A report commissioned by Natural England in 2015 has revealed that about 1.3 million children in England have not visited a natural environment in past 12 months – this accounts for about 12% of all the children in England.
The report also emphasises that the amount of children who engage with nature differs according to racial, socio economic and regional criteria.
A hefty 56% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children were less likely to spend time in the outdoors. Conversely, the proportion of children from non-BAME households who frequented natural environments amounted to 74%.
The report also indicates that children from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to spend time in nature – 74% of children from higher income households have visited natural environments over a 12 month period as opposed to 65% of children from lower income households.
Children from the North East and South East of England make up the largest percentage of those who regularly frequent a natural environment (78% and 75% respectively). Children from the West Midlands came in at 65% and London is the lowest at 62%.
An important factor that influences a child’s desire to spend time in nature is that of their parents. In households where parents show a keen interest in nature and encourage their children to do the same, 85% of children follow their parent’s example. While only 39% of children whose parents rarely or never visit natural environments did so themselves.
According to Natalie Johnson of Wild Network there are a variety of reasons why children are not spending enough time outdoors. The postal code of children’s families’ plays significant a role. The Wild Network employee reported that in the country side there’s a genuine fear of busy country roads. Whereas urban children have a growing fear of gangs and don’t want to leave the home. She points the finger at suburban parents for insisting that their children spend more time on indoor activities like ballet, music lessons and the like.
It seems clear that parents should take a more active role in encouraging their children to spend more time outdoors. It has been suggested that when children approach middle school parents become less involved and the school plays a stronger role in the child’s development. The NEC report states that only 8% of children visiting natural environments have done so on school trips.
The majority of children who regularly spend time outdoors do so in city and country parks. This indicates that there is a high demand for these facilities and this should be encouraged. Both parents and society at large would need to take the responsibility of providing these for facilities for the country’s children and encourage children to make use of them. About 70% of English children visit a park or similar facility on a weekly basis. In order to encourage the remaining 30% to do the same, will take a concerted effort from parents and educators to teach children the numerous benefits of an outdoor lifestyle. The good news is that the majority of children of all age groups enjoy spending time in a natural environment.