I was lucky enough to watch a film last night called Project Wild Thing. It's not been released yet, but it soon will be. I'd picked up a flier at the last Cycle To The Cinema as the National Trust have partnered up with them to put on some community screenings in their spaces.
It's brilliant. Basically it's about a guy called David Bond who is the head of marketing for 'Nature'. It's a documentary about getting our kids outside into nature. We all know that our kids are spending more and more time in front of screens and less and less time dodging cow pats and playing wide games. The film explores why, and is the principal agent in a campaign to do something about it.
Check out the website. It's http://www.projectwildthing.com/
If you really don't have time to check it out then read this and digest it:
"The roaming distance that children play from their home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years with time spent playing outside down 50% in just one generation."
I strongly urge that you take the time to:
1. Read the website.
2. Join their network
3. Download their App Wild Time. I downloaded it last night and can't wait to show it to the kids. You tell it how much time you have, and it gives you suggestions on what to do with that time in the outdoors. Believe me there are plenty of things on there that you won't have thought of previously.
It wasn't until about half way through the film that they really hit upon what the underlying problem is, and that it's us adults, not the kids. It's an area that's really close to my heart and I've blogged and been interviewed on the subject of risk, and our risk averse society in the past.
It was a while ago that I wrote those pieces, but if anything I feel even more strongly about the issue. I guess that I am taking a risk by writing like this, and by encouraging my kids to take risks - one day I may have egg on my face, but so far so good. Letting my own kids take risks is one thing, but on a recent trip to France with some other families things went one step further. I've always been a bit of a big kid I suppose - I'm forever injuring myself and the general expectation is that it's by doing something daft that I've incurred the injury (this year I twisted an ankle making a massive leap into a river, and twisted knee falling down a rabbit hole, oh, and crashed into a van and bus simultaneous whilst trying to squeeze through a gap on my bike in a race) but it means that more and more my kids and their mates are beginning to follow what I do. In France I jumped off a rock into a pool. So the kids followed suit and jumped too. I then jumped off a bridge (it was about 7m so high enough to make you think). Before the day was out all of them over the age of 6 had jumped too. Once the kids had jumped, their parents, my friends and folk who would once have been leading the way but who now were reticent, jumped too. It was a strange role reversal, the kids egging the adults on to basically be kids again. I'm not saying that I am unique, I have a bunch of friends who act similarly, slacklining with kids on their shoulders, that sort of thing, but I do think that we are a very small minority, and if we are indeed to get kids outside where they will inevitably end up 'taking risks' then we need to turn things around.
A shot of my eldest on a Via Ferratta in the French Pyrenees this summer. His mum can't look at this picture without wincing, but the fact of the matter was he was entirely safe, using the proper equipment and had a ball. He admitted to being scared at times, but he has come up with his own different definitions for different types of fear. This one was fun-scared. There are more pics here.
I emphasised the phrase 'taking risks' in the previous sentence for a reason. I think that the one greatest issue we face is that it's entirely natural now to refer to something like jumping off a bridge or balancing on a log as taking a risk. The very label is a barrier to actually doing it and if there's one thing I have learned in all aspects of life it's the fact that the more barriers there are the less likely you are to do something. No matter how small or insignificant the barrier is, if it's there it will stop somebody from doing whatever it was they were considering. I'd argue that for the vast majority of people getting into a car is not seen as taking a risk, nor is walking along a pavement, but these are two things that really ought to sit right up there at the top of the risk tree. For one thing they are subject to actions taken by other people, but more importantly the consequences of something going wrong - a simple trip on a pavement could very easily result into a fall into oncoming traffic - are far greater than, for example, balancing along a log above a muddy puddle. Try a little people watching next time you are out in a busy area and see how much attention parents pay to their kids who are tearing along the pavements. Then watch as hoards of people head out to the honey pot picnic spots on a nice day and the very same kids attempt to hop from one boulder to another across a 6 inch deep stream to a constant barrage of 'be carefuls' and 'don't end up getting wet'. I do it myself if I'm off my guard and not in the mood to be encouraging them on their adventures, tied up in my own world and thinking about not having to wash another set of clothes.
The 'taking of risks' is part of what we do as we grow and develop. If we're not allowed to take risks we don't grow and develop. If you've never crossed a stream on wet boulders then there's a high degree of risk in doing so for the first time when you hit the countryside on a rare hot summer's day. If on the other hand you've been clambering over stones and logs since before you could walk you are far more likely to have the skills to deal with the crossing without mishap, and importantly, if things do go awry, you are more likely to be able to deal with the result and probably even lessen the impact (compare it to taking some advanced driving lessons and learning how to control a skid in a car - those that do stand a greater chance of rescuing a situation gone wrong on black ice than those who haven't).
Somehow it seems pointless writing this stuff down as it's really just common sense. We shouldn't need a bunch of academics to prove that it's all true, but perhaps that's what we do need. In the same way David and Nature are faced with the situation where they are having to treat nature as a product and sell it to the masses, perhaps a public information campaign encouraging people to step out of their narrowing comfort zones and accept the fact that we live in a world where bad things can happen, but by and large they don't.