The Importance of an Outdoors Education

Apparently our kids are spending less time than ever before ‘outside’.

This is a shame. Here’s why:

Now I’m not normally one to be politically or socially campaigning for a cause – but this issue is probably the one I feel most passionately about in all the world. Irrationally so, maybe!

You see, what worries me is not scary places, heights, sharp edges, rocks, rain, cold, mud, dirt, germs, minor scrapes, temporary discomfort, or a bit of danger.

What genuinely worries me a LOT MORE is bringing up a generation of young folk:

  • who cannot or will not take risks, or who haven’t been shown how, or who simply haven’t been allowed to, because they’ve never been let off the parental ‘leash’. (Parents have no rational benchmark of what constitutes true danger.)
  • who have no daring spirit or sense of adventure (as in – “hmm, I wonder what would happen if I tried to do this….”) and therefore underdeveloped self-confidence and leadership skills and poor resilience in the face of adversity. (Lack of independence and problem-solving.)
  • who have no practical hands-on knowledge of the natural environment in which they will live and eventually have to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us.

They are our future and they need to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge in order to make good decisions. Yes, some would argue that we will live in an almost ‘virtual’ world in the future, but for the time being we also inherit a very physical, natural world. This tangible one is full of unpredictable beasts, weather and soil. (Actually, it’s the very unpredictability that makes it a gem!) Dynamic.

Furthermore I find it ironic that today’s youngsters claim to be more ‘concerned’ about the environment (animals, oceans, forests, blah-blah-blah) than any previous generation; yet it is interesting that they are the ones that seem to spend less time actually OUT in it than ever before! I guess they are informed by their screens. 😉

One of the profoundest observations I have made since my 6-year journey into being a mum has been that I can frequently be the only person within eyesight ‘outside’ – playing, walking, discovering – when the weather is anything short of summery. And that isn’t just in the middle of nowhere. That can be in the heart of the densely-populated city, surrounded by houses and flats surely brimming with cooped-up young families. I can scream at the wild autumnal weather on such days, “WHERE IS EVERYONE?!!” “What are they all doing?!”

Who knows. 

If they are afraid of the wild, they are missing out on a lot of fun.

My routine as a mum and a responsible adult is quite strict, I suppose. From Day One I have instilled in my family that fresh air is not ‘optional’; it is happening at some point, somewhere, (preferably multiple times), regardless of weather or clemency. It is good for us all. I truly believe that. It brightens up the mood and at the very least fires up your brain in a creative-imaginative way, when you allow yourself to be plucked from being a passive remote-chewing zombie or mouse potato.

Some days I have looked at the storm clouds brewing and the freezing wind and the child has said, “NO. I want to sit inside watching cartoons. Alllll day!”

I then say, “Yes, but it’s not just about you, is it? This is a two-way relationship. You’ve had your time. What about me? What about what I’d like to do?”

Reluctantly feet are stomped as the TV gets switched off, we get togged up and we go off somewhere cool and exciting and adventurous OUTSIDE. Within minutes of getting out of the car I actually hear my wee boy yell (as he runs off scrambling up a hill into the foresty undergrowth):


(Here I have to award myself a smug parental point.)

There is an element of exploration there, a primitive “look what I have newly discovered!” (a tree with a den that’s been discovered a thousand times over, haha) that is quite satisfying and rewarding to watch.

“See?” I say, “I knew this would be better than just sitting on our backsides watching endless Peppa Pig or Power Rangers on loop all afternoon. We are going to have an adventure!”

And adventure we do. We walk. We scramble. We rock climb. We play hide and seek. We pretend we are baddies. We see animals and people. We nature-spot. We go off the beaten track. We find new routes. We make dens. We try things we don’t think we are sure we can achieve. We assess danger and effort level together, as a team, and come up with a plan. (Pretty much mandatory as I am usually carrying a 9-month-old baby on my front too!)

We end up scrambling up some near-vertical cliff and we use each other as a push-up to get to the top. We are a team.

“Take my hand!”
“Now step there.”
“I gotcha.”
OK, it’s not Mount Everest, but it’s still exhilarating to push yourself to see what you are capable of achieving. And just that weeeeee bit of daily risk and thrill of danger looking over the cliff edge makes life not desperately dull but worth living….

And the tea tastes better at the end….

We learn about gorse bushes (‘owchy’) and nettles (‘stingy’) and scree (‘slippy’) and good branches to hold onto, and good footholds, and where the wind is coming from and what the clouds are doing and where is a good place to shelter. Up trees we learn about risks of height and weight-bearing along with spatial awareness: “Mummy I don’t think I can reach that branch; do you think I can jump?”
A mother’s place is to motivate and reassure. “You can. I think you can do it. Of course you can. You will do it. You are doing it. I wish I was up there doing it.”

I teach about trees and different species, we pick up different leaves and fruits and seeds and we look to see if they are ‘the same’ or ‘different’. The deal is we get a ‘treat’ but only if we make it to the top of the hill together. We see rabbits and dogs and birds and a host of other natural curiosities besides. Our cheeks are pink, our hair is windswept and our hearts are pulsing out of our chests. We have made it. We check out the view. We are happy.

On the way back down I let my boy roll all the way down the steep slopes (his idea) – “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEE!” covered in grass and mud and lord only knows whatever else – oh to be a child.

I don’t think we do ourselves – or our children – any favours AT ALL by sheltering them, “wrapping them up in cotton wool” or keeping them indoors when it’s a bit inconvenient to us (even if they want to). I am incredibly biased of course being an outdoors lover from the get-go and active-enthusiast and thrill-seeker, so unfortunately for me I just cannot see the charm or attraction in spending all day long sitting inside, playing kiddie indoor games, watching telly and messing up the house! I’d get bored senseless. Far better to get out there and see where your imagination takes you!

I can accept screens and TV. They take up more of our ‘leisure time’ (bum time) than ever before. But they don’t need to dominate our every waking minute to the point where ‘outdoors’ time constitutes a paltry 10 minutes of ‘fresh air’ in the back yard. We would not treat our pet dogs that way (at least I hope not!). So why do we let our kids/youngsters off the hook? I figure they need exercise and to run about and play and stretch their legs and see other people just as much as dogs do.

Fresh air is good for us. Daily. It makes us smarter, sharper, fitter, healthier, more confident and mentally positive.

Have a good day!


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