Author Ronnie Reed
Wintery sunlight falls through the glass door of the Pump Barn and plays rainbows across the stone floor as I sweep away debris from the weekend family event we held down here at the Seven Sisters. We celebrated winter; young and old made decorations from greenery cut from the forest, painted jam-jar lanterns, dressed a tree in the woods and listened to a Christmas story as dusk fell outside.
This was the last event of the year and as the dust settles once more in the barn and a silence gathers beneath the rafters there is sadness in the air. The old year is dying and the new is still waiting outside to come in.
As I turn the heating up a little, next summer seems a long way ahead, but we are already busy putting together ideas for events for next year.
And it is not easy. In our keyboard culture where entertainment comes passively from the flicker of a screen or through a games console the big question is how do you attract youngsters outside into the woods, drag them across fields or lure them down to the beach. As more children spend less time out of doors, how do we tempt them to abandon the TV and the virtual world of the computer to discover a much more exciting and diverse life just around the corner from their front doors?
In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ Richard Louv coined the phrase ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’ to describe a growing trend amongst today’s children who are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world. Their play no longer involves getting outside, getting dirty, or getting close to other living things. There is no longer the sense of a natural bond between them and the world that supports us as human beings. This is stunting their development and does not bode well for the future of our planet, if those in charge of it feel no empathy towards it. We are all aware of it; we see it when children don’t want to sit on the grass because it is dirty, when they are unhappy about getting their hands grubby or feel uncomfortable being outside.
A few years ago, if you offered children the chance to go pond dipping or bug hunting they would have come along to join in. Today we have to tempt them with more exciting things; bush craft skills, fire lighting are cool, bug hunting isn’t.
Children’s virtual lives are dramatic; lots of action, fast moving, often violent. We cannot match that but we need to get them out into the woods, on to the beach, and encourage them to sit, to be still, to listen to the tiny sounds around them, to look carefully amongst the leaves for the other creatures that inhabit this planet, to just be peacefully for a while and absorb the world into which they were born. They need to use greenery to make decorations, to paint jam-jars, to honour trees and listen to stories in an old barn as dusk falls.