Mind the gap – getting children closer to nature

13 April 2018

When I think back to the eighties, I remember climbing trees and building dens in the fields behind our house with my brother and our friends. We'd be out for hours until my Dad whistled from the back garden to call us back in for dinner. Now, as a mum of 6 year old twins, it makes me sad to think that my children - and their generation - are unlikely to enjoy anything like the same space and freedom that made childhood such a time of adventure and discovery, spending time close to nature.

The fields I used to play in were built on over 20 years ago, so access to wild places isn't what it once was, which makes the protection of our wild places, whether precious small spaces or our wonderful National Parks, so very important. 

Something else that puts distance between childhood and nature is that life seems so much busier. Maybe this is, in part, down to the responsibilities of being grown up, but things that simply didn't exist when I was young – smartphones, the internet, games consoles, multiple channels constantly broadcasting children's programmes – now account for a significant slice of time every day.  With so many things competing for attention we are constantly rushing, juggling, to cram things in - and unfortunately it's often getting outside that is squeezed out of schedules. My children spend time in front of various screens so I understand the very real challenge of finding a balance, and I won't pretend I've cracked it yet.

As someone who loves words and books I was delighted to discover 'The Lost Words'  a wonderful collaboration between Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. The story of how this wonderful book came about, from a powerful wish to do something hopeful and put words like acorn, bramble, kingfisher and wren back into the minds and vocabulary of children struck a chord with me.

In January, I started a campaign called #AcornIsToWood to try to help close the gap between nature and childhood by getting The Lost Words – a into every primary school in Wales.  I hope that the book will provide an invitation for teachers, pupils, classes and the wider school community to spend more time thinking about and getting to know our wonderful wild world. Being amongst nature makes us pause, slows time and allows our minds to be quiet. It is the perfect antidote to our fast paced, instant gratification, always-on, daily life.

Every day I see stories of how human activity impacts our planet.  The images and statistics of environmental destruction, pollution and loss of species are heartbreaking. There is a danger that the more removed we are from nature, the more distant and less relevant these things begin to feel. Yet these are not things that only happen in faraway countries.

Feeling moved to do something to protect our planet, the animals and plants we share it with, starts with knowing about the natural world. And spending time out there, in it, is the best way to achieve this.  We cannot afford for the gap between childhood and nature to continue to widen – we need to inspire the next generation, to release them into the wild, give them freedom to discover and nurture their curiosity. The health of the wild world, our own mental and physical well-being, indeed our very survival, depends on it. 

The prospect of finding ways to protect the natural world and its limited resources can feel overwhelming. It is not something that can be achieved in isolation. But I've always believed that change is possible, that small things are worth doing and can make a difference – and when lots of small things combine, the possibilities are exciting. The natural world does not come with a big budget to shout about its benefits and needs. We need to help children find ways to hush the noise from elsewhere and listen to the call of the wild. 

By Sam Hicks

You can find out more about Sam’s campaign here