Project Wild Thing

28 January 2015

Just learnt about Project Wild Thing and joined The Wild Network. It’s a project to get kids outdoors and it’s something I’ve been trying to do with my children for the last ten years (without them moaning too much and me putting them off for life). I’ve promised on the Project Wild Thing website to take them outdoors for at least 30 minutes a day. I know we do this already, but I’m not sure all of it is the quality time Project Wild Thing is looking for.
text1Here’s our typical outdoor week.

Every day after school I force the kids to do at least a half hour walk with the dog but I don’t know whether this can be counted as ‘quality outdoor’ time. We walk and throw sticks for the dog and then they moan about it being too long and their legs are about to fall off because they’ve played netball already today and had to stand in assembly and… and then I start moaning about them moaning. Then we go home.
Occasionally, depending on energy levels and time of year, we go for a bike ride which takes about 45 minutes, including Mars Bar break which is their sole reason for doing it.

Sometime over the weekend we go for a longer walk in The Lakes. We take sandwiches and fruit and sweets and more sweets (we bring the fruit back with us) and I bore them with Lake District information or by getting my map out and pointing at mountains. I love this and the kids seem to enjoy it as well (in the summer). In the winter the dog doesn’t even enjoy it.

During the summer we camp, on average about four weekends between May and September, and they love that too. We go kayaking on Ullswater a few times a year and have plenty of picnics and hot chocolate in Grasmere.
So, having written it down, I think we do okay.

But it’s nothing like my childhood. My love of the outdoors didn’t stem from structured events with my parents, it came from never being in the house. I’ve made a list of all the outdoor things I liked doing as a kid and if you look down the list you’ll see dog walking with my parents wasn’t one of them, nor was kayaking on Ullswater.

One of my major pastimes from 7 – 10 years old was building camps. These were mostly in bushes in the park or in the graveyard opposite our house. We’d build furniture out of bricks and plastic bottles and say to ourselves that we’d live there forever. Our best camp was the toughest to get to. We had to climbed a tree which got us on top of a high wall, we shuffled along the wall on our bums for a little bit until we could jump onto the top of someone’s garage. From there we climbed though a broken window. This was the Hilton Hotel of camps, it already had a few old chairs, a camping stove and a torch, it was luxury – it was also some old guy’s spare room. After about two months of regular use the old guy caught us and booted us out with the classic phrase ‘I’ll be round to see your parents.’ He never did and the Hilton was closed for business.

When not building camps we played sport, every sport we had the gear for, and if we didn’t have the gear we kicked other stuff about or wacked things with branches. Football, cricket, rugby, tennis and golf were our favourites.

We cycled everywhere with no bike helmets, sometimes in the dark with no lights carrying a tennis racket or some golf clubs.

We swam in rivers and swung on Tarzen swings

We played down by the docks, fishing from the pier (with string and a loaf of bread). We fixed up a wrecked boat and sailed it out into the Solway Firth. No, we didn’t, that was the plan but it never moved because we were nine and all there was left of the boat was a few rotten chunks of timber. But you can dream.

We picked up crabs from rock pools and tadpoles from the streams. We got chased by a bull and ‘found’ apples in orchards. We camped in our friend’s garden and stayed awake until twelve to roam around the streets.

For even more excitement we cycled to the park in town and threw balls of muck at bigger kids and then jumped on our bikes because we were cowards and quick cyclists.

Some of our bikes rides were monumental. We regularly biked to Keswick, the long way round via the cream cake shop in Cockermouth, which was about a 50 mile round trip. We always got chased by dogs. Dogs were all mongrels and vicious back then.

We physically went round to our friends’ houses and actually knocked on their doors. We always said: ‘are you coming out?’ because there was never any option of playing in.

People broke their bones. I did twice, once when I was Spiderman and the skyscraper (cupboard) I was standing on fell over and other when I was Spiderman and I lost my wall crawling super power and fell out of tree.

The deadliest weapon we knew was a catapult. Big kids used to beat you up if you didn’t give them a backy. We built a go-cart out of an old hoover, and yes, before you even think it – it sucked.

And throughout all this, I don’t think my parents knew too much about where we were.

This isn’t the childhood my children are having and I can’t decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Being an overprotective parent I'm sort of glad, but I loved my childhood and I want them to love theirs.

Having written this, I think it's time to let my kids take more risks. According to Project Wild Thing our children could be the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than their parents because of inactivity. That's not right.

If you've got kids go to Project Wild Thing and sign up. Even better, don't do that and take them outside to climb trees.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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