Less screen, more green

Posted on: 10 Aug 2016

Head of Juniors at Rendcomb College, Victoria Beevers, discusses the importance of children swapping ‘screen’ for ‘green’ this summer.

I was talking to a parent at the end of term about the challenges of choosing books for our children to read and we were remembering our own childhood reading in the holidays: Swallows and Amazons, Famous Five, Winnie the Pooh, Stig of the Dump...

As I reflect on these moments of relaxation in my summers as a child, two things strike me: I was almost always outside when I was reading and all the books I loved the most were about being outside. Even classic ‘school stories’ (think Harry Potter) are usually about escaping from a classroom to get outside!

Why is that?

It is much to do with a sense of freedom, about not being restricted physically and about how this helps us not feel restricted emotionally or creatively. Certainly, when I do my own writing, I choose to do this in places with no walls or doors. I am fascinated that J.K. Rowling wrote her stories in an Edinburgh café; perhaps this says more about the Scottish weather than the benefits of being outdoors!

Of course, thirty or more years ago, the places where I could read outside were wide-ranging: the local park, down by the river or at the bottom of a garden. I preferred Granny’s house as her garden was huge compared to ours! I can vividly remember cycling off on my own to find a comfortable position near the top of an apple tree with a book and a bar of Galaxy and wiling away hours on my own. These freedoms are not as easy to achieve anymore and as a parent I recognise that we have to find safe havens outside for our children. We have to work harder, I think, to get our children outside freedom, but that determination is as worthwhile as helping them to see the delights of reading.

It seems that the advertising world is aware of the importance of outside, as TV adverts all extol the joys of an outside life - whether it is eating a yoghurt on a picnic rug in the middle of a field or driving a car on roads in beautiful parts of the world which are empty of people - though I do wonder how many families actually picnic in the middle of the countryside and how often those cars drive empty roads rather than sit in traffic jams!

Even the gaming industry has jumped on the wagon into the wild with the new Pokémon Go. On the one hand, I am delighted - anything to get children doing things outside! And yet, part of me is a little sad. Instead of searching for blackberries (aka George and Timmy the dog) or watching the bees and other insects (aka Pooh and Piglet), making a den (aka Stig) or sailing a boat (I'd be more Amazon than Swallow though!), children are walking around searching for computer generated characters. GO CATCH and GO BATTLE are great instructions, until we see that the aim is to destroy or take for yourself. As a head teacher, my assemblies could easily have themes such as GO PLAY TOGETHER and GO UNITE but I am just not entirely sure that screen games will provide a forum for learning the qualities so important for life: caring for others, taking physical and mental risks and I have yet to be convinced of the way that personal screen games improve intelligence.

I know my nephews and nieces - and probably my brothers and sister too - will sigh at 'old fashioned' me, but I will continue to stand for what I see as the important aspects of childhood; I know that if I offer to take my daughter's cousins into the hills and woods to play games, build dens and talk to each other, the rest of the adults will be only too happy to let them spend the day with me, even if only because they can get back to their own screens!

So, as children (and their parents!) enjoy their summer break, I encourage them to read and I encourage them to be outside and, if at all possible, to combine the two. Of course, with the Forest School curriculum and activities on offer at Rendcomb, it is a familiar experience for our children to ‘escape the classroom’ (ie the building) and enjoy being creative outdoors.

I have no doubt that our parents will encourage less ‘screen’ and more ‘green’ for their children during the holidays, as we do during term time.

Whether it is sunny or rainy, let’s get a book and get outside!

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About Victoria Beevers

Victoria Beevers is Head of Juniors at Rendcomb College, a co-educational, boarding and day school for 3-18 year olds.