It is the end of the school term and here at the Seven Sisters Country Park, as we wave the last school group good-bye on the coach and sneak off to the ice cream van for a celebratory ‘99’, we switch hats and move from formal education to the ‘fun stuff’, the holiday clubs and family events.
Six weeks of school holidays; every child’s dream and every mother’s nightmare and a challenge for us because we see it as an opportunity to winkle children out of doors, offering them the freedom to explore new paths, (literally and metaphorically), new interests, and also perhaps providing the right conditions for them to develop a bond with the natural world that we are opening up to them. Because this is something that today’s children need.
If you work long enough with school groups, you become acutely aware that for a substantial proportion of the school children who come, their visit will be the only contact that they have with the natural world in the course of the year. For many being out in the countryside, rubbing shoulders with birds and animals, flowers and insects, is outside their normal everyday experience. When they arrive on the park it can seem like an alien environment; there are ‘things’ lurking in the grass, sheep and rabbit ‘poo’ to contend with, long distances to walk, scary farm animals. Some children resist sitting on the grass, others have a fear of insects, many complain about the walk from the coach to the centre, 50 yards away! The idea of a walk of a mile and a half down to the coast brings a wail of protest. Very few of the groups who come to us live more than a short distance from the Downs begging to be explored, and many are from coastal towns, a short bus ride from the beach but few spend time outside enjoying what is on their doorstep.
Gone are the days when children had the freedom to go off on their own or with friends to explore the woods, catch newts in the local pond, and (dare I say it) pick bluebells and primroses to carry home, build dens, catch butterflies and arrive home at the end of a day dirty, tired, hungry and happy. So much of children’s leisure these days is virtual; second-hand living through a screen; television, computer or play station, it is swimming in the local pool rather than the sea, shopping rather than walking in the countryside.
That invisible thread that links us with the natural environment around us is unravelling and we are losing our connection with a whole world of amazing things that we share our space with on this earth. This is why we are offering children the opportunity to come join us for our holiday club sessions over the summer or come with their parents on one of our family events. We are inviting them to be ‘Wild Woodies’ for the day, enjoying a camp fire, building shelters, making things from natural materials, being out in the woods, discovering what lives there, being a part of it all. We want to lure them down to the beach to find out what lives in the rock pools, or become eco-warrior pirates for the day building rafts to ‘sail’ the Cuckmere. Above all we want them to enjoy being outside.
Click here details of Wild Woodies Holiday Club