> before training camels). She recalls: 'My childhood was spent on the back of my pony, often used as a form of transport to meet friends. I was very lucky as there was far less traffic around, I’d be out for hours. I didn’t have a mobile phone, I’d call when I got to my friend’s house. If something went wrong I had to sort it out for myself and I think this is really important – having this sort of freedom teaches you to look after yourself.'
Giving them Freedom There are so many powerful benefits to be gained from releasing our children a little, letting them make mistakes and get into scrapes. Just giving them a little space to play freely with friends (without close adult supervision 24 hours a day) means that children will gain self-confidence, learn all sorts of social skills such as decisionmaking, problem-solving, compromise and communication. Then there’s the sheer "feel-good" factor of having the freedom to play outside that’s so good for mental health as well as physical health in later life. Having given her children (now 14 and 16) the freedom to explore the fields around their farmhouse with friends, Rebecca Fossett agrees that it’s 'given them independence and confidence' as has growing up with camels: 'The idea of going from one activity to another is abhorrent to me – they may end up super-achieving/playing three instruments but they’ll live in the car the whole time. Both of my children ride, they’ve had a childhood going off with friends and messing about by the stream, making hay bale castles. And being around big animals teaches you how to be on your toes more than growing up with hamsters.' While Leo and Daisy have obviously learnt much from their natural surroundings and their free-range childhood, Rebecca points out that 'you can’t stop the march of technology'. Her children get distracted by the delights of 24 hour television or screen games; when a friend recently brought an Xbox to play with on a sleepover, they all loved playing with it late at night but they’d spent hours jumping off a bridge into the stream first.
The Unscheduled Summer Allowing our children to enjoy some of this type of freedom doesn’t have to be restricted to a country upbringing of course. An unscheduled summer holiday can be great fun in a town or city, especially if you live in a neighbourhood with lots of children nearby – messing about on scooters or playing football in the street until far too late is great fun anywhere. As is having your best friend over for a sleepover, chatting and eating marshmallows from sleeping bags in the back garden. Alison Wright, mum of Nathan, seven, reminded me of my own suburban freerange childhood when she recalled growing up in the 1970s in Coventry: 'A gang of us used to go off on our bikes all over, we played out in the street, went to the park on our bikes, found frogs on some common ground. We fell out, we made up and we just had a lot of fun. We used to walk to school on our own, we learnt to cross the road, to know about the dangers of cars, not accepting sweets off strangers and we looked after each other. Family trips out would be blackberrying or going for a walk - nothing beats just being able to be outside.' Now living in a quiet close of a village, Alison and her husband Alan relish seeing Nathan play outside with the other five boys living in neighbouring houses: 'They get their bikes and scooters out in the close, and have a den in the middle – we have certain rules that they have to abide by/they know the limits of how far they’re allowed to go, but the benefits are exercise, fresh air, learning to take responsibility for what they’re doing. And they’re not stuck in front of a screen.' Obviously working out and agreeing the limits that you’re comfortable for your children to roam within depends on their age (and personality too) and where you live, but even if it’s just letting younger children loose to dig up the garden and make mud pies, having a more hands-off approach to the summer has to be more relaxing for all of us. I’m definitely looking forward to a free-range summer - waking up to the birds and wondering what to do with the day sounds like perfect planning to me.
MORE INSPIRATION READ about a wonderfully wild 1970s childhood in ‘Come and Tell Me some Lies’ by Raffaella Barker, originally published 1994 but republished 2014 by Bloomsbury. EXPLORE jacamels.co.uk to read about Rebecca and Joseph Fossett’s camel treks.
We asked: Structure or no structure - how do you manage the holidays?
FAY HOLMES Not all structured. It's good for them to unwind and breathe again. Find their toys without time restrictions. Put together a toy chest for them, have some crafts and jigsaws, rainy day stuff and make sure they get done too. My son gets very cross if I make a promise that gets broken! And the National Trust have heaps going on. The Wildlife Trust are great too. Enjoy them
REBECCA HUXTABLESMITH I have a calendar that starts to fill up with activities and events.Two of my children have autism so keeping as much structure in place as possible is important. I also keep a list of ideas for activities and events that can be done at any time dependent on the weather, walk in the woods, a picnic by the stream, a bike ride etc., we cross them off as they get done. It also gives the children a record of all the things they've done during the holiday.
MELANIE BRAMMER We have a plan. Each week we try to make sure that we: go swimming twice, go on a long walk, go on a bike ride, cook something together, craft something, go to one of our favourite NT properties, go to a local museum or library, do the grocery shopping,
and do one thing that costs (10 pin bowling, soft play, safari park, farm park). We just aim to do a couple of those each day which means that we get lots of activity and out of the house, so in between times can be completely unstructured.
NICKY MERRICK We don't have any structure for 52 weeks of the year. It's not an issue. Kids are quite capable of entertaining themselves and making their mark on the world in their own way. We are autonomous home educators.
KATE TALBOTPONSONBY We just tend to chill out and go with the flow. Planning is done a night or two beforehand. I feel that if they have time to get bored, that's when they become more creative, both in terms of crafts, and playing.
Join the conversation at facebook.com/ greenparentmag
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 www.thegreenparent.co.uk