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At look back at childhood and nature

Photo credit: Wild About Huntingdon

Huntingdonshire District Council recently asked for ideas from residents on how to redevelop a couple of children’s play areas with an emphasis on helping children to connect with nature.

It made me think back to my childhood.  I’ve always felt connected to and protective of nature.  So, what inspired me to be like this?  Looking back, I think that almost every aspect of my early life had a connection to nature.

At school we sang hymns every morning –  All things bright and beautiful, Carol of the Birds (From out of a wood did a cuckoo fly, “cuckoo”), Daisies are our Silver, We plough the fields and scatter – and many more.

I vividly remember doing a project about farmland and we celebrated the Harvest Festival by taking home grown fruit and vegetables into school.

My parents had a large garden which backed onto open fields where we could play!  We’d disappear into the stubble early in the morning and return for tea with legs scratched and bleeding.  It didn’t hurt until we got into the bath!  We looked for bugs, built dens and ate wild blackberries as our picnic.  At home, I was given a patch of garden and a few gladioli bulbs and I remember being in awe of their beauty when they eventually bloomed.  Dad grew carrots which were eaten by ants.  Next door had rows of gooseberry bushes and I used to lean over the fence to pinch and eat them before they were even ripe.

I played with woodlice, poking them so they curled into a ball.  I used to collect snails and line them up, trying to race them.  They didn’t always get what they were supposed to do…  I used to catch butterflies and put them in a jar with some grass, picking them up by their wings.  I shudder when I think of that now.  I don’t expect I was always particularly careful when handling any of these little creatures but their sacrifice taught me to love them and I’ve done my utmost to protect all creatures from then on.

We read stacks of Ladybird books.  They were everywhere – at home, in libraries, at school, at your friend’s house.

The illustrations were inspirational – you just wanted to step into the picture – and the more you looked the more you saw.  They also had such detailed descriptions.  How many children’s books today speak of blackthorn?

I also remember detesting Summer, with its plagues of black midges and thunderflies.  They were especially bad when the fields were harvested and the bugs came out looking for new homes.  You would get covered in them as you walked along and you daren’t open your mouth to breathe in case you swallowed them.  Car windscreens were smeared with splatted greenflies.  At the time I hated them, now I sort of wish we had them back.

When you’re surrounded by nature all day, every day, you accept it as part of life.  It’s just there in the same way as the local shop is on the corner and your friend is down the road.  When they’re gone, you miss them terribly and desperately want to bring them back.

Many children today don’t have a connection with nature.  It’s not there in their everyday lives.  They can’t play in fields, most don’t have big, wild gardens, play parks and public open spaces are neatly mown.  They don’t see the variety of plants, bugs, birds that I did as a child so they’re not important and they don’t miss them.  I think that’s so very sad and I’m certain it plays a part in children feeling under more stress than I ever did as a child.  Being in nature is proven to help mental health.

So, hats off to HDC for trying to help children find that connection through play.  If you have any suggestions for how to develop play areas, they want to hear your ideas.  Children of the future are relying on us.

Steph @ Wild About Huntingdon 

Steph has promised to be an occasional contributor to our community page, but you can follow her exploits on her fb page:  https://www.facebook.com/WildAboutHuntingdon