Outdoors – or else

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This morning was completely typical of our attempts to get the children outdoors over this holiday (and any holiday, come to think of it):

1) Parents announce, ‘We’re going out!’
2) Children have instant meltdown. It’s too cold, they are too tired, they haven’t finished Minecraft / Sims / Club Penguin / and anyway they can’t find their socks.
3) The Cutester’s bout of crying introduces a whole host of additional symptoms: she feels sick, has a headache, can’t breathe!
4) Parents threaten removal of all screen privileges for foreseeable future if children do not cooperate.
5) Children take roughly 30 minutes to get ready to leave, on top of the 30 minutes taken in steps 1-4.
6) We go outdoors. Children have a fabulous time.
7) Parents resist saying, ‘See?’ with some difficulty.

(If anyone has any suggestions to shorten this process I’d love to hear them.)

And they do have a fabulous time. They think of things to do in their outdoor surroundings that wouldn’t occur to most adults. I dragged the four kids out one freezing morning during our week in the holiday rental cottage in Scotland, and we spent the whole time in a small wood which was made all the more enticing by the fact you had to scramble into a ditch and up a mossy drystone wall to get into it.

But what is there to do in a wood, exactly? The answer is that there is always something to do in a wood, and if your kids don’t believe you, just tell them it’s a bit like Minecraft but in real life (if they can remember what the difference is).

For a start there will usually be a rhododendron bush that takes very little adjustment to be a perfect den. The boy cousin also found a nice bendy sapling and we used it as a catapult to fire pine cones to some rather impressive heights. The next sapling he tried bending got uprooted instead (he’s 14 and stronger than he thinks). So we turned it into a kind of litter to transport each of the girls in turn (and at increasing speeds) between the trees. The Cutester ended up hanging from it upside down which made her look like she was being roasted on a spit – all part of the fun.

I noticed that even when we later visited a traditional playground, neither of the older two used the equipment as it was intended. The Redster invented a game to do with how quickly you could stop the roundabout spinning and the boy cousin lay on top of it to see if the centrifugal force would tear his body apart (to his sister’s disappointment, it did not).

I think that’s why woods are generally more fun than playgrounds. They are more malleable. You can break and bend and build and sometimes even burn stuff. There is no right or wrong way to use a branch or bush and no health and safety guidelines, age limits or council disclaimers printed on the trees.

I just hope the one my nephew pulled up is replaced before too long…

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