'Natural Childhood' With The National Trust (Country Kids)

  1. USA
  2. Australia
  3. UK

Not winners of the Olympics. Nor are they the most wealthy in the world (although that might be true). The above ranking refers to the worst countries in the developed world for getting children outside and playing.

I'm a little shocked. More than a little shocked to be honest. I expected America to be pretty rubbish at encouraging outdoor play, but Australia? With all that open space and the wonderful environment? I am, ashamedly, not surprised to see that the UK is third though; the health and safety police combined with the fear factor of child abduction has fostered a generation of children who have an outdoor, roaming space which is 90% smaller than we did as children.

For the past sixteen months I've been a willing participant in the Country Kids weekly linky run over on the Coombe Mill blog. Country Kids is the brainchild of Fiona, who owns Coombe Mill (a family farm holiday location), and promotes outdoor play with your children. It doesn't have to be in the country (which is just as well as ours are at the beach) but it does have to be in the fresh air and encouraging a 'natural childhood'.

This 'Natural Childhood' I speak of is a movement to promote getting our children back into nature and helping them to rediscover the joys of outdoor play. On Saturday we were the guests of the National Trust at Nymans in Sussex, to find out about the 'Natural Childhood' campaign being led by many people including David Bond, Project Wild Thing, the National Trust, and many other agencies. All are united in their desire to see children climbing trees, getting mucky, and having old fashioned, outdoor fun.

Exactly what Country Kids stands for.

There'll be more about the campaign in another post, but for now I want to document a major change in my son.

This is The Boy who couldn't balance a year ago, who had minimal confidence in his physical ability, who wouldn't contemplate a cargo net or three step ladder. The concept of tree climbing? Never!

tree climbing

The middle photograph above shows The Boy arguing with Rob Cowen who was trying to tell him that he couldn't climb the pine tree as it had no lower branches. The Boy didn't believe him. He tried (and failed) but the point is that he tried determinately. Disgruntled, he went and climbed another tree.

And then, Rob showed us how to make a den. A den suitable for sleeping out in (if you are so inclined, I'm not) and one that was incredibly warm and dry.

den building

The Boy was in his element. That smile is not one which he puts on for the camera; it is pure joy.

Ticking off another items from their '50 Things To Do Before You're 11 & ¾', the bloggers' children then all sat around a campfire and toasted marshmallows. We had a minor incident when The Boy was daintily eating his in several bites and dropped it on the floor, but he soon made sure that didn't happen again by shoving his replacement in all in one!

We jumped up and down in muddy puddles, we raced up and down hills, we made friends. But above all else we had fun!

natural childhood

And if ever there was proof that the outdoors is good for a child, making him happy, raising his self-esteem, and giving him self-worth and confidence in his capabilities, surely this is it?

happy child

coombe mill

Country Kids: Castle Explorers In Caerphilly Castle

At around lunchtime this Saturday, the sun started to break through the clouds and the temperature rose to a balmy 5°C. This could only mean one thing: pack a picnic and time to turn into explorers!

Wales is famed for its castles and we're very lucky that we've got a good selection near us. We've taken The Boy to Castell Coch (where we got married) and to Cardiff Castle, both of which he loved. However, neither are ruined enough to really go clambering on. As a result we headed over to Caerphilly Castle, which is somewhere that I only went to a few times as a child.

Built in the 13th Century by Gilbert de Clare (Lord of Glamorgan), Caerphilly Castle is the second largest castle in Britain after Windsor Castle. History websites inform me that it is 'a double-skinned fortress surrounded by large-scale water defenses', i.e. it's got an inner and an outer moat, with lakes on two sides as well. It's also the first castle in Britain to have been built with the concentric ring system, changing the basic template of future castles.

However, the most intriguing bit about Caerphilly Castle is the leaning tower.

country kids caerphilly castle 1

The south-east tower is astounding. Every child in south Wales will have a photograph of them trying to push the tower back up to vertical. It was during the Civil War that the damage to the tower happened, which means that it leans at 10° (greater than the Leaning Tower of Pisa) with the most gigantic crack, wide enough for The Boy to stand in!

