred on the Natural Pathways blog.