As a member of the Outdoor Learning Team for Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, it’s my job to get our next generation outdoors, often through school visits or family activities during the holidays. This is lots of fun and a huge privilege, however there is an ulterior motive (besides the fact that I love lekkin’ out in’t woods)!
As a species, we evolved spending time outdoors, working together as a team and moving across large areas of land. Every fibre of our being still wants to do this and for good reason. We are so linked to nature that we can’t live without it.
Not only do we benefit from phytoncides produced by trees which fight viruses in our bodies, but we need vitamin B12 which used to be absorbed through contact with soil. And the very air we breathe gets recycled by trees. It’s a very clever system this nature stuff!
The modern world is very different to the world we’re designed for. We are often sedentary for long periods of time, indoors looking at a screen. We are also (especially now) more solitary than we should be, and this pattern starts at a young age. If you’re an adult reading this, then you probably grew up playing in nature and the natural world which was your playground was rich and beautifully diverse. Today only 10% of children play in nature. This has resulted in rising obesity levels and low mental health recorded in today’s in primary school children.
The last 40 years or so have also seen a huge decline in nature itself, with many species that were once a common sight facing extinction. It’s no coincidence. If our children don’t know about the natural world, then they won’t care if it is taken from them. It will be the new normal.
Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the Outdoor Learning Team are trying to reverse this trend. We take groups of children outdoors and immerse them in their natural environment. We set them challenges which they can only overcome by working together, we teach them about the plants and animals they share their surroundings with and sometimes even cook marshmallows over a campfire (it’s a tough job)!
The physiological benefits of spending time in nature are practically endless and inexorably important. More than that, it’s also loads of fun!
Chris Smith, Senior Outdoor Learning Officer
Our Outdoor Learning team & Wild Play family events are supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery