I’m packing to take my children away for Easter. They are aged 4 and 5. We are going for a week to the Yorkshire Dales. The cottage we stay in, Nettlebed, near Crackpot in Swaledale, has some particularly strong memories for me. I’ve been going there for Easter holidays for as long as I can remember.
Filling their bag has made me think back to what I packed as a child. I remember that my suitcase was never full – just a few books, penknives, some string, woolly jumpers and a cagoule – which leaked. Now I find myself packing their favourite toys – a robot, DVDs, piles of clothes including hi-‐tech waterproofs, headphones, spare batteries, a doll, the doll’s suitcase (which includes a hair and makeup kit). I’ve managed to prune it back – but there was a serious altercation about the doll’s hairdryer.
It has made me utterly determined to coax them outside for as much of the week as possible. If they insist on taking a subset of their technological life up to a wild, wild place, I’m going to try to make sure they don’t get to use it. I am, after all, the self-appointed Marketing Director for Nature. If I can’t persuade my own children to frolic like spring lambs in the Yorkshire Dales, I’m in trouble. Here’s my plan of attack. Give them an early breakfast, pack lunch, waterproofs on, outside until 5pm. Then they can do the doll’s hair thing in the evening if they have to, while I catch up on emails…
I’m not expecting that we will conquer Great Shunner Fell. Or even make it all the way up Blea Barf (the hill behind the cottage). But we will stay outside.
I have a secret weapon. We will all be carrying den kits. These are bags that contain bits of tarpaulin, some string, tent pegs, a mallet, and a tin mug. I made up three kits from a DIY shop for £15. I will be carrying a stove and hot chocolate. We will be making camps.
My earliest memory is a camp my cousins made and I shared in the streambed just behind the cottage. It seemed like an enormous world then. Hawthorns, bent over by the north winds, sheltered the little gully. Rabbits would lurch into the camp, freeze, then scarper. Sheep peered in quizzically. We lit a little fire. I was extremely happy.
The vast majority of people point to similar memories when asked when they felt happiest and safest as children. I’ve asked hundreds of children the same question during the making of my documentary Project Wild Thing.
Thankfully the majority of them still recall an outside memory. But by no means all of them do. As we have built up the barriers between our children and the natural world, children have retreated into their bedrooms. 40% of the children I asked (and I bet this percentage is growing) recalled indoor memories. Of course, sometimes this is a rational response to crime on the streets, or dangerous traffic. But more often than not, it is a function of the unbelievably powerful marketing forces that keep telling us, and our children, that we cannot be happy without stuff – toys, gadgets, screen time. The outdoors is a terrible place for children if you want them to consume. I’m not suggesting that the brands, which want children to buy into their products, have put up these barriers to the outdoors. But they have not broken them down either.
As parents, we have a stark choice. Sit back and let children be swamped by the marketing messages that encourage them to sit indoors. Or fight back and become the Marketing Directors for Nature in our families.
I’ll report back on how it goes in Nettlebed. I’m currently considering putting all the toys in one bag, then “forgetting” it. Forgive me, Lord.
All content and images © Green Lions Ltd 2013