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'Keep kids indoors' society is 'failing' young people

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Published by Hannah Wooderson for 24dash.com in Communities

'Keep kids indoors' society is failing young people 'Keep kids indoors' society is failing young people

Children and young people are being failed by a society which discourages outdoor adventure, according to experts.

That was the conclusion that leading environmental and childcare professionals and academics came to at a recent conference. The Growing Up Outdoors event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Countryside Recreation Network, a network of 29 government agencies and national organisations from the UK and Ireland, managed by Sheffield Hallam University.

Key speakers included Children's Commissioner for England Sir Al Aynsley-Green and Jim Davis from the Children's Society.

Jim Davis encouraged delegates to explore their own childhood memories of play and adventure. He said: "Great adventures speak of risk, challenge, nail biting moments, hanging on by fingertips and ending up with scraped knees. An adventure isn’t an adventure unless it involves the application of at least one plaster."

He suggested that society has forgotten the importance of unsupervised play, and even though we may appreciate the value of outdoor adventure, there is a huge reluctance to apply that belief to our own children.

He asked: "Do you look at three kids wading in a stream dragging logs as vandals or adventurers? Do you look at a child wildly swinging from a branch on a hastily constructed rope swing with joy in your heart or a sense of dread?

"Do you see two lads pushing an old scooter down a by lane and think' I should call the police' or 'I should ask for a ride'?"

Jim concluded: "We must create a culture that not only believes that children should be outdoors, but takes joy in seeing them do so - a society that not only idealises the vision of children growing up in natural surroundings, but actively encourages our own to do so."

Renowned children's play expert, Tim Gill, provided some positive examples of work to address these challenges by the Forestry Commission. Tim suggested rediscovering 'the lost art of benign neglect' in the management of woodland to provide stimulating environments for play.

Lynn Crowe, Professor of Environmental Management at Sheffield Hallam, said: "One of the key points to come out from this event was that, as a society, we just don't listen to children's voices. As adults we are constantly telling young people what's good for them, and not listening to their needs.

"The challenges put to the conference delegates by the two representatives from the Scouts, Amy and Becky, really highlighted that issue, and the obstacles we need to overcome to change this situation.

"They identified three key obstacles for young people's use of outdoors recreation: the poor image of traditional 'countryside recreation' activities - which makes outdoor adventure seem boring and unattractive to young people today; the lack of welcome which many young people feel in the outdoors; and the over emphasis on health and safety issues which seem to dominate any outdoors activity."

Delegates ended the conference by issuing a set of proposals to address the issues. These included: getting children involved in designing and planning natural play space; challenge adults' intolerance of children being outdoors; create 'play rangers' associated with open spaces, to provide adults with the reassurance of safe play areas for young children; think about 'risk benefit' as part of our approach to risk management, and adopt common sense approaches to health and safety in the outdoors.

For more information on the Countryside Recreation Network visit www.countrysiderecreation.org.uk
 

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