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Rewild The Child

Author Lucy Jones has given us kind permission to share an excerpt from 'The Nature Seed' by Lucy Jones and Kenneth Greenway, published by Souvenir Press.

Lucy is a writer and author, with three books published to date. She contributes articles on nature, culture and science to national newspapers, now the Guardian but also the Telegraph and the Sunday Times, BBC Earth and BBC Wildlife. She won the Society of Authors' Roger Deakin Award 2015 for her first book, Foxes Unearthed, about our relationship with the fox. Her second book Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild was published in 2020 and was the culmination of eight years of reading studies, visiting nature and therapeutic locations and interviewing experts. She combines nature writing with science journalism in the book and leaves the reader in no doubt about the intrinsic and essential value of nature to humans. Lucy is based in Hampshire in the south of England.


A New Old Playground

In the beginning, before there were crayons and balls, building blocks and books, there was nature. The oldest playground in the world is the natural world. It’s where our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived, side by side with wildlife, plants, birds, lakes, trees, rain, snow and wind. Of course, it wasn’t ‘nature’, it was just … home. Playing in nature, then, is one of the most ancient activities on Earth. Parents spending time with their children outside has been the human way for millennia. Children exploring the various loose parts of the outdoors, roaming free in open space, finding roosts and making dens to hide in, and learning through outdoor play, risk and discovery has always been a hallmark of early life. Well, until recently. Today, for the first time in human history, we in the industrialised West spend between 1 and 5 per cent of our time outside. Our children are enclosed in classrooms and houses and cars and, for various powerful and systemic reasons, feeling engaged and connected with the natural world is not a universal experience. This matters. A relationship with nature should be a birth right for everyone. Contact with the wild gives all of us opportunities for restoration, peace, creativity, awe, joy, rootedness, self-esteem, fun, resilience and wonder. The Nature Seed is for anyone with a child in their life who wants to foster and nurture their – and their own! – bond with nature. We begin with babies and children in their early years and journey through middle childhood until the age of eleven or so, looking forward to adolescence. The book is filled with ideas, tips and techniques tailored to different age groups, for families living in both the countryside and the city. Your local nature patch might be a town cemetery, the verges on an estate or an urban woodland. It might be a pond or a river or the sea. You might have a garden or a balcony or a windowsill. This book has suggestions for activities that can be used in various environments, and a philosophy that can be utilised in even the most urban areas. Our ideas and ethos are drawn from Ken’s significant expertise gained from decades of extensive experience in environmental education, working with children outdoors and with his own young daughters; and from Lucy’s time spent in nature with her children, and her years of working as a journalist and author, writing about science, environment and health for national newspapers and magazines. Although it might seem that those in rural areas have greater opportunities to commune with the living world, the estrangement from nature applies across the UK. We live in a country where wildlife species are in grave decline, woodlands and green spaces are threatened and access to nature is unequal. Concurrently, habitats for learning through the senses, imaginative play and involvement with the more-than-human world are depleted, too. We can fight against the systems of destruction and inequality and, in the meantime, we can work with what we’ve got. Even in the most nature-deprived areas, you will find moments of wonder and awe. The philosophy and loose method of The Nature Seed aim to be accessible for all. We do not yet live in a fair and just society. Nature deprivation is driven by a constellation of socioeconomic and cultural factors. Class, income and ethnicity influence a person’s relationship to nature. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people may experience hostility and racism in natural spaces, and those living in deprived neighbourhoods have less access to open landscapes or high-quality green space. It is urgent and critical that structural and political changes are made to address the inequality and neglect that lead to environmental and spatial injustice. Nature will mean different things to different cultures, but the mainstream stereotype and representation of nature in the UK as a white, middle-class, luxury pursuit is a fallacy and excludes people both from the experience of spending time in the living world and from the multitude of health and well-being benefits it can offer. Nature is for everyone. Birds are for everyone. Digging holes and finding worms are for everyone. Looking for foxes and badgers is for everyone. Pond-dipping is for everyone. Climbing trees is for everyone. Swimming in rivers is for everyone. Spending time in calming, restorative natural environments is for everyone. The infinite variety of the world is for everyone. Nature is everyone. It mustn’t be kept in the margins of our children’s lives. An intimate relationship with the rest of nature will enhance your life in so many ways. It will offer your children much more than society gives it credit for. A meaningful kinship with other beings can root children in the earth and offer both a steady footing and membership of a wider family for the rest of their lives. An inner stillness, peace and calm can be found in the natural world, as well as spontaneous moments of joy and excitement. For both children and adults, the scientific evidence is now unequivocal: a connection with nature is linked to better mental and physical health.

Photographs © author Kenneth Greenway

Rewild the child

As the evidence mounts about the importance of nature for health and well-being, and our time outdoors diminishes as nature is depleted, two things are crystal-clear: people need nature, and our society’s relationship to the living world needs an upgrade. When I visited the primary-school children, I asked both classes if they wanted to spend more time in nature or less. In Year 4, 95 per cent wanted more time. In Year 6, it was around 80 per cent. In 2011 Unicef asked children what they needed to be happy, and the top three answers were: time, friendships and the outdoors. We need to start seeing time in nature as just as important as eating fruit and vegetables or getting a good night’s sleep. Teachers, parents and educators want children to spend more time in nature. There is enthusiasm and a deep sense 190 The Nature Seed that it isn’t good for children to be cooped up, as they are in our modern world, but for various reasons it seems out of reach. So, having talked to adults and read various books, I decided to go directly to the children and find out how they would solve the problem. If you were mayor of this town for one day, I asked the two year-groups, how would you give children more time in the natural world? What would you change? Spending time in the woods is beneficial for everyone’s mental and physical health Rewilding Childhood 191 Their answers were fascinating. Some were wonderfully radical, while others matched what adults had told me about the barriers between children and nature. Even the most far-out ideas had a core of clear-eyed wisdom to them. For example, one Year 6 boy suggested having no doors on buildings, so that animals could come freely in and out, which made everyone chuckle; but it wasn’t that long ago that there were hundreds of open-air schools across Britain and Europe, in which children learned in big rooms without walls to reap the benefits of fresh air, at a time of TB and other diseases. What, then, did our cohort suggest?

We live in a society where nature is put in a box to one side. Grass in public areas is mown to within an inch of its life, wildlife is vilified, ancient trees are destroyed, children’s playgrounds are lifeless, property developers net trees to stop birds nesting or feeding. We like nature, as long as it’s on our terms. Everywhere you look, nature is a footnote, an extra. We don’t, as a society, believe – judging by our actions – that nature is important in and of itself, or that opportunities to spend time in nature are of the highest value and significance. This attitude does us all a disservice, not only the wild species and places that are destroyed as this mentality reigns. Children especially, for all the reasons we have explored, require a meaningful connection with the rest of nature in their everyday lives – not just as an occasional add-on. Of course, centuries of history and culture have led to this point, where we perceive ‘nature’ as something apart from us, something to be used or visited, and there is no going back to the time before the Industrial Revolution. We live in a society built around production, and along with the rise of social media and technology, there are many shiny things designed to draw our attention and time away from the everyday world. Children are trapped indoors because of the way that our urban and rural areas have been built to accommodate the dominance of cars and other motor vehicles. But we can work towards a more nature-friendly, wildlife-friendly, beautiful world and shed the exploitation and domination that have defined our relationship with our wider environment in recent history. We can tune into exactly what we have already lost and what we are losing, and make our feelings known. But we need top-down structural and political change.


'The Nature Seed' is Available at all good retailers including Waterstones,,

Twitter @lucyjones, @IamKenGreenway, @SouvenirPress



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