Getting kids back to nature: what we’ve learned so far

This month the Wildlife Trusts launched their Every Child Wild campaign, pledging to ‘make nature a part of growing up’. In this blog, first published on the Wildlife Trusts website, the National Trust’s Tom Seaward writes about what we’ve learned from four years of getting kids back to nature.

Children playing by the lake at West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire

Children playing by the lake at West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire ©National Trust Images/John Millar.

It was the first queue for the woods I’ve seen.

Only 10AM and already the festival was baking under a high sun, fighting with the dust stamped up by hundreds of children and their desperate parents.

All this for the woods?

Well, not quite for the woods. For the chance to climb a high oak in the manner of a tree surgeon.

It was a brief hot spell in the summer of 2014. The place: Camp Bestival, a family music festival along the Dorset coast.

A handful of organisations, brought together by the Wild Network, had collaborated on this woodland area. A corner of peace in a parched festival ground.

Strung out all along the woodland path were things for busy children and desperate parents to do: mud pie making, nature walks, butterfly spotting and – at the end of it all – the tree climbing.

I was there, volunteering for the National Trust. Over three days we helped thousands of people to build dens, make daisy-chains, roll down hills, climb trees and add to our giant sculpture of a peacock, all created out of natural materials.

But it was the queue for the woods that blew me away.

It demonstrated something I’ve felt for a while. That children love the outdoors.

More than that, children need it.

For the past half-decade the National Trust have been working to reconnect children with nature.

With others we supported an award winning film about it. We published a couple of reports on children’s disconnection from nature, full of statistics and headlines. And we launched our campaign, 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾: a bucket list of fifty outdoor adventures to inspire young explorers. Since its launch in 2012, 120,000 children have signed up to the campaign online. Thousands more have got involved at our places.

We’ve learned plenty of lessons over the past few years. But there are two I think especially important here.

  1. No one can solve this alone. The Every Child Wild report confirms what we found in our Natural Childhood report three years ago. Reconnecting a generation of children in the UK with nature is too big a task for any one organisation. Everyone – parent, teacher, NGO, politician – can and should play their part. It’s great that there are platforms out there like the Wild Network dedicated to bringing a wide range of voices together to get children back to nature.
  2. But if we want to ensure that future generations love wildlife, we need to start slowly and understand how to make wildlife relevant to them 50 things isn’t about nature so much as play. If it’s at all successful it’s because it helps fulfil some pretty basic needs families have. Namely, spending time together and having fun.

The vision in the Every Child Wild campaign to ‘make nature a part of growing up’ is one we can all share. It’s something we can all act upon.

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