When thinking about children and nature there’s always a temptation to think back to the ‘good old days’. It’s likely that you’ll remember a moment when something got you hooked on nature and had the power to move you and create a real sense of wonder.
We’ll all fondly remember the hours spent collecting conkers, splashing about in streams or building dens; going on adventures with our friends where our imagination could run riot. As long as we were home by tea time then our parents would be happy.
Academic research and a steady stream of surveys have all shown that in one generation there has been a dramatic decline in children connecting with nature.
- Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local ‘patch of nature’, compared to over half of all adults when they were children.
- Less than ten per cent of kids play in wild places today; down from fifty per cent a generation ago.
Children spend so little time outdoors that they are unfamiliar with some of our most common wild creatures. According to a 2008 National Trust survey:
- 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.
As the US based writer Richard Louv says: “For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.”
This isn’t purely down to digital distractions. Traffic, health and safety, fears of “stranger danger” and changing attitudes have all contributed to the decrease in time that kids spent outdoors.
Things that we would have taken as normal behaviour have become the exception. When we see kids now playing in the outdoors we have our suspicions that they might be up to something. Half of all kids have been stopped by their parents from climbing trees and 20 per cent of children are not allowed to play conkers.
And this isn’t a simple town versus countryside issue either; the disconnection is as common in the countryside as in urban areas.
Research clearly shows that 12 is the magic number. Get kids hooked on the outdoors and you’ve got them interested in the environment for life. If you don’t then we’re creating a whole generation ill at ease with the natural world around them.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Parents, grandparents, teachers, health professionals, conservationists, social commentators and politicians from all across the political spectrum agree that something needs to be done.
The National Trust wants to harness this agreement and help find practical steps to reconnect children with the natural world. That’s why we’re setting up a two-month inquiry taking evidence from experts and the public as to what can be done to reconnect with nature and the outdoors.
- What do you think are the most important barriers to children spending more time outdoors?
- What can individuals and families – including grandparents and godparents, as well as the parents themselves – do to help their children engage with nature?
- How can community groups, local and national organisations support families in getting outdoors and closer to nature?
- What policy changes are needed ensure that every child has the opportunity to develop a personal connection with the natural world?