Every season brings a fashionable topic that people can get concerned about over a latte without having to lose any sleep. It's always an issue that's important and visual but not too depressing, the sort of stories that keeps The One Show in business. On the agenda this winter is children and nature - children don't spend enough time outdoors, they would be happier if they did and oh don't they look cute in their little duffle coats and gloves.
When father and film-maker David Bond noticed his own children spent very little time outdoors, he took on the role of nature's marketing manager and Project Wild Thing documented his attempts to get his kids and everyone else's outdoors. It's funny, sweet and convincing in its arguments, but more importantly Bond hit on the topic of the moment and has mobilised a whole movement around his movie, with hundreds of organisations linking up to try and engage children in nature under the umbrella of 'The Wild Network'.
Shamelessly jumping on that bandwagon, I produced a feature on children's interaction with nature for London360, Community Channel's magazine show. I expected to find middle class parents who chose to live in London but was surprised to find there was more traffic than trees, who bought their children iPads and didn't understand why they weren't interested in conkers. What I found was a stream of scientific reports proving the varied benefits of interaction with nature. A range of studies have credited 'windows with views of nature' for lowering sick days in office, speeding up recoveries in hospitals and improving test results in schools. Imagine the effects if you made it to the other side of the glass.
David Bond explained to me that "there's nothing in children's lives that is a good for them as time spent outside, first of all it's really good fun and it's brilliant for their physical and emotional development. They're much less likely to be obese or have attention deficit disorder if they spend time outdoors." Recent studies appear to support this view, with scientific reports suggesting that green play settings can reduce ADHD symptoms and time spent in nature can improve concentration .
Interested in the educational value of the outdoors, I visited The Garden Classroom in Islington, where Marnie Rose and her team are attempting to diversify the education experience through their outdoor learning programme. For five years they have been teaching the prescribed national curriculum in a natural environment, delivering science, history, art, literacy and numeracy projects in six venues across London.
Rose explained how children benefited from this new learning environment: "Children who don't tend to be able to concentrate very well at school, can concentrate better outside, they are inspired and excited to be learning in a new environment. Using nature as an inspiration and a backdrop to learning, it gives them a theme within which to work and it's an exciting place in which to learn."
Talking to children during their literacy lesson, it was impossible to deny their excitement and desire to explore their environment; it made them curious and brave, the sort of qualities our education system should strive to instill.
One of The Wild Network's campaign objectives is to give all children access to this experience by embedding the outdoors into the curriculum, so schools have the justification for taking their children outdoors.
But is this the role of schools?
Marnie Rose responded that "I think families generally need to be supported to be outside as often as possible, one of the ways to do that, which targets all children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is to go through the school shop window, which is what we do. By working with schools, every child comes out to a local green space regularly, not just those who have the parental support to be able to do so."
This parental support is a big factor in how children spend their time, the Wild Network needs to convince them as much as their kids. Showing an awareness of his market and their motives, Bond pointed out "if you want to be competitive about it, it's more likely that an outdoor child will succeed in business, there was a big study that said entrepreneurs were all tree climbers".
But he can't reach every parent and if time outdoors provides children with so many advantages then it is too important to remain the privilege of children whose parents have the time, resources or inclination to take them out. Instead, it is a right that we should ensure for all our children.
As the wealth gap grows, schools remain one of the few shared factors of the next generation. I think schools should be institutions of education but also a place of opportunity and equality. Governments should ensure time outside is incorporated into education to guarantee no child is denied the access to nature that is so essential for their development.