Improving children’s access to nature starts with addressing inequality

Mar 1, 2018 by

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Barriers to outside play particularly affect children from low income and BAME households. Can education help?

Anna Leach –

With children now better at identifying Pokémon characters than common species of British plants and wildlife, there are concerns that we are increasingly losing touch with nature. In January, the UK government announced it would set £10m aside for outdoor learning – part of a 25-year environment plan that includes a pledge to “encourage children to be close to nature, in and out of school, with particular focus on disadvantaged areas”.

Worries about children becoming disconnected from nature are not new. A 2016 study by Natural England found that more than one in nine children had not set foot in a park, forest or other natural environment over the previous year. Children from low income and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) families were particularly affected. Just 56% of under-16s from BAME households visited the natural environment at least once a week, compared to 74% from white households.

Technology plays a part in this “complex and systemic” issue, according to not-for-profit The Wild Network. Mark Seers, chief wild officer of the organisation, notes that other factors include parental fear, reduction of play time in schools and lack of green space. While initiatives such as those encouraging street play can help – particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who face declining opportunities for outdoor play [pdf] – overcoming the barriers is not necessarily an easy task.

“We’ll never be able to find the budget to attract the children’s attention like Facebook or Apple can,” explains Seers. “How do we find relationship and balance between screen time and wild time? Truly I think [that’s] the parenting challenge of our times.”

Conversations about the best way to tackle the issue are beginning to happen across many levels of education. In 2016, 15-year-old bird watcher Mya-Rose Craig organised a Race Equality in Nature conference in Bristol to bring together experts from nature conservation, universities and schools and discuss overcoming barriers that leave BAME children without equal access to nature. The idea came after she saw the impact her summer nature camps, which she has run since 2013, had on BAME children from inner-city Bristol.

Source: Improving children’s access to nature starts with addressing inequality | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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