Ed Stafford explains why we should get the kids outside

It’s so easy to stick your child in front of a tablet, but here the TV explorer explains why getting out and about is so beneficial.

getting the kids outside


Explorer Ed Stafford is on a mission to get kids outside more. We chatted to him about that, his wilderness camps and how he being stuck indoors affects his own children.

Everyone is always talking about kids not spending enough time outside, but how do you think this actually negatively affects young people?

I have a four-year-old son, Ran and twin one-year-old girls, Molly and Milly. If Ran was left in front of Paw Patrol for an hour I expect a meltdown. Tears, punching, disobedience and not eating supper. There is a frenetic addictive quality to the program that I have no doubt is part of the show’s design. Don’t get me wrong Ran LOVES it – but in a slightly worrying way – he’s an addict and needs his TV fix.

Moving up a level, if I left him with a heap of Lego, he’s engaged – his creative and practical brainwaves are buzzing, and he can be communicated with. He’s calm and polite – it’s a different beast entirely.

But then compare these to taking him outside and building a den, his creative and practical sides of his brain are engaged in the same way when using Lego but this time his soul is stirred. His grin is infectious, and his energy has been given a boost and he’s running around totally engrossed in his woodland world. We laugh together and make memories that will help shape his character.

I think the negative effects of staying indoors are losing those precious moments which allow your child’s spirit and character to grow. Every hour is an opportunity to discover and make mistakes. As a parent you sterilise that at your own risk.

What sorts of things are kids talking about to you when you do these kinds of camps?

I think it’s all too easy for kids to be intimidated by conversations with adults. I know as a kid I would work out the absolute minimum I could get away with and then make a sharp exit. I was painfully shy.

On camps there is an unmistakable transition. Of course, confident kids arrive – but a lot are unsure of what they are letting themselves in for and correspondingly monosyllabic.

As they relax and begin to enjoy the experience. Working together outdoors and having fun is liberating for kids, their shackles are off, and they find their humour as their brains start to come alive. To say for most of them it’s the best thing they’ve ever done is not an exaggeration – it’s an extraordinary setting for them to express themselves and find their inner camper.

getting kids outside

Is this something you can replicate in the garden? Could a dad be like you?

Many dads are very like me. I like a drink at the pub, I like watching sport (and reminiscing on playing!), I love time with the kids (but I like time to myself too). We are all frighteningly similar.

For me, the safest thing to do as a dad is also the laziest. Chuck an iPad at them and yet sometimes we all have to do it – our lives are incredibly time-poor nowadays.

But in addition to taking time to play with the children, I also think we should all go the extra mile and help them take more risks. That might sound like a reckless statement but if you think about it, it’s the times when we are forced to make decisions that have an element of danger in them that accelerate our growth the most. By upping your game as a parent, doing dynamic risk assessments in your head (how likely is she to fall and how badly will she hurt herself if she does) we give our kids far more leeway to make mistakes and learn.

What kinds of things do you think a parent can learn from their kids when they return from Camp Wilderness?

I think we all need to take a leaf out of Camp Wilderness’ school of thought. The main focus isn’t on children passing on specific skills they may have learned (like fire lighting or ponassing a fish over coals), it’s more about opening the scope of possibilities in terms of how the family spends time together, and how we all need to try and break out of the domestic family cycles. This isn’t because we’re Doomsday scaremongers preparing for Armageddon, it’s because increasingly it’s possible to live with family members and not truly engage with them. What Camp Wilderness does really well is bring people together as a team, builds trust between different members, and therefore strengthens the bonds that are so important in communities and families.

And how might that help [parents] in other parts of their life?

Who doesn’t want stronger bonds with their kids? Deeper connection and greater understanding? We all do. The technological world presents a minefield of potential points at which a gulf can appear between siblings and between parent and offspring.

For me getting outdoors is just providing a crucible so you can grow personally, strengthen relationships, and also develop greater compassion for the world as a whole.

We at the site talk a lot about flexible working and advocate family-friendly policies at companies – how does that apply when you’ve got explorer as the job on your passport? How do YOU balance your family and work life?

Practically, on a day-to-day basis, I implement certain things in my life, so I won’t get tripped up by the modern world to the detriment of my family. For example, recently I’ve integrated into my home life that at 5pm my smartphone goes on charge in the office (and even then, locked in a draw!), so that I’m giving my wife and kids my full attention. On weekends it stays there from Friday evening until Monday morning.

“But what about emergencies?!” I hear you cry. I was going to use a simple old Nokia phone that I could only text and call on but sadly our village has rubbish cell phone reception, and we rely on WiFi assist to make calls. Rather than give up at that stage I realised that I could use a smart watch with a SIM in it to receive vital calls. It works off WiFi but has no distracting apps like WhatsApp or any social media channels.

It may seem extreme, but I’m determined not to have my life governed by tech giants who don’t have my best interests at heart. I’m deliberately swimming against the current to take autonomy back in my evenings and weekends.

Read more:

I will NOT look at my phone so much – I promise!

Steve Tonks of WorkForce Software: employers must adapt

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