Lifestyle: Kids deserve to go wild

Children playing outdoors. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
Children playing outdoors. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
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Getting your kids back to nature for just half an hour a day, every day, will leave them instantly happier and healthier, says Lisa Salmon.

It’s fun, it’s free and we’re surrounded by it - yet increasing numbers of children aren’t spending any time playing outside in the wild.

Research has found only 10% of modern kids play in woodlands and countryside, compared to 40% a generation ago.

It’s a sad figure, but thankfully, a newly-formed group - Wild Network - have decided to do something about it.

The Wild Network, formed of more than 370 organisations including the National Trust, RSPB, the Scouts Association and the Woodland Trust, have joined together to launch a new campaign calling for more ‘wild time’ for every child, every day.

Initially, they are just suggesting that children under 12 swap 30 minutes of screen time for an extra half an hour of wild time - which can be as easy as stepping into the back garden to play - every day.

This simple move could decrease children’s time in front of screens by 10%, and increase their levels of physical activity, alertness and wellbeing.

Andy Simpson, chairman of the Wild Network, says: “Year on year, the evidence is overwhelming that children are spending less and less time outside.

“That really has poor implications for children’s health and wellbeing.

“We’re not against technology, we just want parents to consider swapping a bit of screen time for more wild time. It’s not one or the other, children can do both.”

Simpson points out that autumn is “absolutely the best time” to get out into nature with the kids, splashing in puddles in their wellies, kicking through leaves and blackberry picking.

“The tragic truth is that kids have lost touch with nature and the outdoors in just one generation,” says Simpson.

“Time spent outdoors is down, roaming ranges have fallen drastically, activity levels are declining and the ability to identify common species has been lost.

“With many more parents becoming concerned about the dominance of screen time in their children’s lives, and growing scientific evidence that a decline in active time is bad news for the health and happiness of our children, we all need to promote nature.

“We want parents to see what this magical wonder-product does for their kids’ development, independence and creativity, by giving wild time a go.”

Suggestions of how to get more time in nature include everything from collecting conkers, camping and snail racing to playing ‘leaf snap’ and counting autumn colours on trees.

Being in the wild doesn’t mean kids have to abandon their technology all together though: a new ‘Wild Time’ app is available to give time-pressed families a bucket list of ideas to help get their kids outdoors.

“Sometimes people think nature is a package, that you go somewhere and it’s organised and you pay for it,” says Simpson. “The Wild Network is about doing something outside your own front door, it’s not about travelling two hours in a car to experience nature.

“We seem to have lost the habit of it, which is a shame because it’s so much fun, with no price tag.”

The Wild Network campaign is being launched in conjunction with a new documentary film, Project Wild Thing, which is currently being shown at more than 50 cinemas across the UK.

The film was made by father David Bond who, in a bid to get his young daughter and son off the sofa and outdoors, appointed himself ‘Marketing Director for Nature’.

To make his ‘brand’ - which is of course, nature - stand out from the crowds of other brands competing for his children’s attention, Bond worked with branding and outdoor experts to develop a campaign to sell nature - the ultimate, free, wonder-product.

“I wanted to understand why my children’s childhood is so different from mine, whether this matters and if it does, what I can do about it,” explains Bond.

He says the reasons children, whether they live in cities or the countryside, have become disconnected from nature and the outdoors are complex.

“Project Wild Thing isn’t some misty-eyed nostalgia for the past - we need to make more space for wild time in children’s daily routine, freeing this generation of kids to have the sort of experiences that many of us took for granted.

“It’s all about finding wildness on your doorstep and discovering the sights, sounds and smells of nature, whether in a back garden, local park or green space at the end of the road.”