Although I am still a fairly new teacher, when you take into account my scouting experience and my work as a classroom assistant, I have been working with children for about 20 years now in a variety of settings and roles; this has given me an interesting insight into how children’s lives have changed over this period.

I have found myself experiencing a growing unease about the lives many young people live today. As well as spending the majority of their leisure time in (often solitary) indoor pursuits like computer games or surfing the internet (not that there is anything wrong with these activities per se you understand :-p) and little time engaging in outdoor pursuits  like we did “when I were a lad”, I also feel that many children are ‘overregulated’; that is to say they seem to spend far less time outwith the supervision of adults now than they ever did. I find myself thinking that perhaps today’s children are missing out on the huge informal learning experiences that we took for granted when we were allowed a far greater freedom than today’s children seem to be offered.

Okay, sometimes we got ourselves into scrapes, or picked up the odd injury or twelve, and perhaps we got up to some mischief, but on the other hand we learned to evaluate risks, to formulate plans, to debate and to negotiate and of course a multitude of social skills. In short, we learnt what it was to be independent. Are today’s young people offered the same opportunities? It doesn’t seem so.

Whilst it may once have been the norm for children to be away playing with their friends all day only to reappear at mealtimes and dusk, a similar attitude today would find you being targeted as a bad parent. As a result, children are rarely allowed ‘off the leash’ as it were, and even if they are there is usually a mobile phone allowing communication but also location tagging should the parent desire. But is it necessarily the case that we are just ‘looking out’ for children, or have they become what Britney would call ‘overprotected’?

It was from this mindset that I came across the following article in yesterday’s Sunday Mail today (don’t ask!). I found it fascinating, and thoroughly applaud the philosophy behind it. Outdoors in all weathers – when did that become a revolutionary idea? The quote from Adam Ingram on the website is fantastic: ” There is a cotton-wool culture that has developed in Scotland and encouraging young people to get out and reconnect with the natural world can only enrich their lives”.

I hope it is a real success, and am also hopeful that being in the south side of Glasgow I might be able to swing a wee day-visit to see exactly what goes on after the holidays are over.

Have a read and see what you think.

Sunday Mail article 26th July


  1. Another development in this area is the Forest School one, which I’ve heard of through the involvement of East Lothian’s Saltoun Primary School.

    Although the name suggests you need a friendly neighbourhood forest, it doesn’t seem like that at all: a wee bit of woodland can work fine.

    Saltoun were delighted to be chosen for an HMIE inspection just as they started the Forest School stuff, as you can imagine, and had inspectors with them in amongst the trees. All turned out well in the end, though, and they ended up earning a “Good Practice” for it.

    Good practice: The Forest School

    The Forest School project was a joint initiative between the school and the local education authority. The project aimed to provide opportunities for pupils to develop the necessary skills to become:

    • successful learners,
    • confident individuals,
    • effective contributors, and
    • responsible citizens.

    Pupils in P4 to P7 participated in the project which took place one morning each week for 18 weeks. They were well supported by a range of partners, including the active schools co ordinator, Forest School leader, countryside rangers, outdoor education staff, enterprise coordinator and health promotion officer. The project took place in the local woodland ‘Strawberry Woods’.

    Pupils successfully participated in a wide range of activities. For example they worked in groups to design and build a den using materials from the forest. They created musical instruments and puppets from natural materials. Pupils recorded their achievements on video and celebrated their success round the camp fire each week.

    The quality of the learning experiences was high. Pupils were actively engaged in a wide range of stimulating activities. They were highly motivated and approached tasks with enthusiasm.

    The project provided very effective cross-curricular links and focused well on positive outcomes for pupils’ learning experiences.

    Link: http://www.hmie.gov.uk/ViewEstablishment.aspx?id=7688&type=2

  2. Hi there David, thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

    Yeah, Forest Schools is another really exciting development in this area. I first heard about them from the Forestry worker in charge of the Clunes Forest School when I was in Mallaig doing training for the John Muir Award (another fantastic way to get pupils ‘reconnected’ with the natural world). It sounds fabulous, although I notice that the progress across the authorities is somewhat patchy. There has been huge progress though, and the FEI website has a huge amount of information on it compared to what I was finding 2 and a bit years ago. There was also a great article the other week in the TESS looking at work being done in England with Forest Schools and pupils with SEN. With our own school moving to a new custom-built facility soon, and the architects looking to keep some nearby woodland intact, perhaps there is an opportunity there for us to seize?

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