From Screen to Green

If left to their own devices my children would spend hours in front of a screen.  As I would have done at their age.  And did, in fact, with the telly.

Screen-time can be creative and educational, and there are certainly apps and games that I think are brilliant.

The drawback is that children don’t get multi-sensory stimulation from a screen.  There is very little action.  We were designed to build motor pathways of movements, and to stimulate our vestibular system (balance) and our proprioception (where are limbs are in relation to our body).   We are designed to do rhythmic and heavy work, stretching out our limbs, making our hearts pump and lungs take in deep breaths.  We are designed to integrate all of our senses to track changes in the environment, in order to stay safe, to hunt, forage or make shelters…

This shelter was built as I was writing this post. More on this next week!

It’s a survival game.

Which is one way to get children outdoors.  There is nothing children like more than playing survival.

For younger children this might be a pretend-game.  Do you remember this?  Landing on a desert island, or on another planet?  You might have provided your children with a playhouse, but have you noticed how they prefer to make their own?  Our children loved to make teepees, or shelters from deckchairs and towels.  They had a den in the bushes that adults couldn’t fit into.

For older children, it might be putting up a tent on the lawn, or toasting marshmallows on a fire, or picking blackberries, or crab-fishing.  All these are ‘survival’ skills.

No tick-boxes or worksheets!

We want children to be interested in nature, don’t we?  To be able to identify a type of butterfly or a garden bird.  But I would avoid anything that feels like a worksheet or a list of things to tick off.  I really hated these as a child, and I seem to have passed this on to my children.  Whenever we were presented at a National Trust property with a sheet of things to spot, we would all inwardly groan and I would politely pass it back to the confused volunteer.

Try not to have a preconceived idea of what your child will learn.  If something catches their interest, you can encourage them to find out more about it.

Children love collecting things.  Conkers, berries, fallen petals.  Even better if they can press them into a mud-pie.  Our children’s collections have included creepie crawlies.  We have had snail zoos and caterpillar Olympics.  And yes, I have had to stop the children from keeping them as pets.

Let them lead

The best way to learn is to follow your nose.  To see what catches your attention outdoors.  Encourage children to lift up stones, stir up pondwater, stare up through trees.  Something is bound to happen.  Look at the bumps or holes on leaves: what made them?  Where is that bee going?  What is it doing inside that flower?  Ask the odd question to generate discussion, but don’t jump in with an answer.  Encourage your child to watch, and listen, and touch, and sniff.  Encourage them to follow their impulses.

Children naturally get into positions where they can see interesting things.  They crouch, they lie down, they roll down hills, they can’t see over the top of grass.  Encourage this sense of exploration.  Skip through sand-dunes.  Watch clouds.  Don’t come in as soon as it starts raining.  Something unexpected might happen.

Let them get messy

Dress children for action.  Shorts and teeshirts are perfect; long trousers if they are going to be climbing, jumping rocks or going through nettles and brambles.  They might also want trainers rather than crocs or sandals.

Don’t squeal if your child wants to touch something slimy.  Short of excrement or rotting flesh, there are very few things that are going to harm them.  It is fine to pick up a worm or a slug, and probably good for our immune systems.   There are a few poisonous or toxic plants, and you can train your child to avoid these.  There is an enormous sense of competence for a child if they can warn the rest of the family about a danger up ahead!

Let them roam

I know that this gives most parents the heebie-jeebies.  But just think about this for a moment.  Where did you most like to play as a child?  Was it outdoors?  Was it away from adults?  Did it involve doing something you thought adults might disapprove of?

This is the freedom and the fun of childhood.  I’m not talking about toddlers here.  I’m talking about children who have good language skills, can reason, know what to do if something goes wrong, and who do not have any health risks.

From when our children were around eight, they were allowed to go down the footpath where Stevie and I couldn’t see or hear them.  They could go as far as the footbridge, but no further.  We assessed the dangers first. There were nettles and barbed wire and a ditch of water.  I had a special call (an ‘ayack’ – thanks Luce!) which they could hear if I needed them to come back.  Which they did, every time, all ayacking in response!  They took picnics and made dens.  For hours.  The worst thing that ever happened was that my younger daughter cut herself.  I knew from the way she slinked in that something had happened, and found her surreptitiously cleaning the (minor) wound in the bathroom.  She confessed she had picked up a piece of glass.  She learnt something that day.

Let them take risks

Our children are all brilliant tree-climbers. They are not afraid to jump ditches.  I might not have been able to look when they first did this, but I tried not to let my nerves show.  The challenges were within their capabilities, and they built up gradually.

They all know how to fall.  They learnt to drop out of a tree at the same time as they learnt to climb.

Apparently more children break bones on bunk-beds and trampolines than falling out of trees.

So start your children young at the playground.  Expect some falls.  Don’t react too much to minor falls, and brush off scrapes and scratches.  A child with scabs on their knees is a child who is having fun.

Be creative

Our children are at their most creative in the garden.  We have had teepees with ice for windows, or woven with flowers, or piled up with leaves.

