The other day I had a wonderful outdoor experience. One that reminded me of my own childhood.
Freedom to explore
I’ve recently realised that my happiest childhood memories are outside ones. I grew up next to the Malvern Hills, and spent a fair amount of my time roaming the hills and commons near our home. I grew intimate with the outdoors, built dens in freshly mown grass, climbed rocks next to quarries, and made friends with the horses grazing on the common.
Childhood stomping grounds
My children did some of the same although their stomping ground was the Devonshire coast, and their roaming started at a later age. Having appreciated this experience from a maternal perspective, I can confirm that childhood freedom is far more relaxing for the children concerned than it is for their parents.
Which probably goes a long way to explaining why now I hardly ever see groups of children playing alone outside. And is also probably why I was so thrilled, the other day, to see a group of lads interrupting their journey to school to play on a rope swing in our local copse.
Space to explore
Over the last year, the copse has really come into its own as a community space. The dog walkers have been joined by young explorers, den builders and tree climbers. Plenty of play and action but always with adults in tow. The adults have been having fun too. I’ve mapped all the paths and trees in my head, and was out gathering wild garlic for tea when I saw the happy rope swinging group.
It was what happened next that really got me thinking.
Learning through asking
I was focused on my foraging task, smiling at the sounds of play, when I heard a small voice.
“Excuse me. Are you picking wild flowers?”
That made me smile even more, standing next to me was a young man who clearly had an environmental conscience. I explained that the plants were called wild garlic, and that I was only picking a few to have with pasta for my tea.
He smiled then ran back to set off for school with his mates.
I remember lots of encounters like that. Times when I asked new adults what they were doing, and learned from their answers. I even identified the owners of a particular horse, and went to their garage to ask them his name. As we grow, we lose some of that willingness to be openly curious but I have recently noticed it reappearing in both adults and children.
It’s because we’ve all been outside so much more.
There all kinds of learning, and I’m proud to have been a lifelong educator in playschool, classroom, and outdoor situations. But those impromptu moments of learning from strangers are sadly now a precious, and endangered species.
Let’s hope our renewed sense of community spirit can bring them back.