Wild child?

A new poll by The Wildlife Trusts has revealed that 78% of parents think that their children do not spend enough time interacting with nature.

Other notable results were that only 10% of children said they played in wild outdoor spaces. The results of the study have spread around the internet and people have reacted in a predictably dismayed fashion but it would be a stretch to say anyone was surprised. A huge amount of parents are part of the iPad, Wi-Fi generation so it isn’t hard to imagine that children spend more time indoors now than ever before.

A similar study four years ago found that less than half (42%) of children surveyed between the ages of 9 and 11 knew what an oak tree looked like and only around two thirds (62%) knew what a frog looked like.

There is also a concern, revealed in previous studies, that people fear children may damage wild places. Dr Martin Maudsley, play development officer for Playwork Partnerships, at the University of Gloucestershire, said (of the initial study) that adults had become too protective of wild places: “Environmental sensitivities should not be prioritised over children. Play is the primary mechanism through which children engage and connect with the world, and natural environments are particularly attractive, inspiring and satisfying for kids.”

Sir David Attenborough, President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, added: “We will be physically, mentally and spiritually impoverished if our children are deprived of contact with the natural world. Contact with nature should not be the preserve of the privileged. It is critical to the personal development of our children.”

The current study also finds that less than half of children have gone on school trips to learn about wildlife and so some of the blame is being shifted to schools. This is fair to an extent, as schools should make people aware of animals and plants. However a huge majority of parents (91%) said they thought interacting with nature was important. It seems there is a slight discrepancy between parents thinking nature is important and parents who are taking their children to wild places. In all honesty we learn very little about nature at school, I don’t recall studying animals or plants very much at all at school. Even secondary school biology didn’t cover much but I did spend vast amounts of time wandering through forests (often lost) and clambering up hills with my family.

It is very easy to see why people don’t play outside as I can imagine it would be quite frightening to let your child out places considering all the possible dangers that there are in the world. Also there is little for people to do outside now as society has changed and Wi-Fi is more fun than an empty park. Equally though if parents are not happy about how much their child knows about nature then surely some of the onus would be on them to make up the difference? On the flip side though you can argue that people who live in the city have much less chance of interacting with nature and possibly inner city schools should focus on this issue. Schools however would probably say that they have to teach a certain curriculum and can’t just pop out to a forest every now and again. Others would say that they are in the city and there is nowhere “wild” to go.

So this all leads us back to children not knowing what a frog is and nothing that can be done about. We could also pose the question, does it matter? It matters that some people need to know but others really aren’t interested in wildlife. Some people will work in cities and offices and not care about wildlife, we can’t expect everyone to care and no amount of being outdoors will change that.

As always we need some sort of balance where schools do teach about nature but parents also need to take their children to outdoor places so that they can learn about wildlife. For this reason the authorities at large need to make sure that there are still parks and forests remaining.

Sir David Attenborough has said in the past that “The wild world is becoming so remote to children that they miss out,” he said, “and an interest in the natural world doesn’t grow as it should. Nobody is going protect the natural world unless they understand it.” So we need to make sure people do.

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