Walking through the park after running one of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s children’s activities, a little girl of about 8 or 9 came down the path on her scooter making every effort to ride through the puddles, which were so large after recent rainfall that they consumed half of the pathway! Muddy water splashed all over her cream tights and I paused in anticipation of an angry parent shouting. All I heard instead was the girl’s screams of joy and a male blackbird practising his tuneful song, almost as if congratulating her. As the girl reached my view I saw that she was head to toe in mud with tribal mud face paint.
I reminisced to my childhood, growing up in the suburbs. As a child I knew all the places that I was not allowed to play, and that’s exactly where I chose to play. My school holidays were filled with climbing trees to the side of the playing field; making improvements to “MY” den after other children had made changes to what was in fact their den as well when I was not occupying it. My friends and I would wander through the fields to the side of the bypass, wildflowers as high as our heads that would leave us coloured-in by bright yellow pollen and usually suffering with terrible hayfever. My mum gave up keeping me clean, so I had a stash of old clothes. The arms and legs were too short but they were my dirty clothes and they meant that I could explore so I didn’t care what they looked like.
One summer when I was 10 or 11, it had been so hot that some friends and I headed over to the brook after school to cool off. One of my trainers slipped off and I lost it. I nervously hobbled home and offered no explanation for the mysterious disappearance of my shoe but I’m guessing my wet clothes gave it away.
Most adults will share these fond memories with me I’m sure, but children today don’t get as much opportunity to play in the wild. Parents keep toddlers in buggies so they won’t get their new wellies muddy, children are told off for climbing trees, teachers come equipped with a life supply of wet wipes and we are building over our children’s WildPlay spaces. Children are becoming disconnected from nature, they don’t know common plant names, they don’t know how to play conkers or make daisy chains and they think den building workshops will be indoors!
I’m glad that I saw that little girl being a child; she reminded me how important my job is, to help to ensure that more children can be like her. So as a new school year begins, this is my plea to all parents, carers, childminders, school teachers, nursery schools, aunties, uncles, grandparents and children to switch off, find some old clothes and get outside!
This post first featured in Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s members’ magazine in summer 2015.