Nature’s Playground

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On top of Cave Hill – Belfast

So, Twitter informed me that today is World Physical Activity Day and that got me thinking about an article I read recently on The Wild Network website ( http://www.thewildnetwork.com ) about how a recent study commissioned by Persil showed that children today spend less time outdoors than prisoners. That made me really sad.

When I think back to my own childhood, my siblings and I spent so much time playing out in the street with our friends, organising games, climbing trees, jumping over streams and going to the park. My knees were permanently covered in plasters and scrapes and bruises from our adventures were just the norm.

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First one to the tree gets to make a wish!

When I first became a mother I was a bit over the top about keeping baby clean, spraying everything with anti-bacterial cleaner, and babywipes were always at hand should the little one get any dirt on his hands. With each new addition to the family I have relaxed a little more, and now, I don’t mind so much if muddy shoes are walked through the house as they go scavenging in the fridge for another snack. Nor do I mind clothes getting dirtied or hands getting grimy. It’s perfectly ok to roll down grassy hills, to rip your jeans while climbing trees and to mix up a mucky potion on the patio – I learned that the world kept on spinning and that my kids are having a grand old time exploring nature and are benefitting massively from time spent playing outdoors.

Some of the time is just spend in the garden – pitching a tent, toasting marshmallows and camping out for the night. Playing football with the neighbours’ kids. Hammering nails into an old piece of wood. Whatever, they’re outside and they’re happy!

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Wild camping in the garden!

And, most weekends as a family we either head to the Mourne mountains or a forest and spend some wild time as a family, hiking, rock-climbing, bouldering down a river or just meandering through trees and taking time out from our busy lives in the city.

These times are priceless and we are so fortunate here in Northern Ireland to have so many great natural places to enjoy. With such a varied landscape and forever changing weather the scenery is always different and there is always somewhere new to investigate.

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View from Hen Mountain in the Mournes

It has taken me a while to accept that getting a little bit grubby is part of childhood. Now, we just keep a rucksack of spare clothes in the boot of our car along with our hiking shoes, that way we are always prepared to get outdoors and enjoy nature’s playground! We can’t make excuses that we’ve no dry socks to put on should we get a little wet!

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Nature’s climbing frame

I recently asked my 5-year old what he would like to do for his birthday next month. His response: ‘Go hiking!’. Kids are naturally eager to be outside, we just need to give them opportunity and stop making excuses about the weather or whatever it is that stop us.

We all know of the benefits of being outside and of exercise. We all know about the rise in childhood obesity. We all know about the downside of too much screen time. We all know about the dangers that there are in the world for children. However, as parents, grandparents and carers it is our responsibility to our children to enable them to spend more time outside than they are currently. It is our job to encourage them to connect with the natural world around them.

We, as humans are part of nature and to not spend time outdoors is to deny ourselves so much. With increasingly busy lives, time outside away from the hustle, bustle and noise can reenergise and help us to focus on our goals. Good clean air and physical activity benefits our health, both in mind and body.

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The Mourne Mountains

For kids, the chance to climb trees, run freely, spot wildlife, dig in mud and just delve into nature and its vast array of treats is time well spent. It has so many positive effects on children both in the here and now and for their lives in the future.

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Who can make the stinkiest potion?

We owe it to ourselves and to our kids to allow them to play outside and enjoy the innocence and magic of childhood. Just recently we were having a family walk through Tollymore Forest Park when I turned around to see my middle son poking in a heap of horse poop with a stick. I felt the words: ‘Ew, gross, stop!’ forming in my throat, but instead of letting them escape I just took a deep breath and thought ‘It’s ok’. Eventually, after he had finished his investigation, he caught up with us and said: ‘That was good practice for when I’m a palaeontologist because in Jurassic Park they had to dig in dinosaur poo’. All was well, it was only research (and there was anti-bacterial handwash in the car)!

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