by Sally Webster (for Subjects that Matter)
Most adult New Zealanders will recall childhoods filled with memories of roaming the neighbourhood freely. Telling mum where you were going and being home in time for tea was one of few restrictions we had to respect. Minor cuts, scrapes, dirty finger nails and grass stains were par for the course. This was true even for urban children for whom backyards, pavements and parks offered the outdoor scope.
Sadly, this right-of-passage is diminishing fast in the developed world.
Key contributors are understood to be a somewhat risk-averse approach to parenting, coupled with the pacification of kids through screens. Parents are now finding that the bounties of nature that framed their childhoods are being replaced by the immediate gratification of the digital world. More often than not however, when children are led to a natural setting for unstructured play, their engagement with nature returns. Sustaining this healthy relationship is proven to offer the benefits of calmness, happiness and even a much better night’s sleep.
It is this fast approaching grip of screen-time that prompted Phoenix Organics’ original founder, Roger Harris, and promoter Simon Roberts to create the ReWILD the Child event on March 11, at The Parenting Place in Auckland. The evening’s Q & A style debate will be hosted by one of Britain’s leading champions of nature, award-winning filmmaker David Bond. This father of two has founded a vast movement based on his findings: The Wild Network. He’ll be talking to New Zealand childhood experts about getting kids off screens and outdoors. They are: Senior Family Coach at The Parenting Place, Jenny Hale; Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Specialist in physical activity and risky play in children, Dr. Scott Duncan; Specialist in family counselling and mediation Jill Goldson; Swanson Primary’s Pioneering Principal and Champion of Free Play, Bruce McLachlan.
Work by specialists like Duncan show that even though New Zealand parents love the idea of kids “climbing trees, using loose objects, riding bikes or scooters, rough-and-tumble, messy play, using adult tools, and (in older children) roaming the neighbourhood unsupervised by adults”, they struggle to allow it. The prospect of offspring sustaining injuries topped with widely reported stranger danger feels too risky to this generation of parents.
But connection to nature and outdoor free play is vital to a child’s physical, mental and social wellbeing: as David Bond points out, UNICEF has even published work showing that the trend away from nature has placed British kids at the bottom of the developed world heap for happiness. They have a deeper connection to “brand logos than flora or fauna.”
David is coming to New Zealand to work with Kiwis on averting this possibility for children here. To join in the discussion on how to find this vital balance for our children, purchase a ticket to the event here, and visit their Facebook page to keep up with public and media developments.