The National Trust’s Reconnecting Children with Nature: Findings of the Natural Childhood Inquiry has shown that planning could potentially play a significant role in helping children get outdoors and reconnect with nature.
You may ask ‘why should we care about getting children outside?’ Well, there is increasing evidence that children are disconnected from nature. Since the 1970s, in one generation, the area children can roam unsupervised has decreased by almost 90%. Evidence of this decline comes at the same time that academics are increasingly showing how important nature and the outdoors are for children, such as in improving their mental and physical health.
There is possibly an instinctive reaction when this issue is discussed, that it is due to the wide availability of technology. There is an element of truth in this – when children were asked why they do not go out and explore the natural world TVs and computer games are reasons offered. But this is only a fraction of the story. Evidence suggests that children would like to spend more time outdoors and in nature. So why don’t they? It is apparent that there are a multitude of reasons why children might spend less time outdoors.
This is why the Natural Childhood Inquiry asked a wide range of people, including experts, a variety of organisations, as well as ordinary people, what they felt the main barriers were to children being outdoors, and how they could be solved.
One important barrier that the respondents put forward was the limited access to quality green space. It was suggested that to solve this, government should do more to ensure that when designing urban spaces, town planners, developers and architects should provide safe access to quality green spaces: a key part of planning rather than an afterthought. This is critical in residential areas, as it would increase children’s access to safe, outdoor areas in which they could potentially reconnect with nature.
Closely linked to this was the belief that streets needed to be made safer for children to use, by reducing the danger from excessive traffic. Although multiple measures were suggested, a particularly popular way of reducing traffic danger was a nationwide programme of residential car free areas, whereby cars are restricted from accessing certain roads at particular times of day. This would reduce both the real and the perceived danger posed to children from the roads.
A great example where limited street closure has been used is Playing Out. Playing Out is an initiative started by Bristol neighbours Alice Ferguson and Amy Rose, as they wanted to give their children more opportunities for after school activities and exercise. After working closely with Bristol City Council, they piloted after-school play sessions in streets with restricted car access. Most importantly, the focus of these activities isn’t structured; it is about child-led free play. They now work to try and help other people to organise street play in their areas, empowering them with knowledge and support. You can find out more about them online and on twitter.
If you would like more information on the National Trust’s views on this topic, you can read the rest of Reconnecting Children with Nature: Findings of the Natural Childhood Inquiry. You can also read the report Natural Childhood by the naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss.
Blog by Emma Munro-Faure, Campaigns and Research Intern.