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the missing piece of childhood

w4l articles

may 2020

What if emerging from lockdown gives back the missing piece of childhood to our children?


It seems that due to an enforced lock down and after many families spending far more time together than ever before, we have finally turned to nature and the outdoors to provide physical and mental health and to help us cope.


Those of us who are huge advocates for spending more time learning outside have been campaigning for children in particular to spend more time outdoors and amidst nature. We know that it boosts immune systems, helps us to maintain a digital balance, build resilience, confidence, gross and fine motor skills, the list goes on.


It is surprising how slow educationalists have been at times to consider how outdoor learning can help to support social distancing as schools begin to return. Of course it is true that a classroom offers containment for children, historically they have offered a place of physical safety and lets be honest most teachers do not have the time and schools sadly do not always have the space to take learning outside.


What our government, our local authorities and schools have been forced to look at now is the ability to create physical distance between children in school and so they are beginning to look outside of school for the answer. “Not an ideal solution", some may say. “How will we cope with being outside?” “What if it rains?” “It's just not practical.”


But what if this enforced change actually brings MORE benefits and a BETTER Education system than we had before? Delivering more responsible, healthier and confident children with a broader set of skills who have the belief in themselves to cope with that life throws at them?  What if their  mental health is improved and because they are getting more exercise in the fresh air, their physical health too?

Sure, the pre-CV19 curriculum may need to change and perhaps we do need to revisit how education is delivered, but have we even stopped to consider that emerging from the other side our children and future generations may be better equipped for the labour market or for life in general?


One of my favourite books is 'Last Child into the Woods',  by Richard Louv. It is a beautifully written and enlightening publication that articulates so simply the ways that children lives can be improved by simply opening the door to nature.


In this book, Louv delivers compelling arguments about how a whole generation of children are missing out on childhood experiences that those of us over 50 all shared in some way. Den building, tree climbing, bug collecting, the list goes on.  But he also goes further than this as far even as to suggest that these children are suffering as a result of this “missing piece” if their childhood and he has named it “Nature Deficit Disorder”

​So by introducing our children back INTO the outside what kind of benefits would we start to see? Could there begin to be a reversal of this 'disorder'?


Undoubtedly, most of us can and have experienced some of the physical and emotional benefits of spending more time outside, because we have lived and seen it for ourselves in the last 2 months.


We can understand why nature works and how it can help. Many families have spent actual time with their children, become educators as well as parents and although this may have caused stress what we cannot avoid is that we now all know those around us much better. Perhaps we can empathise with our teachers more because we now know how hard it is to prepare and plan engaging lessons and when our children aren’t engaged in something how hard it is to try to turn that around. We are only teaching 1 or 2 children, not a class of 30!


Because of this, our time spent on recreational activities in the fresh air have been a welcome respite for us all. The chance to run outside or to play in the garden or park. For parents the chance to breathe some fresh air and start to feel some of the tension slip away. It's a release.



However, behind the scenes, there is a far deeper cognitive process taking place here. What if we are actually starting to feel more connected with the outside? What if we are starting to form and attachment to it? We are all becoming more reliant on the feeling we all get from being outdoors is becoming more important to us.


If the suggestion that spending more time in a place or an environment strengthens our connection to it then it makes logical sense that we will then want to nurture and protect it. We will value it and want to care for it.


If we are re-introducing the outdoor environment to our children, as a result of the enforced time spent in nature, are we starting to appreciate it more? As online stores sell out of seed supplies and supermarkets sell out of flour because we are all reverting to baking and growing, isn't it natural to assume that we will feel more aligned to our food, because we are preparing more of it ourselves?

That increases our connection to the land - where our food comes from and the farmers who produce it; the birds and wildlife that inhabit the hedgerows and we can then encourage into our gardens through bug houses, bird houses and the like. The fact that we can make treats for the birds and that this can be done cheaply and easily and the satisfaction that we all feel when we see the first bird sitting on a bird feeder we have made.


The pure joy of seeing a seed emerge as a seedling on a windowsill, that little green shoot of hope has a new significance in our lives now. We have succeeded in doing something new, creating a new life and when that plant produces a tomato or a strawberry how much pleasure can our children derive from that. How much confidence and self-esteem can that simple process build in them?

Kid's Playing Outdoor

For the first time in years many of us are noticing the quality of the air, the sounds of birdsong and the beauty as spring emerges into summer and the butterflies are appearing. The joy of getting outside at this time is like a moment of freedom and inspiration.


When our children emerge from this process and return to school, if more of that day is spent outside then those links and benefits remain strong. The connection to the outdoors could remain a consistent and strong thread towards our progression and we could just be starting to raise a generation of children who start to value nature, the countryside and the outdoors and who will in turn feel more comfortable and engaged with this space and the huge benefits that this environment can offer.


So, bring it on... Take more learning outside and equip the next generation with the missing piece of childhood that is so essential in their ability to cope in life and appreciate, value and nurture that they will as a result feel for the environment they live in. Better lives, better communities, better environments through better education.

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