How do you go about getting children to stop playing Minecraft and get them outside to enjoy fresh air and make a connection with the natural world?
With the school holidays looming, that’s a question many parents will be asking – and the outdoor education company Under the Trees may have a few answers.
And it’s vital as there is increasing awareness that being connected to nature isn’t an optional extra – it’s essential to children’s happiness and well-being.
Yet a lack of time spent playing outdoors is increasingly coming to define childhood. There’s even a name for it – author Richard Louve has dubbed it ‘nature-deficit disorder’ or a lack of Vitamin N.
It’s not hard to see why. With XBox, Nintendo, iPads, iPhones, YouTube, computers and television offering 24/7 entertainment, playing outside has a lot of competition.
There are other factors too: health and safety worries, time commitments with various clubs and the looming threat of ‘what if’ ...
“Lots of children now don’t get to do what we did as children – climb trees, explore the woods, or paddle in a stream,” said Jessica Thomson, owner of Under the Trees.
“Children’s time is more structured than ever before.”
Jessica set up her company in response to the demand for giving children fun and learning in the great outdoors.
She said: “I love the freedom the outdoors brings, how relaxed the children are breathing in fresh air, laughing and running as they explore our natural world.
“Studies reveal that children are healthier, happier and more relaxed when they have a connection to nature.
“The outdoors has a positive effect on children with ADD; it also helps tackle obesity and improve physical and emotional development.”
Children who run about playing are fit and healthy which in turn leads to improved concentration, as well as boosting confidence.
Parents of young children will also know that when children are finally prised away from the screens and into the outdoors, they love it.
Jessica said: “The outdoor environment provides such a valuable learning resource, as well as an array of health and lifestyle benefits.”
So, how does Under the Trees go about persuading children to forget Minecraft for a wee while?
Sometimes they don’t. One of Under the Trees’ most popular sessions involves children playing Minecraft – outside!
The hugely popular game is sometimes described, in simple terms, as ‘virtual Lego’ with zombies and frightening creatues thrown in for digital age children.
Said Jessica: “We brought Minecraft outdoors, as a way of combining the two – outdoors and technology – to encourage children outside.”
So, children will craft weapons, battle the Enderman and build a shelter to protect them from Creepers – while parents can breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to get to grips with the game.
However, other sessions appeal more to the sense of adventure that has appealed to children for centuries: building dens, climbing trees and getting muddy.
There are also ‘wild art’ sessions that use the natural world to tap into chilren’s creative side.
Jessica trained as a countryside ranger, studying at Stirling University for five years to achieve a degree and postgraduate qualification.
However, work as a ranger was seasonal and public spending cuts were making positions harder to come by. So, five years ago, she set up Under the Trees.
It is now a Community Interest Company, which means its profits are used for the public good.
Grants help to keep session costs low – it is £5 for a two-hour session in the summer programme.
Summer sessions use the amazing setting of Falkirk’s Callendar Park, which provides a perfect backdrop for exploring the natural world in a safe environment.
As well as the summer sessions, Jessica and her team will visit nurseries, schools and even arrange parties outdors. The only proviso is that children under six are accompanied.
Jessica said: “I am very passionate about outdoor learning and see it as a great way for children to engage with nature and with their families and friends, in a relaxed environment.
“I love that each session is a new adventure for the children but also for the adults as well!”
Summer weeks run from 11am-1pm, in Callendar Park. Cost £5 per child, per day.
Monday: Woodland Play
Climb trees, get muddy and have fun exploring.
Tuesday: Outdoor cooking - learn how to light fires and cook some yummy snacks on the campfire.
Wednesday: Minecraft - craft a weapon then build a home to keep you safe from the zombies?
Thursday: Den building - put your skills to the test and come along and build a den.
Monday - Hunger Games, can your district survive?
Tuesday: Bake Off. Try your hand at some outdoor cooking, learn how to light fires and cook some yummy snacks.
Wednesday: Bushtucker Trials. Are you brave enough to take part?
Thursday: Muddy Play
Mud, mud and more mud!
August 7, Aliens Have Landed.
£3 per child.
Summer Forest Time
Monday: Minecraft Mania Bring Minecraft to life. Battle Endermen and Spiders,craft a weapon, make potions and build a den. Can you survive the zombies and other nasty creatures?
Tuesday: Caveman 101
Light fires, build dens and spend the day living as our ancestors.
Wednesday: Wild Art.
Thursday 18: Outdoor games.
ADULT ONLY FOREST SCHOOL
July 23, 6-9pm
Cost: £12pp or £10pp if booking as a couple.
For a booking form or more information on the summer sessions programme visit www.underthetrees.co.uk.