The National Trust has revealed that parents need more support to make the outdoors a part of everyday family life to avoid rearing a generation completely cut off from the natural world. The Natural Childhood Inquiry – which sought submissions from experts and the public on the barriers and the solutions for children’s connection with nature – found that children’s love of nature is best started in the home.
The Inquiry follows on from a national childhood report for the National Trust by award winning nature author and wildlife TV producer Stephen Moss, published in March, which documented children’s declining connection with the outdoors and nature. Inquiry respondents said parents need more access to family-friendly, green and natural spaces, as well as more opportunities for children to enjoy nature.
Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “It is clear from the huge public response that our Natural Childhood report struck a chord with the nation. Parents want their children to have a better connection with nature, but they don’t feel completely confident in how to make that happen in a safe and stimulating way. Our inquiry showed that there is widespread agreement that this is an important issue and that now is the time to act. The worlds of conservation, government, education and child welfare need to work together with families and communities to find solutions.”
The Inquiry however recognised that there were some big barriers to a closer relationship with nature. These include excessive health and safety rules, the rise of indoor entertainment competing for children’s time and attention, traffic dangers, over-stuffed school days, and the poor quality and accessibility of green and natural spaces in many communities.
Research with children and parents commissioned by the National Trust to accompany the publication of the inquiry findings strongly validates these conclusions. A YouGov survey of 419 UK parents of under 13s revealed that a range of parental fears and concerns could be preventing children from getting the most of the great outdoors.
Stranger danger (37%), lack of safe nearby outdoor places to play (25%) and too much traffic (21%) were the top ranked barriers amongst parents of children aged 12 or under.
Just short of half (45%) of parents of pre-teens identified ‘more local safe places to play’ as the thing which would most encourage them to let their children get outdoors and explore more where they lived. The other two top solutions supported by parents were ‘more supervised play spaces’ (32%) and ‘more activities organised by schools or youth groups’ (31%).
As part of its response to the lack of connection between kids and nature the National Trust launched its 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾ campaign in May. More than 250 Trust places took part and in the first two months more than 200,000 activity scrapbooks given away and nearly 20,000 users registered on the 50 Things website.