Radius of Activity

Regular readers will know that sharing a love of the outdoors with my kids is a particular concern of mine. A while ago I read a thought-provoking article in the Spring edition of Broadleaf ( Incidentally, it’s worth joining the Woodland Trust just to get their magazine – the quality of the articles and photography is very high: the cover of this issue was stunning.)

Here’s a quote:

One study has shown that the area around the home where children are allowed to roam on their own – known as their ‘radius of activity’ – has declined by almost 90% since the 1970s, when many of the current generation of parents where growing up.

Then I came across the following headline from the Guardian on the excellent blog Walking and Writing:

…was visited by social services after an anonymous caller reported her for allowing her seven-year-old son to walk to school alone.

Today I’ve been looking at How Risky is Life? some teaching materials published by the Bowland Trust for the mathematics classroom that:

tackles something that affects (and impoverishes) people’s lives, liberties and happiness – the mismatch between real and perceived risk.

(Pupils) learn that mathematical thinking is essential for putting risks in perspective and that the media focus on stories rather than information.

I tend to chide my Mum for being a mother hen (sorry mum!), but now that I’m a parent myself I’m quite inclined to cluck a bit myself. The accusation is obviously not well founded anyway, because my own most vivid memories of Primary School are of the walk there and back with three friends.

We had a short walk along back streets and then crossed three fields and two bridges to the school. In the winter we slide down the tarmac path that crossed the first field. In the spring we stuck ‘stickyweed’ to each others jumpers or collected frogspawn, tadpoles and stickle-backs in jars (for our teachers – how grateful they must have felt!). In the summer we caught butterflies amongst the thistles and nettles by the railway siding. And in the autumn we put ‘itching powder’ from the haws in the hedgerows down the back of each others clothing. If a train went past it was imperative not to be standing on the ground or you would catch ‘the dreaded lurgy’ – which often meant running and jostling to climb onto the small handrail on the bridge over Johnny’s  Brook or hanging from the top of the high sides on the ‘Tin Bridge’ that crossed the railway itself (hoping that it wasn’t a long goods train with hundreds of carriages). Similarly the cowpat spattered kissing-gates on the route were considered unclean and untouchable and only one kick was allowed to get through them. This required a carefully weighted kick: too light and the gate wouldn’t bounce back enough for you to get through, too heavy and the gate would bounce back too quickly and hit you in the face. The field on the far side of the railway line still showed the ‘ridge and furrow’ of medieval farming. On the east side was a stand of elder and hawthorn on a slight mound which was a disputed ‘den’ used by our ‘gang’ but also by other boys from the village.

I haven’t been back for years. Johnny’s Brook long since disappeared under a housing development (whilst it was a building site it became an even better place to play), but the ridge and furrow field is still there as far as I know. I hope that at least some children still get to walk to school that way.

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Radius of Activity