03/05/2014 18:10 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Do Children Really Enjoy Good Old Fashioned Fun?


Like many well-meaning modern-day parents, I spend a lot of my time prising my two boys off the X-Box, dragging them away from computer and TV screens, forcing the eldest off Facebook and occasionally banning his smartphone in favour of bundling them off out for a walk in the woods or a trek to the beach (accompanied by the accustomed retorts of 'Mum, no one goes for a WALK any more' or 'But it's freezing!' or 'A FAMILY bike-ride? You are SO embarrassing!').

When they were younger, I'd try as often as I could to reject plastic, flashing and noisy toys in favour of beautiful wooden creations; I'd encourage much playing of traditional board games and would spend hours 'making things' like paper aeroplanes, handmade birthday cards, rain sticks, sponge art, edible art – you name it, we made a mess with it.

Even as I grew irritated by the fact that I had masses of clearing up to do after our 'crafting' I was patting myself on the proverbial back because I had managed to encourage their creativity instead of allowing them to watch Teletubbies on loop and that I hadn't relied on a DS game to teach them how to draw.

Getting them outdoors for some real old-fashioned fun was also priority – camping in all weathers on windswept beaches, trudging up mountains – yes, even it was drizzling - exploring woods and setting up rudimentary rope swings. I pushed them into all these things in the good faith that I was widening their horizons, broadening their minds.

When the National Trust published their newly updated list of 50 things for children to do before they are 11¾ last year, I breathed a sigh of guilt-free relief when I realised we had ticked off most of the list – climbing a tree? Done. Rolling down a really big hill? Sorted. Catching a crab? Pah! Easy!


Up to now I've convinced myself that all those frog-marched windswept walks along muddy coastal paths, the gale-force camping trips that occasionally resulted in our tent flying off like tumbleweed into the distance, or bike rides – even those that ended in near disaster when one son steered himself into a canal when trying the no-hands trick - were excellent experiences for my kids. Far superior than anything a piece of tech could teach them.


Perhaps you, like me, have spent your parenting years allowing yourself to feel slightly shamefaced when you allow your kids to veer from the full list of activities approved by the Proper Childhood Police.

But a new book by Richard Wilson (not the grumpy old man Richard Wilson, the Executive Producer of TV's Have I Got News For You and Room 101 Richard Wilson) has convinced me that I might have just got it all wrong. This book is telling me I may have in fact been selling my sons short – or even been guilty of a form of child cruelty – by forcing them to take part in twee (laughable, even) forms of Famous Five type wholesome activities harking back to the 1950s.

The caustic, witty and humorous book,