Our intrepid columnist on why children should be allowed to explore, as the air, movement, soil and sun all combine to lift the spirits.
Picking his way very slowly through thick undergrowth, Jake dodged a clump of nettles and crawled quickly up a steep bank at the edge of a field. It was quite an adventure for a two-year-old. His faced scrunched in concentration as he waddled carefully along a narrow bank. ‘Baa baas!’ he began shouting as he suddenly spotted the locals, and his feet left the ground as he bounced with excitement.
There are few pleasures quite so entrancing as watching your toddler play outside. Whether it’s through the rolling Devon countryside or over a hill on a Greek island, it is packed with adventure and discovery.
Children come alive in the outdoors. The air, the movement, the soil and a bit of sun all combine to lift the spirits of even the most sullen. Is there a greater treat for a child than a chance to explore? I doubt it. A soft-play centre might be fun, but it doesn’t tantalise the spirit like a stroll.
The sense of smell and hearing sharpens for both adults and children when we move outdoors, because our bodies are built for walking. We may bundle children into prams and pushchairs, simply because we need them to hurry, but they need to snuffle around just like a hound, and even the youngest can trek for miles.
Don’t be put off if they protest. Sail Chapman, aged five, has climbed all 214 peaks in Alfred Wainwright’s Lake District guidebooks. Nine-year-old Daniel Smith has scaled the peaks of all 282 Scottish Munros. He started hillwalking when he was just three.
There isn’t a tribe in the world in which children do not walk. And when they’re genuinely tired, God gave us broad shoulders to carry them further.
The joys of the outdoors extend further than just walking. Camping offers opportunities for instant, controlled adventure, and a maximum reward for just minimal discomfort. You can glamp in your garden or you can pitch a tent in a dark foreign forest. Either way, the adventure comes with a guarantee that the youngest campers will have the time of their lives.
It was a squash last year inside our little blue tent. This year I can’t wait to crack open our vast new bell tent, perfect for daytime play even in an inclement British summer.
We have an annual group camp lined up, organised by friends. I like to think of it as outdoor childcare – the youngest have a perfect play area where they can be monitored by a brace of extended uncles and aunties, while older children slip away to build their confidence with riskier games.
We’ll pay homage to our ancestors with a roaring bonfire… and toasted marshmallows in chocolate digestives. There is no finer way of ending a day in the great outdoors.
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