Children need roots to grow and wings to fly

PUBLISHED: 15:55 03 December 2010 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013

The RSPB has many projects to encourage safe and educational outdoor play Do you remember lifting dead logs as a child to look for insects, playing conkers with friends, or the excitement you felt when the wind finally lifted your kite and...

Do you remember lifting dead logs as a child to look for insects, playing conkers with friends, or the excitement you felt when the wind finally lifted your kite and got it soaring high up in the air?
Some of my happiest childhood memories are from being out of doors. I remember the time my brother and I built a den from old sticks and branches in the backyard, and the winter's day when I walked through a large pool of rainwater on a nearby football pitch pretending that I was an African girl fetching water for my family. To this day, I can recall the smell of heather and the warmth I felt the time I picked blueberries and looked for skylarks on the heath close to the town in Denmark where I grew up.
Children have always gravitated towards their nearest wild place, be it a big tree, a stream or woodland nearby as their favourite area to play. Until the 1980s, children spent most of their free time outdoors, using streets, playgrounds, parks and green spaces. Back then children had the freedom to play, explore and interact with the natural world without constant supervision from adults.
Today, fears of traffic accidents, bullies or 'stranger danger', and the popularity of computers and TVs, are keeping children from enjoying the same freedom to play and roam in their neighbourhood that you and I experienced.
Despite this, Play England, which is part of the National Children's Bureau, recently published a survey showing that 80 per cent of children in the UK prefer playing outside to playing indoors, and that nearly three in four children would like to play out more often.
The survey also found that 86 percent of children prefer outdoor activities, including playing out with their friends, building dens and getting muddy, to playing computer games - but not all of them get the chance.
In fact, one in four 8 to10 year-olds has never played outside without an adult and one in three parents will not even allow older children, aged 8 to 15, to play outside the house or garden.
I'm reminded of the old saying "children need roots to grow and wings to fly" - playing outside with minimal adult supervision, within a safe place, helps children to stretch these wings as they get older.

As most practitioners of early childhood education will tell you, children learn best through free play and discovery which is self-motivated, imaginative, spontaneous, active and free of adult-imposed rules. The spontaneity of playing helps them to develop important life skills such as getting along with other people, learning how the world works by being out in it, expressing themselves and how they feel, and developing their own sense of independence and self-reliance.
Nowadays children are under a lot of pressure to perform well at school. Nature buffers the impact of stress on children and helps them deal with hard times.
There's also another argument for letting children play outside. Young people who are inspired by wildlife and nature through regular contact with it are more likely to grow up caring about the natural world and develop a positive environmental ethic.
There are many positive initiatives out there to get children and youth to connect with nature - through school and in their own time. At the RSPB, this is one of our top priorities.
The scope of what we do at the RSPB is about much more than managing nature reserves for birds. Through advocacy and practical action, we create opportunities for children and youth to learn about and explore nature.

These are some of the ways we work with children:

• More than 50,000 school children cross the UK visit our nature reserves each year through our field-teaching scheme, Living Classrooms.
• The RSPB is behind the world's largest wildlife club for children, Wildlife Explorers. Open to ages 4-19, Wildlife Explorers inspires young people about birds, wildlife and the environment around them through taking part in activities, fun day events and competitions.
• Almost 50,000 children and their teachers took part in the 2008 Big Schools' Birdwatch, which is an annual activity in January encouraging children to help us monitor UK bird numbers by counting the birds that visit their school grounds.
• We lobby Government on action to give children a chance to experience the natural environment as an integral part of their education. We are a founder of the Real World Learning Partnership, which was set up in 2003 to influence decision makers, support teachers, and increase participation in out-of-classroom learning.
• We are a leading partner of BBC Breathing Places Schools. Schools can register to Do One Thing for nature each term and are provided resources and information to make a difference for wildlife at their school, while the children learn new skills and have fun.
• Our website is packed with fun activities that children can download and get involved with outdoors, including our Wildlife Action Awards scheme and WildSquare. Read more on

In the West Midlands, our Sandwell Valley (Birmingham) and Coombes and Churnet Valley (Leek, Staffordshire) nature reserves offer field teaching and holiday clubs.

Pupils explore nature for themselves by studying the birds, animals and plants on the nature reserves through activities and play. Led by RSPB field teachers, each visit is designed to encourage curiosity and the process of discovery among pupils, through safe, hands-on activities.

For more info, log onto

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