How do we make sure every child gets the chance to be a bit ‘really wild’?

Niece in woods in Glasgow, walking distance from home

Yesterday I sat in a room with over one hundred mums and dads, grandparents and aunties. They were mostly in the suited guise of chief execs, directors and staff from charities and campaigning organisations, with a few public and private sector representatives.

We were gathered for the Natural Childhood summit*, to debate how we can – together – make sure every child has the opportunity to be a bit wild, to go outside regularly to play, in their street, at school, in the local park or further afield.

Key questions were around:

What is the role of families? Of environmentalists? Schools? big organisations like National Trust and RSPB? Smaller ones like Play England? Of Planners, transport and ‘elf’n’safety? Of the NHS? Of the private sector? How can we best work together?

Whatever the solutions – and we’ll report on those over the coming months – we were all pretty much in agreement about what childhood ought to be like, built from responses to the National Trust’s Natural Childhood report. The infograph below summarises the key points:

How to have a natural childhood (based on NT’s report) from

I was proud as punch when Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, summed up the day with a Love Outdoor Play sticker on her jacket lapel, saying (in essence) that the way to make sure kids ‘get’ nature is for them to be outside playing.

The main barriers (as outlined in the report) to kids being outside in the way that was normal a generation ago, seem to be:

The great Chris Packham put it starkly. If kids today aren’t playing out – picking up dead birds, looking under stones, cutting up stuff with pen knives and digging holes, then in 30 years time we won’t have a room full of concerned naturalists, families and charities.

We have to do something about this NOW.

In the short term we are all supporting Project Wildthing – a campaign that will turn into a film that we can all get involved with.

In the longer term, well we’ve just started debating the four ‘dimensions’ identified by all of us as possible ‘solutions’ when we responded to the original Natural Childhood report:

The summit yesterday gave us hundreds of ideas about practical ways forward ranging from grandparents sharing memories to asking all the supermarkets to do a joint campaign to parents to getting every local authority to make it legally easy to close streets for play.

So what do you think?

In the meantime, come and join Play England and help us continue the campaign for children to have freedom to play throughout their childhood, helping us add our strong voice to the debate and ensuring that whatever approaches we take, the needs of all children and young people to play stays at the heart of it.

*The Summit was put on by the National Trust in partnership with Arla, NHS sustainability unit, Green Lions, Play England, Play Wales and Playboard Northern Ireland.

6 Responses to “How do we make sure every child gets the chance to be a bit ‘really wild’?”
  1. clare Bryan says:

    This summer we got over 2000 children playing outdoors near their home – fantastic results and great partnership work. I have being providing these opportunities for many years and we are still managing to get funding to do them so that they come at no cost to families who prioritse these activities as being very important to them so that there is “something for their kids to do in the holidays”. But this year I noticed that we receieved more negative comments from parents than ever before. They were critical of the playrangers who ran sessions because they wern’t organsising enough structured activities for their liking .We were running play seesiosn for families that had some structure but also encouraged free choice and was supplied with loads of play equipment. One parent actually complained that she had had to start a game of cricket by herself with her children. In my mind that’s a result. It is a sad observation to make that alot of parents just don’t get what we mean by the freedom to play and free choice. They also expect their children to to be entertained and if they stay on a play site that somehow this means they don’t join in and its not bacuse we are not inviting them either. I wonder if this stems from the culture of handing over your children as soon as we can in this country to organised childcare. On the other hand for those children who come from challening familiy situations where we rarely see the parents they desperately want structured play and someone to spend time with and in many cases the playranger takes on this parenting role. I would love to hear if this replicates anyone elses experiences and how we might tackle these issues because we need to if we want to get parents independantly getting children playing outdoors.
    Once a child gets into their teens parents are afraid that going for walks by dragging them off the sofa on a sunday when the telly is so much more appealing is just too much like hard slog because thery telling you it’s so uncool. I know i’m there. They may think its childish we worry it might be and you have to be brave to to go and kick leaves in the woods with a monosylabic tennger but once youve got them there kicking and screaming i might add you have to be strong they love it

  2. neilatplay says:

    We need to impress on the Housebuilders Federation and similar orgs that designing in street play concepts and great natural places for children to play can add value to new housing developments. They want families to start buying homes again so they need to start providing what families will see as attractive features of the development. Anyone got any contacts within the leading developers ( e.g. Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, etc) that we can approach to set up a pilot scheme?

  3. Any thing we could do we’d love to help ( We’re trying to change point 1 – education and learning!!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] find out more about the growing movement to increase children’s outdoor time, check out the ‘Really Wild’ blog from a few days […]

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