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Old-Fashioned August: Getting Back To Nature This Summer

15/08/2014 10:56 | Updated 20 May 2015

a young boy swinging on a rope in a forest

If you missed our first old fashioned August column, it's all about getting some of the simplicity and freedom of a traditional summer back into our children's lives.

It doesn't mean having to switch off all screens for the whole holiday - too drastic and too unrealistic in today's wired world - but it does involve skipping the rushing round and over-scheduling of term times, having less structure and trying to leave our kids to make their own fun more than perhaps they're used to. It's also about getting back to nature and encouraging a bit more independence.

The contrast between our childhoods and those of kids now is stark when it comes to time spent outdoors experiencing nature. A study by Natural England found only one in 10 children regularly play in wild places now, compared to half of us a generation ago. Granted most parents do still take their little ones to the park but this is about more than a run around in the local grassed and tarmaced playground – this is about disappearing off into forests, fields, rock pools, sand dunes and properly connecting with nature.

Even the most screen-bound urban children can have the time of their young lives climbing trees, exploring woods, skimming stones on lakes, paddling in brooks or jumping across streams, if only they are given the chance to do so.

The mental health benefits of being outside in the wilds are considerable. Research carried out by the National Trust for instance found that 80 of the unhappiest. Very often that connection starts when we are children.

It comes from being encouraged to stop and look at a view that takes your breath away, and from learning about the names of creepy crawlies, birds, flowers and trees as we go. At a time when obesity in childhood is rising, hurtling about outdoors can only be good for their bodies as well as their minds too.

It makes complete sense then to encourage our offspring out so why are we doing it so little? Busy, over-scheduled lives, the lure of screens, and dare I say it a fear – of them getting hurt or even just dirty.

A bit of mud never hurt anyone (isn't that what a washing machine's for)? And yes they might fall and scrape a knee or get stung by a nettle (but isn't that what the first aid kit is for - and dock leaves)?

August is as good a time as any to get kids enjoying all that Mother Nature has given us – our countryside is still strikingly green and lush this year, not yet parched and nudging into autumnal shades. The weather's, well not bad, the sun might not always shine but even if there is a downpour, it's not likely to be especially cold. And the absence of school means we have the time to take it all in. We can wander and meander down a rural path, stop to check out a bug or a view, and not have to rush to get back for tea or to do homework.

By getting them away from the screens and outdoors, you never know, you might even create a year-round habit...

If you want to get your kids out there this August, check out our tips:

The National Trust's 50 Things to Do before you're 11 ¾ is packed with inspiration and ideas to make the outdoors fun even for the most cynical offspring, from rolling down a really big hill to damming a stream.

Use tech to lure them outside if that's what it takes – check out a star gazing app which will help you map the night sky or try Geocaching - a very modern take on the traditional treasure hunt.

Don't be afraid to let them get mucky - it'll all wash off in the end. Do as our parents used to and keep a couple of sets of old or hand-me-down clothes for especially grubby activities so you won't be too concerned about their best threads getting trashed.

Head to a campsite for a night or two – there's no escaping nature when you're sleeping amidst it

Back in term time, join them up with your local Cubs, Scouts, Brownies or Guides group - fantastic for encouraging a love of the outdoors. Most groups arrange a camping trip at least annually.

Let us know what you've been up to for #oldfashionedaugust on Twitter @parentdish_uk

Liat Hughes Joshi is the author of the forthcoming book New Old-fashioned Parenting.

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