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Go on, go for a WILD WALK!

For many children these days walking around their community is a rare occurrence. In order to save time we travel in the car to nursery, school, clubs, to pay a visit or pop to the shop. Because of this children no longer get the opportunity to explore and investigate their landscape. We maximise our time to the full, but to what cost?




As a child I spent most of my time on the outskirts of the village with my friends, racing around the lanes on my BMX. I knew every footpath that was a right of way but spent more time on the secret paths that linked fields and farms - the places we weren’t supposed to be at all!


I try and recreate these experiences for the children at WildPlay but more recently, at home with our own children. Here are my TOP TIPS for going on a wild walk with children so that they (and you) ENJOY it!

 

1.    Do some research - Get an OS map for your area even if you’ve lived there a long time… look at where the footpaths and bridleways go, look for new places to explore, are there any streams or woodlands nearby? 

2.    Dress for the weather! Every time we go out in our house it’s such a rigmarole getting on suitable clothing… no-one wants to wear old clothes, waterproofs, wellies or muck boots but they all want to tramp around in ditches, puddles or climb up the nearest tree. Thirty minutes of arguments about suitable clothing is worth two hours of happy warm and dry playing once we’re outside.

3.    Be prepared for hunger - Take a drink and a sustaining snack- something with carbs is good!

4.    Take a bag (or 3) - For collections of stones, sticks, foraged food, potential craft material/ kindling… or be prepared to fill your pockets!

5.    Let them choose the direction - Once you’re outside and can give a choice in which way to go, let them choose. Give them some options and you promote independence. They’ll also think they are leading an expedition into new found territories!

6.    Don’t expect children to walk sensibly in a straight line - No child will automatically do this. In his book Wye Valley, Peterken (2008) talks about Mesolithic footprints preserved in mud flats; sets of large adults’ footprints and children’s footprints ‘dancing around them.’ Children run ahead and around, it’s instinctive and they’ve been doing it since at least 5900BC! If that doesn’t convince you then consider the extra exercise tiring out your kids, it also means that they are seeing much more than you are and taking in extra viewpoints. From this children can learn to make their own decisions, choosing for themselves to stop and look at something along the way.

7.    Think like a child - What used to excite you about going outside as a child? Tune into those memories and try to allow your children the freedom to explore and investigate for themselves. Most children will be attracted to the riskier elements of your walk- climbing trees, or wading through streams. Try not to stop them, but encourage them to assess the risk for themselves so you know they can be prepared for next time.

8.    Don’t over educate it! If your main agenda is to teach your children about this species or that tree, you will kill the excitement for them. Wait for the questions to be asked and then respond, if you don’t know what something is you can always look it up later together… if you give them the answers to everything they’ll never learn to find out things for themselves. I usually have a pocket full of crushed berries, nuts or seeds for identification after a walk.


In the long run, talking children on wild walks in your own community will show them where they can go by themselves or with friends as they get older, you might also come across other families to link up with.




“If children walk and ride bikes in their neighbourhoods frequently, rather than always getting driven… they are more likely to hang out there and play as well… The leg home from school is an opportunity to start some sort of play” (Lanza, 2012).


Lanza’s Playbourhood book has become my new bible - inspiring me to focus on our local area for myself and our family in order to return to a childhood focused on community play. Motivated by this, our family jaunts have revealed some amazing finds within a few miles from home; by chance we have come across crumbly fisherman’s pathways along the river, kingfishers and dippers, wax caps in a meadow, a concrete ‘waterslide’ down the bank, muddy streams and ditches for splashing and damming and an ivy rope swing to swing down the bank.


The excited chattering, spontaneous play and muddy happiness that results from being outdoors remains my encompassing inspiration for life, for family and for WildPlay.

 

Jo Dainty

Senior Nature Play Ranger

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust

 

 

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