The greatness of Caerphilly Castle is marred by the fact that it was never able to fulfill it's destiny as a large castle or fortress. The threat of invasion (which had seen its building) passed quickly, and it had one last fleeting chance at being an active castle in the 14th Century. Then it fell to ruin until the Bute family acquired it in 1776, the third and fourth Marquesses cleared and restored it in the 19th century and the lakes were flooded by the state in the 1950s.

country kids castle explorer

What it's meant is that there are a plethora of ruined walls, towers and spiral staircases to explore. And even better is that CADW (the organisation in charge of maintaining it) hasn't roped every section off, allowing for little children to practise their knightly deeds and to defend the honour of south Wales!

country kids castle explorers 2

The castle is full of passages in the thick walls, spiral staircases, great halls and doorways to scamper through, as well as the most phenomenal view over the town and beyond into the Rhymney Valley. It's a definite site for visitors to the area, and I think this was the first of many explorations!

coombe mill

Country Kids: Mill Wood

After a rubbish week with barely any outdoor play, I was determined to get out and about with The Boy today and we went in search of woodland to explore. Welly-bedecked and waterproof ensconced we found ourselves some stout walking sticks to aid our exploration and trekked through Mill Wood.

We found the old mill, abandoned for nearly a century, and pretended to play house amongst the ruins and squelching mud before climbing the steep, stone steps wedged into the hillside and following a path above the stream. At one point Mr. TBaM got stuck in the bog and The Boy decided to try and pull him out before pretending to get himself stuck.

outdoor play

The most enchanting thing for The Boy was exploring his echo, which was amplified brilliantly in the Wintery woodland.

country kids

Country Kids: Park Explorer

We're well into the pattern of getting our minimum of 15 minutes of outdoor play a day now, striding past week two and entering week three. It's been significantly helped by the fact that the past week has been half-term and so I didn't have the stumbling block of my work days getting in the way and effecting our fun and games.

The beach is a top, and easy, venue for us as there aren't enough hours in the day to explore every pebble there, but for a bit of variety we've been going to the parks as well. Turns out my council is a bit unimaginative when it comes to playgrounds in parks and we're bored of them already; there seems to be a set template of poxy climbing frame, baby and junior swing, one slide and a wobbly roundabout. A far cry from the treasures I see other people visiting!

However, we have enjoyed the one decent one in our town which is just around the corner from where I grew up and as such is one I frequented a lot as a child.

country kids park explorer 2

I used to climb that tree as a child, so proud of him for learning how to do it too! I'm sure it used to be bigger though?

We've also been to Victoria Park in Cardiff, which is a brilliant park with plenty of money thrown at it; different authorities have different priorities I guess? In the Summer, the paddling/swimming pool is packed with children splashing each other and shrieking with laughter. Winter turns the pool into a curiosity for young children. The Boy managed to find himself a friend in the shape of four year old Phoebe who took his hand and guided him around the playground.

country kids park explorer

Today we've been down the beach front (again) on The Boy's bike and I have had to tell Mr. TBaM to stop wrapping him up in cotton wool; he's more capable on his bike than his father gave him credit for! If we can just get him to keep his speed up then those stabilisers will be off in no time!

country kids

Country Kids: Three Boys, A Hoop & Copious Amounts Of Rain

I detest this time of year; from the second week in January until the third week of February, the post-Christmas blues hit me and Spring seems such a very long time away. It was alleviated somewhat by our snow days, but this past fortnight has been foul. I needed a break and so we booked into a Premier Inn in Weston-Super-Mare and headed directly across the channel. (Or rather around it, due to a lack of ferry or barrage.)

As we were in the area, I checked with Jenny from Mummy Mishaps if she and her gorgeous family were free; they were and we spent the day with them in their gorgeous, palatial, new house. Both Jenny and I were hopeful we could go to the beach or one of the beautiful parks in the area, but the torrential rain put pay to that. We did however spend a fun half an hour in the garden with the boys and an old hula-hoop, and really tested the theory that there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!


Giddy up, horsey!

A friendly game of tug of war!

Running through a rolling hoop!


Jumping up and down in muddy puddles!

