Today’s children are growing up using technology which was the stuff of science fiction for their parents’ generation. They will probably gain a lot of benefit from this, such as the ability to keep in touch with their friends easily, regardless of where they are located geographically. At the same time, however, nothing replaces actual human interaction, or time spent in the outdoors, both of which help them to develop essential life skills.
Technology versus climbing trees
Take a look back at the children’s books of years gone by and you’ll very quickly find a recurring theme of children having adventures outdoors and learning from them. Regardless of whether these adventures took place in the real world or in fantasy worlds, the core theme was that children discovered themselves and what they were capable of through their interaction with nature and through meeting new people and learning more about the people they already knew.
The fact that these books stay popular and that many modern books have similar themes (even if they incorporate references to technological developments), shows that even in today’s high-tech world, this concept of learning in an outdoor environment still strikes a chord with today’s children and their parents.
Take a closer look at technology and you’ll see how often it tries to recreate the feeling of being involved with nature. For example, many children’s computer games are set in the outdoors and games companies often make a huge effort to create believable natural environments. While stories and games set in the outdoors can be both great fun and full of material for learning, the simple fact is that virtual reality (as yet) is unable to compete with actual reality.
Children love the outdoors but often spend less time in it than they used to
Even though experts recommend that children of all ages should spend at least one hour out of doors every, single day and depending on their age and development stage, up to three may be ideal, the fact is that many children are spending far less time out of doors for a whole variety of reasons.
The move towards urban living can make it harder for children to access the outdoors, even with their parents and certainly by themselves. Likewise, today’s generation of parents are possibly more safety-conscious than their predecessors and hence find themselves caught in the Catch-22 situation of knowing that their children would benefit from the opportunity to be outdoors more, but being unable to find the time to supervise them and unwilling to take the risk of sending them out alone.
Trips and activities supervised by professionals could be the solution
The importance of outdoor learning is now increasingly recognized by education professionals, with schools often doing everything they can to include it as part of the curriculum. Installing outdoor structures and outdoor play equipment can give children a designated area to play outdoors safely.
There is, however, generally a limit to what can be achieved through this channel. Because of this, parents who want their child to enjoy the benefits and stimulation of outdoor activities, but who lack the time and expertise to provide safe supervision, could be well advised to look at entrusting their children to the care of professionals, so that their young ones get the opportunity they need to learn outdoors in safety.
Andy Swain is the Managing Director of SAS Shelters, a family-run business specialising in the design, manufacture and installation of a variety of products for schools including school canopies, shelters, walkways and playground shades.