What is it that's stopping us getting outside? Is it screens? Is it lack of interest?
Maybe, but there's something else. The Natural Play Killers.
Let me tell you a true story..
Until quite recently I lived in a city centre, a nice bit near a park. I used to walk everyday with my new baby and a dog. This park had hundreds of daffodils in spring, it was beautiful, always cheered me up after a wet city winter. My daughter would have been age two, we were walking one day and picked a couple of daffodils.
Someone leant out of the window and shouted at me.
"Leave them alone, what would happen if everyone came along and helped themselves to daffodils? let others enjoy them, how can you do such a thing?"
Or words to that effect. You can imagine how well that went down on a hormonally challenged afternoon, I won't repeat here the expletives that came in return.
I felt humiliated.
My daughter, I don't think fully understood what happened but I saw that the couple of daffodils she and I now held in our hands were something to be ashamed of. I was distraught.
To be honest this wasn't just one occasion, a woman walking by another time retorted with a similar comment and even a close friend of mine once said "why are you picking those? they're full of germs and bugs"
Hmmn. It is enough to put you off, isn't it?
But I wonder about these people? these Natural Play Killers. What's got everybody so wound up? I can understand the thinking here. I don't agree with it but I can understand it. The train of thought is that everyone will take daffodils and ruin the park therefore it not being enjoyable for others to view it.
When did nature and flowers become something that was behind glass? Something not to be touched? If it was an endangered orchid then maybe its a different discussion, but a handful of daffodils are not going to limit the population of flowers and maybe, just maybe what is gained in an understanding and appreciation of nature so inspires a life led to seek out and reinstate these areas if natural beauty in our collected lives, isn't that worth a couple of daffodils?
Since then I encourage a participation with nature for my kids, yes at the expense of a daffodil or a caterpillar that may now never reach his full potential as a moth, but I hope my children as a result stand a good chance of reaching their full potential for a committed and impassioned life in love with nature.
I'm not saying go out and abuse the world resources. But what is gained in an appreciation of the world around us through first hand experiences that are on our doorstep far outweighs the loss of that flower or caterpillar or fish. If we keep it at arm's length what will happen? No one experiences anything real, senses are numbed and caring for what is around us is lost.
Try not to keep it at arm's length, as with so many things in life there is a balance here. A smart, common sense brain should be able to distinguish the difference. The growth of this culture of criminalization of nature and natural play is not helping us.
As Richard Louv says in his book "Last Child in the Woods"
how can we care about something we don't know exists?
These experiences are the stepping-stones for a life led as a custodian of nature and we need to preserve the next generation of these adults whom are now our children.
So I still think about that moment, the shouting out the window one.
What would happen if everyone came along and picked the daffodils?
- schools would see the children's interest and encourage learning days in the park
- more people would use the park for recreation time so improving health of the immediate community
- the local health centre would notice the positive effects to patients wellbeing after spending time in the flowers and encourage more out door natural activities for patients within hospitals
- children would learn about life cycles of bulbs and worms and ecosystems of a simple daffodil without being in school
- many children would be inspired to continue learning about nature and the environment and pass on that love to their children and grandchildren
- one child would one day understand the complexity of the structure of that daffodil and complete engineering or DNA studies that further the benefits of science in our lives
- natural spaces would become a priority for town planning and the barriers between urban and natural spaces would become less
Maybe you think I'm spinning tales of fantasy. That is up to you.
But can you imagine the opposite? One where all these points didn't happen, one where our experience and enjoyment of the world would be less and the long-term effects on health and society that would lead to?.
Unfortunately that's not fantasy either.
I know which I want to make happen.
Since this event I have been inspired to launch The Smart Happy Project, a quality magazine connecting children with nature and learning through natural geometry. It strives to get children picking flowers. Visit the website and join the membership with your email address for info on activities that connect your child to the wonders of nature. A recent popular activity is 'The Wonder Journal', discovering the tiny treasures in autumn's sticky buds.