Time to put the wildness back into childhood

Only 40 years ago, children were free to roam about the countryside. Yet over a quarter of today’s kids have never played outside by themselves beyond their garden gate, according to a new YouGov poll for the UK charity, The Wildlife Trusts.

Modern lifestyles, stranger danger fears and declining wildlife habitats mean that youngsters are missing out on a medley of wild encounters that their parents and grandparents would have enjoyed: 60% have never spotted a peacock butterfly, more than a third have never seen a hedgehog and over half have never discovered a pond full of frogspawn.

The Trusts are concerned that cutting children off from nature will damage their health and wellbeing, as well as leaving the natural world without any future advocates. As a result, they have launched a new initiative to make ‘Every Child Wild’ and help save a generation from growing up disconnected from the natural world.

Sir David Attenborough, President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘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.’

Besides denying children the freedom to explore the great outdoors unsupervised, it seems that parents are too busy to experience nature with their kids. Less than half of children have looked for wildflowers with a parent or grandparent and over a third have never turned over a log in search of bugs with their mum or dad.

It seems that youngsters are not interacting with wildlife at school either; less than half of the children surveyed had visited a wild place on a school trip in the past year, and under a quarter said that their classroom had a nature table.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of parents (91%) polled are aware of the benefits of giving children access to nature, and over three quarters are concerned that their kids do not spend enough time outdoors.

With the launch of ‘Every Child Wild’, The Wildlife Trusts have produced a range of resources to inspire families to explore nature together and are asking everyone to share their ideas on how to put the wildness back into childhood. You can join the discussion by using #EveryChildWild on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Lucy McRobert, The Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Matters Campaign Manager, said: ‘We need to empower families, teachers and schools to ensure children have access to nature and to engage with it on a regular basis.’

‘Together, we are all nurturing the next generation of naturalists, animal-lovers, birdwatchers, explorers, scientists, campaigners and politicians to try and slow the decline of nature.’