I write a monthly 'Green Scene' column for our local newspaper. Here's last week's: Wild Thing
I have vivid memories – and lots of scars – from my childhood. I built a treehouse so big it would need planning permission nowadays and so shoogly it would have failed its Building Warrant. I kissed earthworms for a dare (and, I think, for a penny). I scaled trees and fell in streams and had more patches on my clothes than Holly Hobbie’s pinafore.
We’ve just reached the end of the techno-fest that now marks school holidays in our house. I admit to feeling saddened and more than a little concerned at how quickly my 9-year old has morphed into a social-media savvy pre-teen and the amount of screen-time that involves. I am left wondering what I can do to slow the steady shuffle towards a wired childhood, where most memories involve a screen of some sort and sensations are differentiated only by a brand name.
If I can raise free range poultry, why is it so hard for me to raise a 21st century free range child?
So the launch of Project Wild Thing a few days ago comes at just the right time for me, and I suspect for others too.
Project Wild Thing (www.projectwildthing.com) is partly a response by national organisations to address what is now called NDD or Nature Deficit Disorder.
That part doesn’t particularly interest me - NGOs and a gaggle of third sector organisations spend most of their lives strategizing and accumulating grant funding around our social failings and weaknesses, often to little effect.
What matters more is the basic premise – the need for children – and, let’s be honest, adults too – to go wild in the country. The idea is to swap 30 minutes of screen time for 30 minutes spent out in nature every day.
This isn’t the structured and supervised ‘nature’ activities we’re used to – full of Risk Assessments and learning plans. This is getting out there and letting imaginations and energy run free. Finding 101 things to do with a stick (rather than reading a book about it), kissing the odd frog (or earthworm) yourself, getting muddy and wet or sticky and sometimes a little bit bruised but all the while living it large in the great outdoors.
As adults, we build around ourselves a carapace of tameness and ‘safety’ – social mores and physical and psychological barriers that reassure us against the wildness ‘out there’. Our electronic screens are just the latest version of that armour. Children copy what they see – is it any surprise they too are all teched out?
It’s not just your outer child, but your inner child that need to get out more. From now on, I’m going to spend some time each day turning off the TV, switching off the internet, putting down the smartphone, hiding the tablet and getting outside.
See you there?