We regard ourselves as very lucky to live in a lovely Oxfordshire village with a stream running through it. Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny and I went out walking. I came across three young boys playing in the stream, equipped with a bucket and two fishing nets. They were having a whale of a time, up to their knees in the water (despite wearing long trousers) but they looked quite wary as I approached.
I suspect they thought I might be about to tell them off for being in the stream, but I stopped and said hello and asked them if they’d caught anything. They replied that they hadn’t but were clearly enjoying the experience nonetheless. I reminded them to be careful of the swans with their cygnets further downstream, and then continued my walk, leaving them to enjoy their adventure.
Five minutes or so later they ran past me squelching in their wellies and trainers and covered in mud from the stream. I’m not sure what reception they got from mum when they arrived home but I hope it was one of encouragement and not chiding for the state of their clothes.
What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon and I hope these three friends have many more adventures over the forthcoming summer holidays. This is what childhood should be about – it’s very reminiscent of things I did at their age. But how many others of their age will spend the summer holidays indoors glued to the TV or playing games on their computers and tablets?
I recognise that not everyone is lucky enough to live in a village like mine, but the benefits of outdoor play are universal. It’s so much more fun to get into mischief yourself than to watch animated Minions and the like doing it, and the fun goes hand in hand with learning important lessons that simply can’t be taught in a classroom, real life lessons about dealing with risk and looking out for one another.
In my experience, the one thing kids never lack is imagination to invent their own games with the simplest of props – if they’re given the chance. As schools around the country break up for the long summer holidays I hope kids are sent on their way with encouragement to explore the great outdoors, and that parents resist the urge to get out the cotton wool – even if you do end up doling out the odd sticking plaster when a hard lesson’s been learned.