0129 GMT November 18, 2019
In January, the UK government announced it would set £10 million aside for outdoor learning — part of a 25-year environment plan that includes a pledge to “encourage children to be close to nature, in and out of school, with particular focus on disadvantaged areas”.
Worries about children becoming disconnected from nature are not new, according to The Guardian.
A 2016 study by Natural England found that more than one in nine children had not set foot in a park, forest or other natural environment over the previous year.
Children from low income and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) families were particularly affected. Just 56 percent of under-16s from BAME households visited the natural environment at least once a week, compared to 74 percent from white households.
Technology plays a part in this ‘complex and systemic’ issue, according to not-for-profit The Wild Network. Mark Seers, chief wild officer of the organization, notes that other factors include parental fear, reduction of play time in schools and lack of green space.
While initiatives such as those encouraging street play can help — particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who face declining opportunities for outdoor play — overcoming the barriers is not necessarily an easy task.
“We’ll never be able to find the budget to attract the children’s attention like Facebook or Apple can,” explains Seers. “How do we find relationship and balance between screen time and wild time? Truly I think [that’s] the parenting challenge of our times.”
Conversations about the best way to tackle the issue are beginning to happen across many levels of education. In 2016, 15-year-old bird watcher Mya-Rose Craig organized a Race Equality in Nature conference in Bristol to bring together experts from nature conservation, universities and schools and discuss overcoming barriers that leave BAME children without equal access to nature. The idea came after she saw the impact her summer nature camps, which she has run since 2013, had on BAME children from inner-city Bristol.
“Last year, most [of the attendees] were aged 10 or 11 years old, and all lived in one of the most deprived wards in the city,” she said. “The camp was a real eye-opener in that the children all engaged with their natural surroundings. One child described how in the city there was nothing but the smell of pollution, but in the countryside, it was a good smell, the smell of fresh air. None of the children had seen cows before or even stroked dogs.”
There’s an increasing interest from schools looking to improve all children’s access to nature through programs like forest schools, which promote outdoor play. The Forest School Association, a professional body, said its membership has increased from 200 level three forest school practitioners five years ago to 2,000 this year.