Clare Anderson - Outdoor Kids
Clare Anderson established Outdoor Kids Sheffield, a non-profit group that inspires families to play and explore in nature, especially those with very young children. I spoke to Clare about how Outdoor Kids came about, and she shared her tips for getting outdoors with children.
"I started Outdoor Kids when I had my two sons and moved to Sheffield. I had a newborn and a toddler. I didn’t really want to go to the usual baby groups, so I started exploring the Peak District with my sons. A lot of the places where I used to climb weren't necessarily suitable for them to explore, so I started looking for new places and decided to share that with other people.
For me I found the easiest thing to do was just get out of the house. I had to be out by 10 o'clock. If you go into the country somewhere and the kids run around for a couple of hours, then it doesn’t really matter what you do for the rest of the day because they've burnt off that energy."
"I just feel really passionately about getting children active outdoors. I think too much these days kids are wrapped up in cotton wool, we don’t let them take risks. It is a really hard one with kids. Obviously, your job is to protect them from everything, but if you don’t trust them to manage their own risks, then they never will. There is a limit, there are times when I say 'sorry you have got to get down'. Or you let them know, 'that branch looks dead to me, it looks like it might break, and if you fall off it there are rocks below you'. And they think oh right okay. They’re definitely more aware.
A lot of it is about the children going off exploring, picking up logs, doing whatever interests them. Lawrencefield is popular, it’s really pretty, there’s a lot to do, and it's quite a safe place once you're down there. Occasionally I might read a story. At the Cowper Stone there’s a rock that overhangs so we read a story called Cave Baby, which is about painting, and the kids can do paintings related to the story.
Outdoor Kids is for mums and dads, but it’s mainly mums that come along. Some of them don't have the confidence to go on their own, but in a group they will. One of the mums told me she’s really pleased that her daughter sees her doing these things that are out of her comfort zone a bit, clambering over a river, doing things that she wouldn’t normally do."
"I did some sessions teaching parents how to set up rope swings and slacklines in the woods. It’s such an easy thing to do, you just have your backpack and a little bit of rope, normally I take a hammock and you can go for a wander, have a picnic, set up a swing. One of the boys that came along with his parents was about 14. He was autistic, and we chatted about how to set up a swing and you could see that he was quite happy about being in the woods, he really enjoyed it. Not just the rope swings but wandering around and looking at things.
He’d come out of school a few weeks before, he was quite isolated, playing computer games in his room most of the time. His mum said that after the session he was a changed boy. They went and bought a rope and hammock, and he was teaching other kids how to do it. They said he’s just changed because now he’s got something he's into that’s outdoors."
"There are a lot of good toddler groups and music groups, but there’s definitely a time and a place to go outside and let the kids just play. Nowadays there’s not really much time for kids to do their own thing. It’s nice for people to chat in a slightly more relaxed way than if you’re sitting opposite each other at baby groups too. When you're walking you chat to different people as you’re moving around. A lot of people keep coming back and they get to know each other.
I do really like sharing outdoor places with people and I always have. You drive past that road but you might not know what’s a few hundred meters away. There’s something nice about people saying wow this is amazing, and then they keep going back on their own. It’s also important for the children to revisit the places. They get to know how high they can climb on a tree and then they go a bit further, they know the logs they can balance on, and they see the changes, especially through the seasons."
Clare's main tips for getting outdoors with children are :
Go and explore somewhere new - You don't need a map or guide book, just drive and stop somewhere and wander around. You might be surprised at what your children find. When you find a good place share it, and let your children take the lead.
Set up a Whats App group with other families - Message each other when you're planning on going out. It can just be a simple "I'm going to the secret garden for a picnic and wander, if you want to come, meet at Surprise view car park at 10." Someone sent almost this exact message a few weeks ago and in the end there were about 20 kids and 10 adults, we had a brilliant morning. The kids were exploring, rock scrambling, and we saw some deer. This is particularly good in the holidays if one parent is entertaining the kids on their own or for single parent families.
Share resources - Maybe one family have a harness, another may have a rope, another helmets, swings etc. We even had music in the woods once from a family playing the saxophone. It's nice to share and different families give the children different experiences!
All photos from Clare Anderson.