Wild Winter Play


Wildmum’s eldest started school in September. He loves it mostly, but is struggling with the transition to a five day institutional week, spent mainly in a building where despite the fun, a lot of sitting down happens. The other day,  he said: ‘Mum, we hardly ever go to the woods any more.’ I had convinced myself that the daily runaround in the playground next to school was enough, but it seems he’s missing the quiet freedom of the outdoors.

It got me thinking about how difficult the demands of structured education are for four and five year olds and how it can cause unstructured playtime to fall by the wayside. A wealth of research has been quoted by academics and educators in recent weeks, in the wake of the government’s mental guff about starting two year olds in ‘pre-school preparation’. We know the following: Finland, where children start formal education at 7, has an excellent education system and scores top in the developed world for English and Maths. Likewise in Denmark, open air culture, ‘friluftsliv,’ informs kindergarten and preschool approach. In contrast, British schools are required to teach in a more prescriptive, less play-led way and children start formal schooling at 4 and 5 (if Gove gets his way, it sounds as if toddlers may soon be learning their ‘Willy Willy, Harry, Ste’ rhyme).

Compounding all this, as the folks at Project Wild Thing #wearewildthing highlighted so eloquently in their film (which you can now watch, for free online if you haven’t seen already: http://projectwildthing.com/film), of the free time our small children do have, only a tiny proportion is spent outside. There’s so little room for outdoor adventures, once organised, orchestrated and payed-for activities, swimming lessons, indoor softplay, Cbebbies and homework are accounted for.  In the words of Professor Tanya Byron at Mumsnet’s recent #blogfest: ‘we are raising our children in captivity.’

The fact is, it’s far easier in the summer to enable outdoor play (and more appealing for adults too), but children really need it year round.  So I’m making a promise to myself to rethink my weekends to make sure that there’s some lengthy wildtime without fail, whatever the weather, and to make sure my littlest gets plenty of it when her big bro is at school.

This weekend our wildtime took the form of a brilliant 5th birthday party courtesy of the folks at Hidden Woods (http://www.hiddenwoods.co.uk/). The children had so much fun making these mud dinosaurs (below) out of clay and seed pods, twigs and leaves they found on the forest floor. Why not try them at home with a lump of modelling clay and some naturally sourced extras foraged on a local walk…..

mud dinosaur closeup

Meantime, here are three tips from Hidden Woods’ Steve Sutherland for tempting kids outdoors when it’s cold, rainy and the sofa is calling your name…

‘Dress yourself and your child properly, and take your all-weather kit out with you (in your buggy or car boot) even if you’re not sure you’ll need them. Waterproof all in ones, wellies, warm hats and gloves mean that you’ll be comfortable and weatherproof and children won’t get distracted or put off by feeling wet or uncomfortable. Even squeezing in half an hour in the woods or a wild bit of your local park, is brilliant for children.’

‘Small children worrying about getting muddy and messy is a common problem, but they will be led by you, so encourage them to enjoy it and don’t be too ready with the hand sanitiser or baby wipes. Save that for the end. Show them you’re enjoying squelching, digging and climbing and they will too.’

‘Take your ‘sandpit kit’ to the woods with you – children can use the bucket to collect natural treasures or creatures, and the spade to dig in the mud.’