They have made games where they balance on logs and push themselves along with sticks.  They’ve made obstacle courses.  They’ve done disgusting things to the paddling pool.

Today our younger two did this:


It’s a watermelon slice made from petals and flowers from my dead-heading bucket.  It’s so beautiful I had to take a few photos!




Before they’d done this, I had to entice them outside by asking if they wanted to fill some jam-jars with flowers.

This is what they made:



But it started with this:


So do let your children loose with the snippers.  And once you’ve taught them the risks, stand back a bit.  See what they do.

And if necessary, turn off the wifi.

I like to maximise the joy in my life by getting outdoors and noticing things.  If you would like to indulge yourself too, then you can ‘Follow’ this blog by clicking on the button at the bottom of this page.  You will receive an email every time I post about a little pop of wonder.

24 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t have kids but I loved the message of how important outside time is! When I was a kid me and my friends were forever outside doing bike rides or building forts in the trees or tag. It was so nice x

    1. Ali says:

      It’s lovely to look back on those times, isn’t it? They are magical. Thank you for popping by.

  2. 🦋 I could be a kid in your yard. LOL!

    Great photos.

    1. Ali says:

      One of the lovely things is that kids don’t change. Even though they have access to this amazing technology, they are happiest when they are really engrossed in building something from sticks!

  3. Rupali says:

    The flower arrangement look beautiful.

    1. Ali says:

      They did well, didn’t they?

  4. Claudette says:

    Like dyour post, but the tags made me laugh: curiosity, deadheading, children. Mmm , I hope your curisotity did not lead to deadheading children 🙂

  5. shazza says:

    I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm. We basically had fields and fields to roam in , as well as a little woodland and a brook. We rode our bikes along the farm track, made dens, made rafts, made rope swings. It was great! X

    1. Ali says:

      That doesn’t surprise me at all from your blog posts, Shazza. You clearly still have that spirit of freedom and adventure, which is exactly what I want my children to have. I used to play a lot on my best friend’s farm, and these are the most magical memories. Mine are hiding in the barns and swishing through meadows to make paths and dens in the grass.

  6. pommepal says:

    I feel so sorry for most of today’s children. So many restrictions and taken everywhere, always being monitored, the fear factor always present. I think back to my free and easy childhood. If only more parents would follow your example Ali

  7. I am with you all the way but today’s children dont read the right books. It is all magic and sci-fi. Bring back the un-political Enid Blyton and the Famous Five!

    1. Ali says:

      Swallows and Amazons has been a big influence in our household – my youngest daughter’s favourite film. She doesn’t like the new version because they Hollywoodised it!

  8. bcparkison says:

    Kids today miss so much.

  9. sgeoil says:

    Wonderful advice. Neighbourhoods are so quiet these days. We used to be out from morning until the street lights came on. We only stopped in when we were called for dinner!

  10. Eliza Waters says:

    I totally agree with you, Ali. Kids shouldn’t have more than 20-30 min. a day of screen-time. Studies have proven it isn’t good for their brains. You’re doing right by getting yours out in the fresh air and sunshine for creative and imaginative play.
    When I was a kid (ages ago!) there were no computers (of course) and my mother wouldn’t hear of us being inside on a nice day. Her refrain was ‘Outside!’ 🙂 We played, hiked and biked with very little supervision. Things are different now, I realize, but outside is a good place for kids to be!

  11. That’s how I was brought up and how my daughter was brought up. My mum must have cringed every time I brought a worm or hairy caterpillar in for her to see, not that she complained but she encouraged me, and let me have my own patch of garden. These are things I appreciated and now my daughter appreciates it as well. She and her partner are very much outdoor enthusiasts and also grow a lot of their produce – in a small garden. Too many ‘Google’ babies now, many mums are not being taught parenting skills at home but turn to the internet for advice. They are being told it’s not OK for the children to get dirty, it’s all full of germs! maybe but it helps develop their immune systems.

    1. Ali says:

      It is good that it lasts. I hope they will always be into the outdoors.

  12. Penny Post says:

    Great to see a mum who makes her children do something other than sit behind a screen. Looking at all the mum’s who spend so much time on the phone rather than engaging with their children when they are out it makes me wonder what sort of generation the next one will be.

  13. Oh, Ali, you continue to delight…love that watermelon! So funny…here’s an English to English language issue: we don’t use “screen” often to mean “television” unless you are referring to the size of the t.v. you will purchase. I thought your post was going to be about porch screens…you know, like a screen on a door to keep bugs out! Anyway, here’s my favorite childhood outdoor creativity memory: our family had purchased a new house with no landscaping. My dad started working on the right side of the yard and left a large area in the center for me and my sister. It was just dirt, but when you add water…well, we’d swipe my mom’s tin pie pans and create mud pies for hours on end! So fun!

    1. Ali says:

      I didn’t know that about ‘screens’ not meaning devices! Language is so interesting! Mud pies are fab. We should all make mud pies every now and again!

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