Children should get out more…

…this is according to television presenter Kate Humble who is leading a campaign to get children back in touch with nature – and I couldn’t agree more. Of course, most of us realize that it is better for children to be outside in the fresh air with space to run around and nothing but their imagination and nature’s bounty to entertain them than to be sat indoors in front of a television or computer screen. But it certainly bears repeating and often as, apparently, the latter is how more and more of the children in the UK are spending their time.

Luckily rural France provides the perfect antidote to this; children here really do spend time in the countryside and they do understand and interact with nature – even if that happens to involve hooking it on the end of a fishing line! Maybe this is because France is predominantly a rural country with so much countryside and unspoiled nature available on the doorstep or maybe it is down to the attitude of us parents. In the UK, as Clive Aslet of Country Life Magazine points out, although a child’s postcode:

may locate them in a village, their lives will probably be suburban. Parents, worried about paedophiles and motor vehicles, won’t allow them to bicycle along country lanes. Instead, they’ll drive them everywhere by car. Shopping will be done at a supermarket that looks exactly like the ones in cities, except for being bigger and surrounded by more concrete. If the family goes on an outing, it will be to somewhere stage managed, with parking, toilets, noticeboards and disabled access.’

I think that there is a different attitude to children here in France; they are less molly-coddled, expected to be a functioning part of society and are given credit for having some innate common sense and self-preservation – in short, they have more liberté. I find it as difficult as any parent to know when is the right time to step back and let my children manage on their own and I can only speak of my own experiences, what I see happening around me but certainly many of the pupils at the primary school my daughter attends either walk or cycle to school on their own. In our small hamlet, the children come and go as they please from the age of 5 or 6; they visit their friends in neighbouring houses, take off on their bicycles on the quiet roads around the hamlet or make dens in the surrounding fields and woods. Of course, each family keeps an eye on everyone else’s children as much as they can but we generally have no real idea of what they are up to or even where they are and have to ring a bell to summon them back for meals. They are probably doing dangerous things like climbing trees or making towers of hay bales but it is through taking a few risks that children learn to be independent and develop into rounded people, better at dealing with the varied situations that life might throw at them.

Certainly for me, one of the very best things about living in France is being able to give our children the chance to grow up in the freedom of the countryside rather than become sucked into the fake world of computer games, television stars, fashion and beauty. Of course these things will become more important to the children as they become teenagers but at least they will have had the fun of playing pooh sticks, damming streams, getting muddy and building their own worlds with branches and bracken. Hopefully they will be able to recognize birds, insects and trees and, most importantly, to understand the natural world and how it works because this is the generation that is really going to need those skills and understand how important they are if the countryside is going to exist for future generations.

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