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Children deprived of great outdoors
10:04am Tuesday 22nd May 2012 in News
Father of two and Beaver Scout leader Simon Cowley of Pyecombe is championing fresh air and outdoor pursuits for young people who are glued to their TV.
Here he tells us why he thinks children should be learning more bushcraft skills.
As a child some of the best days of my life were spent in the great outdoors, whether it was climbing trees, playing hide and seek or building camps and dens, nothing else gave me the sense of freedom and adventure that I loved growing up.
It is a shame that today the average child spends less than 10% of their play time in wild places and a staggering 2.5 hours a day watching television according to a recent survey conducted by the National Trust.
In another survey, carried out by the makers of a well known children’s drink on 2,000 parents, some worrying facts were uncovered.
Although 97% of those who took part said they believed that it was important for children to play outside, only just over a third said they took them outside. While nine out of ten children regularly watch DVDs only 30% are allowed to take part in activities where they might risk bumps and scrapes – such as climbing trees. There were signs that a new generation of parents who themselves had not been allowed to play unsupervised in parks or woods were now bringing up children without vital experiences to draw upon.
The whole cultural phenomenon of health and safety has made parents disproportionately risk averse when compared to the actual risks themselves, for instance, three times as many children visit the casualty department as a result of falling out of bed than out of a tree.
It has become widely recognised that this lack of “nature time”, is having a detrimental effect on both the physical and personal development of the nation’s young people.
This, when coupled with the growing levels of childhood obesity, has been instrumental in creating my strong belief that it is time to turn the tide.
Young people and those responsible for them need the confidence to get out there and discover the natural world around them, their place within it and the undiscovered skills and talents within them.
Great Outdoors, which I created, takes small groups out into a woodland settings to teach them bushcraft skills and the responsible management and methods of firelighting, shelter building, campfire cooking, navigation, nature observation and tracking. All these are delivered with an emphasis on what is arguably the most important element of any learning experience- fun.
Not only do the explorers get the opportunity to learn about bushcraft and living comfortably out of doors but also the various natural resources that are available and how to sustainably harvest, process and utilise them and through doing this we keep ancient skills alive The personal development of young people – regardless of background, circumstances or abilities – should be at the core of their activities.
Children respond to a varied, relevant and fun training programme with an emphasis on building self-confidence, self-reliance and self-esteem.
By allowing young people to be responsible for their own safety and giving them the opportunity to assess risk, they are better equipped to deal with situations as they make their way in the world. Our “adventures” recognise that everyone is different, so every course takes into account the age, abilities and experience of those we teach.
Young people are offered the opportunity to learn new skills, strengthen family relationships and reconnect with both each other and with nature.
As a Scout leader and father of two boisterous boys, I have plenty of experience in leading outdoor activities for young people and an understanding of what makes kids tick and what’s needed to keep them engaged and focused.
I have seen the glow that young people feel when they have achieved something that they thought they may not be able to do or realised that they are an important part of a team.
I have seen the joy they experience when they do something unusual or out of routine and realise that nothing disastrous has occurred as a result.
I wanted to create the opportunity for all young people to experience this.
If one child grows up to love spending time in the great outdoors respecting and understanding the value of our natural world, then the whole endeavour has been worthwhile.