Natural childhood

My kids are muddy most of the time. I’m not sure if it’s nature, nurture or a heady mix of the two but it has taught me not to buy white socks – never ever – and that you can’t have too many pairs of wellies.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the benefits of a natural childhood. You know, the one we had when we were kids. The one where your Mum packed you off in the morning with a sandwich in your pocket and piece of fruit cake (if you were lucky) and you rolled up in time for tea. Apparently parents don’t do this anymore. Why not?

  • Because the roads are dangerous and too busy;
  • the parks and woods are full of strangers who pose a threat;
  • there are fewer green spaces and those there are have signs saying ‘No Ball games’
  • your children could fall over and hurt themselves.
  • you can’t persuade them to go outside because they’d rather be on their X box or watching telly.
  • And finally they’re far too busy being ferried around to all those organised activities you’ve spent your hard earned cash on.

Wise up, people. You too can have children who love the outdoors and you can keep them safe. What’s more they’ll be happier and healthier and you’ll be richer both in monetary terms and in general. So what’s the magic spell?

Start small. Don’t expect your computer games whizz to turn into Julian from the Famous Five overnight. And don’t feel you should take your child to the middle of the woods and leave them there to find their way home. I think that worked for Richard Branson but I wouldn’t advise it.

There are all sorts of little adjustments you can make to encourage your precious ones to experience something like the childhood of thirty or forty years ago. Here are some of the easy ones

  • give them some play clothes that they can get muddy. Buy them some waterproofs and stout footwear and let them get dirty. In fact, encourage them to get wet and muddy. It’s liberating for you and them.
  • go for a walk every day, whatever the weather. Take the dog. Borrow a dog. Set off fifteen minutes earlier for school and take the scenic route. Take your time on the way home. Take your toddler out with their lunch in a paper bag and have a ‘picnic’. It’s not rocket science but it will get the ball rolling. You’ll think of all sorts of interesting things to do on your walks and you’ll instantly feel connected to nature, the seasons and your neighbourhood.
  • Get to know your neighbours and do things together. You’ll instantly feel better about your children being outside without parental monitoring round the clock.
  • Make some time for picnics, exploring, den building  and kite flying. It doesn’t have to be every weekend but it should be fun, relaxed and more than an annual event.
  • Join the National Trust or English Heritage. For a modest fee you get a whole year’s worth of free trips to inspirational places and lots of opportunities to let your kids free range. Lots of places now run special events for kids in school holidays so if you feel ill-equipped to do the outdoorsy stuff there’s help.
  • Go to a farm shop occasionally rather than the supermarket. There are lanes to explore and forage in and animals to get to know. Many shops have toddler trails now or pick your own fruit patches.
  • Get growing. Having a little garden to tend – even one in a pot – will set your kids up with skills for life. They’ll learn plenty about nurturing, responsibility, risk, failure, success and connecting with the seasons. Even putting your hands in mud makes you feel better. FACT. It’s been scientifically proven by someone much cleverer than me.
  • Encourage them to take risks and don’t organise every minute of every day for them. This is the big one for parents. Now listen. However much you want to stop your children getting hurt at all costs –  you can’t. You CAN teach them not to take stupid risks and show them what to do if things go wrong. Then it’s up to them. They have to live a little and you have to trust a lot. I started small letting my six,five and three year olds walk on the grass lane the last 500 yards to school whilst I stayed on the pavement. I couldn’t see them all the time and they couldn’t see me at all. They knew the path well, knew the other people on the path and knew what to do if one of them fell over. They had to stay together and meet me in a designated place. Of course I was worried. They were probably a little scared as well as excited but it was okay and we worked up from there.
  • Sign them up for Scouts or Brownies. It’s so worth it.
  • Go camping Even if it’s only once. Who knows? You might even enjoy it. There are campsites out there with hot water showers and plugs for your hairdryer. I know!

Go on. Give it a go. What have you got to lose?

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