Just a few weeks ago it was Children’s Mental Health Week and throughout that week there were lots of articles floating around explaining how important it is, as a nation, for us to do more to support children and enhance positive mental health.

You may or may not have noticed, but we didn’t post anything about it at the time. Instead, we read lots, kept our eyes on what was being posted on social media and just spent a bit of time thinking the whole thing through.

So here’s our take on it:

Having spent 20+ years in education we’ve experienced lots of policy changes from government, both nationally and locally. We were part of an era where the entire National Curriculum changed, strategies came and, shortly after, most of them went again (!), systems and procedures changed on numerous occasions and for a while it was all about creativity and providing breadth for children. Sure enough the focus shifted and the emphasis was on Literacy and Numeracy skills. Oh and let’s not forget the debacle with SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) where you lost marks in SAT’s if you didn’t write an apostrophe with a little dot attached to it 🤦‍♀️

Throughout it all, we fought our hardest to keep children at the heart of everything we did, which of course is how it should be. Teaching is about children, not data! However, children don’t learn in a linear fashion and most certainly, continuous change and increasing expectations on standards do not suit all children…or teachers!

But what about those children where learning will always be a struggle? For some children, decimal fractions will forever be problematic and for some children the expectation to be a certain level/grade just won’t be happening….square pegs, round holes. No matter how many interventions, additional Teaching Assistants or booster groups a school puts in place, sadly, for some children, they will not achieve the standard that the DFE expect them to….and as a teacher, school leader or parent, this is heart-breaking. Just this week it has been announced that Suffolk has failed its’ Ofsted re-inspection visit for SEND.

We’ve seen a decline in services available to support children, across the board, such as Speech & Language, SEND, Behaviour Support, School Nursing Teams, EAL (English as Additional Language)….and more.

Overall, what wasn’t recognised soon enough, in our opinion, was that children’s mental health was declining.

BUT it’s not just about the education system is it? We could write an entire blog on the pitfalls of the education system, pressures on schools and the fact that schools are severely underfunded….but it’s so much more than that.

Society has changed. Our lives are more chaotic it seems than those of our parents and grandparents generation. Expectations are high; to have the latest smart phone by the age of 10 🤦‍♀️, throwing things out instead of repairing them and rushing our kids about to every after school activity under the sun!!

Is it any surprise that the mental health of adults has also been in decline? We too, saw this first hand working in schools, as we did our best to support families in extremely difficult circumstances.

There has been a lot of news coverage recently about online gaming and the hours’ young people spend in front of a screen. There is no denying that technology is a wonderful thing. We were recently invited to talk on both Radio Suffolk and Norfolk about the impact of screen time. There has to be a balance and it really does depend what the screen is being used for. Research, writing, homework, design….there is no denying that using the internet or a variety of software packages can enhance learning for us all. However, the number of young children who are part of the online gaming community is alarming. Children as young as 3 years are playing a particularly popular game involving guns. We have worked with children where online gaming has had a detrimental effect on their mental health and has directly impacted on their behaviour.

We could write a book on our experiences as educators (maybe one day we will!).

So, what’s the answer? This is such a massive issue. It’s not just about schools. It’s not just about parenting style. It’s not just about technology. We don’t have the magic wand to make it all better. It’s so incredibly multi-layered… (We could write a book on that too!) If you have a chance, take a look at the latest report from Healthwatch Suffolk: ‘My Health, Our Future’…it really is a fascinating read and those involved must be highly commended.

However, what we know is this….

Since Wild Play Ltd began, just a year ago, we have seen children thrive when they have been with us. We’ve spoken to so many parents who have all said that when their children have been out in the woodland, they come home absolutely buzzing. They eat well that evening. They sleep better. They chatter about all the things they have experienced. They loved it. There has been such positive feedback from our work with schools, Explorers Holiday Club and children’s party events.

Parents have shared so many examples with us from disastrous birthday parties; holiday clubs where kids don’t want to go and tearing their hair out with school because their child just doesn’t fit in with the curriculum expectations and the school can’t access any support. HOW can any of this be good for positive mental health??

In the woodland, children can be free. There is no right or wrong. There are boundaries, but these are purely as a safety measure so that we don’t lose anyone! If a child wants to climb a tree, they can. If they want to make a den, they can. If they want to make a craft, they can. Or if they just want to sit and chat, or, be by themselves for a while…guess what, they can!

When a parent is in tears because their child has been ‘so awful’ at home and is worried that they will be badly behaved with us…we just smile, because we know that when we hand them back at the end of the day, they will have had the best time. We’ve seen it happen.

FACT: Being outdoors increases serotonin (that’s the stuff that makes you feel good). Being amongst trees and sunlight does increase levels. Being outdoors naturally de-stresses and as a result, serotonin increases.

FACT: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are the quartet responsible for your happiness. These all increase when being outdoors through experiences that enable success, trust, developing relationships and the feeling of not being under pressure. Therefore being able to make our own choices and decisions can help us feel good.

FACT: Being outdoors on uneven terrain improves your posture. WE HAVE SEEN THIS HAPPEN! An increasing number of children spend the majority of their lives walking on completely flat surface – in the home, at school, in the supermarket – it’s all flat! The woodland is naturally uneven and by default the body has to alter its positioning to cope with it. Some children will shuffle to begin with, because on a flat surface you can get away with doing that; you don’t actually need to lift your feet up very far. But outdoors you do! So, children who might be a bit prone to falling over, or who find it hard to climb a tree or run down a hill….over time, will see a huge improvement in their ability to do this, all thanks to the natural floor of the woodland.

FACT: When children are provided with the opportunities to explore in the great outdoors and they have a positive experience, they WILL want to do it more often. As adults, we’ve all become a bit too busy to make the time to get out and about…but we need to do it, for our children’s sake and for that of our families, because being outdoors is good for us grown-ups too!

Being outdoors and seeing nature at its finest, as the seasons come and go, has to be one of the best things ever. Time to play, think, belong, reflect, make new friends and…just be in the moment.

We’re delighted to be extending our range of provision and helping more people to benefit from being outdoors, so what are you waiting for?

Come and join us, whatever your age and….

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Wild Play Ltd