I started Nature Kids not because I’m an expert on all things outdoors and kids. Far from it. The idea was conceived at the Museum for Rural Life, on the spur of the moment, but with a lot of clarity. There was this lightbulb moment that linked so many things that I feel passionate about.
Interestingly though, I’m sure that in another place and time, this idea would not have formed, simply because the need for promoting outdoor play wouldn’t have been there.
I won’t go down the route of giving anecdotes of my own childhood and how I played outdoors. There is no question that the current generation of children get less time playing out than most of their parents did. What tickled my fancy was the fact that there is an institutionalised lack of outdoor play opportunities in the early years.
Let me elaborate a bit. My assumption of early years provision was that every child would get daily outdoor time in some shape or form. Nothing fancy. Something like letting baby sleep outside. Like playing outside. Like going for a walk. Simple stuff, just a bit of fresh air and all that, which improves the immune system and makes the child sleep better at night. I took it as understood that this would happen.
For anyone using childcare in Scotland it won’t come as a surprise that this wasn’t the case. And while I hate comparisons, I wonder if it was the German understanding of what is good for a child that caused the friction, because yes, in Germany, it is normal practice that you take your baby out every single day, and that you expect your childcare provider to do likewise.
We have used childcare providers who pride themselves in access to outdoor play. It was on my list of questions at every initial interview. I always got an enthusiastic response that yes, kids would be outside every day.
However the reality is different. It’s all about good weather in all but the obvious exception (that would be the forest kindergarten). I provided waterproofs for every age that never came home for washing, bearing witness of the nice weather rule that seems to operate. Kids only get out in the sunshine, never when it rains. And of course it rains a lot in Scotland.
At the nursery I was asked if there was any information missing on the daily diary. I asked for information on time spent outdoors. No follow up, in fact, the diary got scrapped. The childminder was doing reasonably well, as her flat was small and the garden big, so there was more outdoor play than the average but still far from “daily”.
And now, at the induction day to school, a school leading the way in outdoor education in Scotland, a school that dared to run the induction day outdoors, a mildly rainy day meant a transfer indoors (We turned up with a muddy and wet child straight from the woods and I felt very awkward with out muddy wellies and dirty waterproofs but at least my daughter didn’t). I have to say this was not a start that filled me with confidence.
At a previous occasion, the school tour, I asked the children if they got to play outdoors every day and the answer was that no, not if it rained. I prodded on and couldn’t get a straight answer as to what constituted “rain” because really, it rains a lot in this country and if that keeps you from going out to play, well, there won’t be much outdoor play at all.
Now you could say that it’s the parents responsibility but when I come home at 6pm and need to cook and do bedtime (and fit in homework from August), there is generally no time to spend outdoors on the days I work. It’s a rush all the way to the land of nod and for me it’s a choice between a healthy meal and outdoor play. I rely on childcare providers to offer outdoor play and surely it’s not too much to ask for considering the child spends 9 hours there?
There are so many laudable initiatives, campaigns and conferences. But the simple fact remains that we are depriving our children from daily outdoor time in the formative years. And as long as this continues and I get looked at strangely for asking if my child will be taken out more if I provide waterproofs, there is still a lot to be done for all our children.