National Trust plugs its Wild Child events to combat Nature Deficit Disorder in kids

By Culture24 Reporter | 22 August 2011
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a photo of a boy in a den made of sticks and twigs
© Courtesy the National Trust for Wales
Den building, pond dipping, creepy crawly hunts and treasure trails – all of them were once essential parts of childhood and growing up. But they are now in danger of becoming forgotten pastimes as children and their parents succumb to fears of the outdoors and become the "plugged in" generation.

Now the National Trust is encouraging kids to get outdoors and re-engage with mother nature via a series of adventurous outdoor Wild Child play sessions at its properties across the UK. 

The Trust is highlighting the growing threat of Nature Deficit Disorder, a condition (like most disorders) first indentified in the US.

Said to be prevalent among modern children because of a lack of exposure to the outdoors, NDD has led some Stateside paediatricians to try staving off behavioural problems in children by giving out “nature prescriptions” specially designed to get kids out and about and enjoying the great outdoors. 

In the UK the problem doesn’t seem to be as prevalent, but the National Trust is encouraging UK parents to let their kids to get outside and engage with nature before NDD takes hold here.

“It is obvious that children spend less time outside than the previous generation, and much less than the generation before - so little, in fact, that they don’t always know how to play outside,” says Gwenno Griffith of the National Trust.

“People say just 'leave them be and they will naturally enjoy themselves', but they often don’t know what to do, so we give them prompts and encourage them to think and play.”

The Trust's Wild Child programme is aimed at 5-12 year olds who are encouraged to build dens, search for creepy crawlies, take part in pond dips and go on treasure hunts.

An accompanying series of Wild in the Woods Club events allows the children to go even further by learning bushcraft and cooking over open fires. Outside the summer holiday, the Wild in the Woods Club becomes The Forest School, welcoming primary school children for a session a week for six weeks.

Lee Duggan, the National Trust’s Outdoor Learning Officer at Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor, admits that Wild Child was “not designed with NDD in mind”, but rather as a “vehicle for the children of today to discover the excitement of the outdoors enjoyed by every generation before them”.

"Because the emphasis of Wild Child and the Wild in the Woods programme at Penrhyn Castle is on outdoor nature play, it can help alleviate many aspects of NDD,” he explains.

The programme also addresses the concerns of parents who are often fearful of letting their children run free outside because of worries over the danger of strangers and traffic.

“We have qualified staff on hand and all the risks are managed” adds Duggan. "Although to the children the woodland looks endless and their access seems unrestricted, we have clear boundaries to keep them safe.”

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