At risk of sounding like an old person, I still have to ask at what point did children become allergic to outdoor entertainment involving mud, rain and a stick? I ask this seemingly inane question as the result of a school trip to the local beach on which I was a parent supervisor recently.
We walked less than 10 minutes from the school playground, through a small coastal reserve and down a track to the beach which is largely sand, shells and some mud. The whole walk took 15 minutes, tops. On that short trip I heard a variety of complaints from the children. This is a selection, along with my thoughts compared with my actual responses:
Child: “Why isn’t there a hand rail?”
My thought: Are you serious?? It’s a mild slope through some plants. How hard can it be?
My response: “Because there is no need for one.”
Child: “It smells.”
My thought: Good God – do you never go out??
My response: ” That is the smell of fresh air and the sea, some of the most natural smells on earth. Isn’t is lovely?”
Child: “I can’t walk down here, my shoes will get dirty.”
My thought: Ah. Another child whose parent/s tell them not to get their clothes or shoes dirty or to touch anything outside because it’s ‘dirty’.
My response: “That’s why you’re wearing gum boots – you can wash them when you get home.”
Child: “I’m so tired. Why is it so far away?”
My thought: Yes, you clearly never get any exercise. You are a prime example of why children in New Zealand are obese as adults. Why do your parents never take you outside?
My response: “We can see the school gate from here – it’s not really very far, is it?”
Child: “I never knew there was a beach near here.”
My thought: For @#$%’s sake! We are at a coastal location; there’s not a house round here that can’t see the coast. Even if this kid lives further inland, you can see the sea FROM THE SCHOOL PLAYGROUND!!!”
My response: “How about you ask your parents to take you here again at the weekend?”
Child: “What’s all this dirt on the beach? I hate it. I want to go back to class.”
My thought: That, dear boy, is sand, shells and mud that form a significant part of the rock cycle. You know, the cycle that produces rocks from which roads and houses and schools are built. The beach is a significant environmental zone that I KNOW you studied last year – clearly only in theory. What is wrong with these children??
My response: “That is sand, mud and shells. It’s what you get on beaches. Have never been to a beach before? No?!” [speechless - this child is 8 and has been here since he was 3]
My child was one of the only ones who happily skipped up and down the coastal path, pointed at plants and flowers, wanted to get in the stream, climbed a tree, picked up shells and, her favourite trick, turned over rocks on the beach and at appropriate times yelled “CRABS!!” at the top of her voice. Always amusing for the adults, that one.
Overall though I left the school trip feeling decidedly jaded that although the school curriculum teaches children about environmental matters, many of them have no real understanding or experience of actually being outside where the environmental stuff is all happening. It’s very sad. But on the up-side, I don’t feel like such a bad parent because my children aren’t scared of dirt and they love to stand in the rain in their school uniforms, catching raindrops on their tongues.
And I let them.