We had a brilliant time with Jenny and her lovely family, the boys played beautifully together and it was so great to see The Boy enjoying the company of his friends. I've also got a new vegetable recipe to try out with alongside my Jenny Craig meals, and need to try and convince Mr. TBaM that we don't really need an XBox Kinect (while I actually want one myself!).

coombe mill

Country Kids: Exploring

Sunday dawned bright and sunny; time for the wellies and to don the thermals to venture out to the park.

First off, showing us his moves in the playground there.

Country Kids Porthkerry 1

When it was first built, a little over a year ago, he was too young to be able to enjoy any of the facilities. However, he's now at a prime age for exploring them and being challenged by what's available. Scampering up the cargo net like Spiderman, throwing himself down the slide (normally headfirst) and standing up on the swinging rope, seem to pose no concern to him anymore. It's like he's a different child now when it comes to his physical confidence.

Charging off into the distance, he'd clearly had enough of the confines of the playground and needed a run with Mr. TBaM. It's just as well; there's a ditch running alongside the path which is usually little more than a trickle with 3ft high banks. Due to the recent snow and rain fall, it's now level with the grassy banks and the path.

In fact…

Country Kids Porthkerry 2

The Boy is actually stood on one of the bridges crossing the stream. Mr. TBaM is very nervously out of shot ready to jump forward if necessary as we were pretty sure that the edge of the bridge was two foot to The Boy's left, but it wasn't visible!

Country Kids Porthkerry 3

He wanted to do some 'plopping' on the beach, but the tide was out and walking on stones down to the shoreline takes a long time with a three year old. We gathered up pebbles and 'plopped' them in a different part of the stream instead. Then we tried pooh sticks, but the sticks kept getting stuck under the bridge.

Finally, The Boy tried jumping around the fairy ring but his legs weren't quiet long enough.

country kids porthkerry 4

coombe mill

Learning for Life

Country Kids: In The Snow

The Boy woke up at 6am on Friday morning. Much earlier than normal and he wouldn't settle back down to sleep.

He wasn't the only one!

I'd looked out the window and spotted my longed-for inch of snow blanketing the neighbourhood, and despite the opportunity of another 45 minutes worth of sleep, I couldn't settle for the anticipation of whether or not school would be closed. I only work half days on a Friday so it wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had to work, but the hope was still there.

7am the text and e-mail arrived, my prayers were answered and I showed The Boy the wonderland that lay outside the window. It took a few more hours for us to get organised before we descended upon the snow, but when we did we made good use of the fluffy, white stuff.

First up: snowman!

country kids in the snow 1

Then: a sledge ride around the block, followed by colouring the snow, making snow angels, and then warming up with a hot chocolate while worrying about our snowman, "Snowman, are you alright out there? Are you cold?"

country kids in the snow 2

And eventually he had his first ever snowball fight! That photo bottom left? Right down the lens of my dSLR (I had to run in and dry it off)!

country kids in the snow 3

coombe mill

Country Kids: Country Parks & Outdoor Play

Country kids country parks

Last Sunday graced us with a beautiful blue sky and, what seemed as first, warming sunlight. It was enough to spur us on to go and feed the ducks and swans down in our local country park. We took our gargantuam bag of bread bits (I'd missed out on a bread and butter pudding by a day) and enjoyed feeding the mass of swans and their young.

feeding the ducks

The swans are so confident that they would have taken the bread out of our hands if we'd tried. As it was they were perfectly happy to snaffle them from the boardwalk.


The boardwalk meanders around to a lovely wooded area before exploring the other lakes. This was where we managed to explore other wildlife that was busy scavenging for food in the depths of Winter. We'll need to add nuts to the food list next time!

feeding the squirrels

After we'd defrosted in the car, we headed to Parc Play in the centre of Cardiff. It's difficult to explain the place, but it's an all-weather play centre; a warehouse with an fully covered section, a middle part which is open on one side and an out door sand pit. It was absolutely freezing there and I spent most of the time hiding under the heater-light-thingies. The Boy spent most of the hour there on the zipwire.

parc play

I'm desperately hoping for snow this weekend so that we can get out and join the rest of the country in failing to make a decent snowman!


country kids


Learning for  Life
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