Posted on May 06 2017
I love London. I love its rich culture and the mix of people from all around the world, walking shoulder to shoulder around every corner. Here, the opportunities for my children to learn are immense, and I truly love the hustle and bustle of the city.
Yet, when I think about my childhood and what made me truly happy, it was the freedom that my sister and I had to roam and explore. We spent a lot of time unsupervised, wandering around the hospital grounds outside a small village in Kent in which we lived. We made dens inside the branches of a huge rhododendron bush, played swing ball in the backyard, and clambered over the 'giant steps' that formed part of the boundary wall to the hospital entrance. We loved to play 'The Red Hand Gang' with the few other children who lived in the staff accommodation, and I relish the memories of the general roaming around that we did from the moment we finished breakfast to sundown.
These days, I don't think I could see myself letting my young children out and about without a grown up helicoptering nearby. It's not necessarily that things have become more dangerous, but the news coverage has changed dramatically. The horror stories that are lobbed at us in this 24 hour news culture are enough to frighten any anxious parent into (over) protectively locking their offspring indoors! Coupled with the loss of outdoor provisions in inner city schools, and smaller and smaller dwellings with little or no outside space, today's children have less opportunity for the free, unbridled play that allows them to explore their imagination. This was such a big part of my childhood, and I lament that my kids won’t have the same experiences.
This was brought to my attention recently when my family attended a ‘forest school’ themed party for my niece's 7th birthday. As soon as we had arrived at the meeting spot in the woods, the kids were off exploring. They gathered sticks and identified spots where they could make their own dens, and it struck me how little time we usually spend outdoors.
My kids started climbing the little mounds and hills, working their muscles whilst breathing in the fresh woodland air. They stopped and listened to the sounds of the different creatures hidden amongst the undergrowth, and they took in the smells of the wet leaves and mud. They worked together as a team in order to decide where to wander to next and what they should do.
I witnessed just how much they were all getting out of this natural, unstructured outdoor play. This experience couldn't be replicated fully in any of the after-school clubs and weekend activities that we pay for our kids to attend.
All of this wilderness is on our doorstep, and it is free. It dawned upon me that with the new addition to our family this past year, I have spent very little time with my eldest child engaging in meaningful play. In fact, most days it was homework and then screen time. The year had slipped past us in this haze.
Needing a bit of inspiration, I searched the internet and found a book of activities aimed at engaging with nature. 'A Little Bit of Dirt' is written by Asia Citro, a former teacher from Seattle, and it is filled with 55 easy science and art activities that use everyday objects.
Since ordering this book, we've already made natural paintbrushes and used them to create our own pieces of art, and we threaded embroidery thread around sticks to make beautiful decorations. In fact, I'm not sure who enjoyed these activities more - me or my 6 year old! But the truth of the matter is that just spending the time lost in these activities together was magical. There was no screen time to busy my son's already whizzy brain, and I wasn't thinking about the washing, cooking, cleaning or the 101 other things I have to do for work.
Getting lost in these slow and quiet activities together was wonderful. Even my baby girl enjoyed watching us and taking part, waving her stick in the air and feeling the different textures of the leaves and flowers that we used for the paintbrushes. It was all I could do to stop her putting the items in her mouth to fully explore with all her senses! We've earmarked the rainbow photo challenge next (taking photos of flowers and fauna, featuring as many different colours as possible). We can’t wait to do the outdoor scavenger hunt on a play date with cousins and friends.
For those city folk that need a bit of help reconnecting with their kids and with nature, I highly recommend this book to them. It's perfect for kids, aged 3 and up, and the activities outlined are such great fun.
We've already purchased Asia's '150+ activities for screen free time,' and we will definitely be giving some of those a try soon. This book is perfect for planning the long summer holiday that is looming upon us! Give these activities a try and enjoy spending time with your kids.