Kids with the Countryside: Your Views

Recently on Countryfile we heard about the National Trust's campaign to re-connect children with nature. We wanted to know what you thought was stopping today's youngsters enjoying the great outdoors and whether you thought it was safe to let children go out to play on their own. And we were looking for ideas about how could we increase knowledge and enjoyment of the natural world.

Here’s a selection of your comments, which we have now passed onto the National Trust...

From: Sue via email

Our boys are now in their early 20s, but when they were little we had very little money so couldn’t afford expensive days out to theme parks.

We would take a picnic to a little stream on common land and the boys would amuse themselves all day building dams across the stream and playing Pooh Sticks. Or we would go to the woods and they’d build dens. The important thing is not to tell them what to do, but allow them time to come up with their own ideas. Today children are told everything and we are losing our ability to fathom things out.

From: Jenny via email

I think the biggest barrier to children getting out and about is inspiration. Parents, even those that want their children to be more active, aren't aware of the array of people and organisations ready willing and able to help them. And all so close to them.

Also parents really want to be able to leave their children somewhere rather than be involved with them in the activity themselves.

From: Jack aged 15 via email

I think that the best way to get kids more involved in the countryside and outdoor activities is to join a local scout group as I did. It teaches you life skills as well how to appreciate your local surroundings.

From: Garry via email

I was born in 1960, and was granted a lot of freedom to explore and discover things for myself, from a fairly early age, but always had quite strict "be home by" times to make sure I was safe.

I now have 2 girls of my own, and am unable to let them have the freedom I had, due mainly to the massive increase in people wishing to harm children. It is simply not safe to let youngsters out on their own in these modern times!

From: Georgina via email

My children (aged 5 and 7) are fans of Country File. They watched, somewhat confused, the article on re-connecting children with nature; they experience nature everyday because we love nature so much that we moved a long way to live in it. Their evenings and weekends are spent on the beach, in the river, up trees, scaling rocks, cycling, brambling, rock-pooling, making fires...

Whilst the parents in your program worry about traffic and other people harming their children, I worry about mine falling onto rocks or drowning. My children have strict rules about sticking together and not going in the water without an adult present.

If parents do not have a love of nature, then they are unlikely to encourage or facilitate it in their children.

From: Martin via email

For heaven’s sake let the kids out in the countryside. AND get them to join the Scouts or Guides – has no-one at Countryfile or the National Trust heard of these organisations? Scouts founder Baden-Powell had exactly the same problem with unfit youngsters not getting enough exercise – that’s why he founded the Scouts in the first place.

From: Alan via email

As a Somerset child with both of my parents working, I climbed the cliffs on holidays, scrambled (as a dare) through a long, rat-infested sewer pipe that ran underneath a rough road at the bottom of what we called ‘the gulley’, walked alone to and from Infant and Junior school as well as to the Wolf Cubs through the dark winter nights, kicked gas lampposts to make them burst into flame, fell off my bike, broke my arm, learned how to cross roads without getting knocked down, wandered through ‘Ninesprings woods’ with its natural pools and waterfalls, cycled miles – all this and more before I was 10 years old.

For whatever reasons, I feel we are doing a disservice to children by being over-protective. Children have to learn. The dangers of the natural world are more than outbalanced by its wonders and all that it has to teach. My advice for what it’s worth is GIVE CHILDREN SPACE!

From: Peter via email

There is a very big difference between doing and just looking or passing through. When children do visit the countryside they seem to do so as largely as observers rather than participants… activities as children most often get involved within the countryside are not usually inherently connected to nature, wildlife, and farming. They are more likely to be activities such as mountain biking or kayaking which, though very healthy and positive in themselves do not increase the young person’s sense of what is involved in living in, working in, and understanding the countryside.

From: Ajay via email

My daughter (aged 4) goes to a dedicated Forest School. They go out in ALL weathers and understand how the seasons affect life, new life in the spring and hibernation in the autumn. They slide down nature made mud slides when its wet, they see bluebell's arrive in the woods and go on silent walks in the 'Silent Woods' to listen to the sounds of nature… and much, much more.

From: ANDY via email

I thought I might share with you an activity I have with my children. In the autumn we go walking around the lanes near our village collecting acorns, beechnuts, 'conkers' etc' and plant them in plant pots. Some months later we then go out and plant them. A simple activity with many benefits, including the planting trees for the future, allowing my children to play an active part in the development of their environment, hunting for and identification of seeds, searching for last years trees.

From: Cathy via email

I think parents find it too easy to put their children in front of TV/computer/video games – none of which teach them life skills or risk. The Forest schools idea is great – but costly. I think central government should fund roles in schools such as my own. This is termed an environmental teaching assistant and covers gardening, habitats and general outdoor fun/problem solving and life skills.

From: Paula via email

As a teacher I see on a daily basis how children are unable to make decisions for themselves as they have not had the experience of challenging themselves and learning from their successes and failures they are never exposed to risk and are unable to take these experiences and use them for learning. As a member of a hill walking club based in Co. Armagh Northern Ireland, we have organised walks were our children can challenge themselves and get out into the open learning about their local environment and looking down on their area… they embrace the outdoors and rise to the challenge of climbs, from the youngest 4/5 year olds to teenagers!!

From: Carol via email

Risk averse parents/carers/practitioners need more information, guidance and support to allow their children to climb trees, cook over fires and whittle wood. Confidence needs to return to parents/carers to allow the children to gain confidence through these beneficial experiences that last long into their later lives. This kind of information needs to be shared and fast, before children become totally alienated from their natural surroundings.

From: Anon via email

I work in a socially and economically challenged primary school. I would love to help my pupils engage with the outdoors, however the cost is prohibitive. I have been researching such a trip. Costs are £25 per pupil without travel expenses. We cannot afford to subsidise trips, our parents cannot afford to pay. Transportation costs alone are extortionate. We cannot afford to take our children to 'woods', we are not close to a National Trust property or other such 'delights'. Further, pupils / adult ratios mean we often cannot even staff trips. Adult 'helpers' must be CRB checked and available during the day.

If this type of activity is seen as desirable then funding must be provided. I understand that in France there are many purpose built, secure centres that are state funded and available for use by either school children or OAPs for annual breaks. Many of the local authority centres that were available in the UK have been sold.

I believe that the usual social boundaries are the issue. I am afraid that 'those that have, get, and those that don't go without – still!

From: Ian via email

To imply this (National Trust and Forest Schools) are ‘new schemes’ and the need is recent, is misleading. Whilst we support the National Trust’s initiative, what is often forgotten is that several thousand organisations and teachers are undertaking this work almost daily, and have been doing so for many years!

The majority of people live in urban areas. Community managed city farms and gardens are mainly located in urban, often very deprived, communities and engage their local communities – and visitors from further afield – providing ‘stepping stones’ to the countryside; a large portion of people in urban areas either have little confidence or simply cannot afford to visit the countryside. They deserve as much opportunity as those who do visit, and through a gradual introduction to a ‘mini countryside’ they gain interest, and confidence, to visit the countryside.

From: Mark via email

I was horrified watching the programme last night to see the school absolutely trashing a stream by allowing children to stomp up and down the stream. This will have killed 90% of the insects and fish in the environment for almost no educational benefit whatsoever.

I write as someone who does have a professional qualification in teaching this subject. Children need to be taught that the environment is a complex living organism that should be left undisturbed as possible, it is possible with modern technology to show children what is going on in the stream without destroying everything in it.

The first thing they should all learn is to try to keep silent and listen and watch.