The National Trust has gone crazy wild about getting the nation’s kids outside at the weekend so they’ve put together a list of 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ along with the 50 place finder to locate great places to do them, woods, fields, hills, caves, ponds and streams!
They want to encourage kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and get closer to nature and they’ve developed the 50 things challenge which provides some great ideas and top tips for the 50 activities for parents and kids to do outdoors and get closer to nature.
But what’s all the fuss about? When Dr M was a lad he was out in the garden, out in the local woods and fields, anywhere and everywhere in all weathers exploring, playing observing and just being outdoors. So what’s up with today’s youth? What happened?
Well, back in 2012 The National Trust published the Natural Childhood report which brought together a mountain of evidence to show that children in the UK are becoming more and more disconnected from the outdoors. TV, Game Boys and the Nintendo Wii are part of the problem, but only a part (yes, there is more than a hint of National Trust sponsored Project Wild Thing here).
So, 50 things is one approach to try to reconnect children with nature and the outdoors and Dr M has a vested interest in encouraging young people into the countryside, the young nature explorers of today are surely the next generation of botanists!
With this in mind, Dr M has taken a close look at these 50 things, asking: “so what’s there to engage children with plants?”
Well, fifteen of the 50 involve plants directly (dark green), climbing a tree, playing poo sticks, making a daisy chain (the natural alternative to the current loom bracelet craze!) or a grass trumpet and (wait for it) catching a leaf!
A further fifteen (light green) can be done much better with plants in mind, walking bare foot and rolling down a big hill (soft grass is better than stones and rocks!), raising a butterfly from a caterpillar (it’s a vegetarian it needs food!) and creating wild art – plants surely synonymous with art?!
Dr M recalls: he invented eXtreme botany in 2013 in part to encourage people to engage with plants by all means possible, and to be honest, he thinks the National Trust could have been a tad more eXtreme with their 50 things!
OK, so there IS a glimmer of eXtremity amongst the 50 things (blindfold a friend and give them nettles to eat (or it that #51?).
But there’s also, it has to be said, more than a whiff of lameness to the 50 – catch a leaf? What’s that about?! Catch a load of leaves, count them, measure them, sort them, identify them, extract dyes from them, make other stuff from them, shove them down your friend’s jumper, eat them, scatter them, jump on them, sleep on them…
Come on Mr National Trust, your 50 things is a step in the right direction, but eXtreme botany it ‘aint!
Maybe the root here is the 50 were (probably) devised by adults, perhaps it’s time to ask the kids what THEY want from plants?
Of course, they might say: “nothing, we don’t want plants, we don’t like plants, we want bugs, bugs and more bugs!” but that’s a risk Dr M is prepared to take.
So here is Dr Ms very own 50 zillion things challenge: Here’s the deal, there are fifty zillion things to do with plants in the great outdoors, so whether you are nine or ninety, contact Dr M with your ideas to get down and dirty and intimate with plants and get some eXtreme botany in your bloodstream!
Meanwhile, not to beat up National Trust’s 50 too much more, check out this amusing introduction to the top ten of The National Trust’s 50 things…and make your own mind up, challenge or no challenge?