It can be hard work getting some children to appreciate the outdoors. The lures of television, tablets, games consoles and computers make many kids reluctant to get outside, while parents need to find safe locations and organise activities that encourage kids to try new things.
One key resource for parents is Britain’s Country Parks. These are scattered across the country, so for most people there is at least one within a short drive or ride. Many already have good facilities for children, such as woodland trails and play areas, as well as cafés for refreshments. What you may not know is that you can also arrange fun outdoor activities as a great alternative to indoor parties.Jonathan from the consumer team recently took a group of 10 and 11-year olds out to Moors Valley Country Park on the Dorset / Hampshire border.
“Most of the children in my class don’t really go outside much”
Our visit started with a quick briefing on safety, and a look through the ‘survival kit’ carried by our Ranger for the day, Sarah. The equipment included a map and compass, fire lighting equipment, first aid, and an emergency whistle.
The first challenge was to build a system to filter some extremely muddy puddle water into something slightly clearer. Using bottles stuffed with vegetation as a filter, they managed to create some water that was significantly cleaner – but no-one was volunteering to try drinking it.
The next activity involved trying to light a fire using a flint and steel (we actually tried the modern version called a ferrocerium rod). It took a bit of practice to get a consistent spark and then get that on to the cotton wool that was being used as tinder, but all the children managed eventually. As it was very dry at the time they were not allowed to build the fires any bigger.
Next, the kids had to try to fit into the woods environment, so they broke out the face paints to camouflage themselves. While some used greens and blacks to merge into the trees, ferns and shadows, others opted for day-glow colours that would do little to help them hide. It would probably scare off any adults unwise enough to stray into the camp though!
Last was den building, using woods and fern leaves to try and make a shelter that would be suitable to sleep in overnight. The shelter ended up just large enough for all the children to get inside, so Ranger Sarah decided to test how effective the waterproofing was by pouring some of her water canteen over it.
It ended up being a pretty effective demonstration of how hard it would be to build a really waterproof shelter. At least it was a warm day!
The feral children were returned to civilisation for drinks and snack before being returned muddy and tired to their parents.
“It was fun meeting up with lots of my friends and building a shelter. But if I wanted to sleep outside I’d bring a tarpaulin or a tent!”
Location and costs
We booked a survival skills course with Moors Valley Country Park, Dorset. It cost £150 for up to 12 children for 2½ hours, and included use of a room afterwards and parking for 3 vehicles. Prices may vary depending on availability.
Many other country parks offer similar events.