Wednesday 29 March 2017

Children 'missing whole side to life' by not spending enough time outdoors

Out and about: Isobel Conachy gets up close to the wonders of nature playing with some lambs Photo: David Conachy
Out and about: Isobel Conachy gets up close to the wonders of nature playing with some lambs Photo: David Conachy

Rachel Lavin

Children's television presenter and environmental expert Eanna Ni Lamhna has warned that Irish children who are spending more and more time indoors are "missing a whole side to life".

This comes after a recent report by the Wildlife Trusts in the UK found that four in 10 children have never seen a hedgehog in the wild, that 50pc have never found frogspawn and 60pc have never seen a peacock butterfly.

The survey showed that children are increasingly becoming disconnected from nature and the outdoors: 37pc have not played outside by themselves in the past six months and 50pc have not been on a outdoors trip with school in the past 12 months.

It also found that while children walked unaccompanied for an average of six miles in 1915, they now walk just 300 yards, and today just one in 10 children in the UK plays in the countryside.

Irish studies suggest a similar fate for Irish children, with a report by Early Childhood Ireland, in association with Sligo IT, finding that 80pc of parents believe they spent significantly more time outdoors than their children do.

Research carried out by the Heritage Council in 2011 found that there has been a 41pc increase in the number of children playing indoors, with a 23pc decrease in the number who play in fields, a 20pc decrease in those who play in the wilderness, and a 19pc decrease in those who play in the woods.

According to the same research, 20pc of children in Ireland between the ages of seven to 11 have never been in the sea and 40pc have never climbed a tree.

Eanna, who educated a generation of Irish children about nature through her show Creature Feature on RTE's Den2, said "It's amazing the amount of children these days who have never eaten a blackberry. Over the years I've seen them become more and more afraid of things that grow, everything is poisonous, has to be washed, have to be bought in a shop, cleaned and in a package".

The biologist and former president of An Taisce said that children's unfamiliarity with nature deprived them of "a whole understanding of how the world works; observing climate change and interacting with wildlife. Many people don't understand these things as we never interact with them".

She also said that more interaction with the environment stimulated their imagination and developed human well-being.

"Parents must realise if they don't bring their children out, nobody will do it," she warned.

Sunday Independent

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