Billboards to ‘get into nature’

There’s SO MUCH about getting kids into nature, and risky play out there at the moment. I am so glad about this. But there’s a little bit of the relationship between Million Women Rise, a grassroots global organisation, led by women of colour, that has been established for years, and One Billion Rising – a campaign started by Eve Ensler, a successful published feminist in 2011. Natalie Gyte sums it up pretty well. Basically, there’s a long established movement, and then someone comes along to do a PR makeover, without necessarily making effective links to everything that is already going on.

I grew up involved in a radical outdoors education organisation (it’s oversubscribed and not needing publicity, so not linking) that descends from a 1930s experimental school, and I’ve started working, during the last year, in one of the many fantastic community play projects in London. And the project I work in is run by people who want to welcome kids, make fires with them in the garden, and comment ‘we’ve been doing risky play for years’. BECAUSE IT’S COMMON SENSE. All the kids that come to us are going to be attached to a screen, or on the streets – which are a pretty socially hostile environment for young people with no money unless they’ve got an older brother who does some dodgy business or other. It’s clear that playing outside, interacting with the natural environment and each other, is needed and wanted by them.

I follow ‘Outdoor Nation’ – I’m delighted to see everything it’s promoting. And I saw an article entitled ‘Is squeamishness a barrier to nature?’ and thought ‘hell yeah – that’s just what I think about every time I’m outside with a towny kid’. Then I read it, and had a bit more of a complex reaction.

What I don’t want to do is disagree with on principles, or pick a flame war. Squeamishness, fear of touching natural things, getting dirty, are absolutely barriers to experience. We need to overcome them. But what’s the best way – to vault over them, to make a gate, to bash them down or to  undermine,crumble  and dissolve them completely?

I think I have some differences from your methods. The idea that you have to bribe a child with a barbie (ok, you beat her down to a tic tac. But any bribe…) to lick a frog is- a bit counter productive. It’s reinforcing that this has to be forced. And you might argue that the ends justify the means – and I would support that, but I’m not sure that there’s a positive outcome. To my eyes, the poster, especially seen on a billboard  looks more like an i’m a celebrity get me out of here challenge than a child playing. The shock tactic plays into ‘nature is gross’ rather than overcoming it.

Project Wild Thing Billboard
Kids, once they have enough time, relaxed, encouraging, reassuring, being led by example, want to touch things. It takes time, and it’s magical – wrote about it the other week here. Don’t have a photo permission, because the child’s not my offspring, but one of our children gave a newt a kiss absolutely spontaneously. And an affectionate air kiss, gazing into its golden eyes, not a dubious from a consent perspective tongue slurp with screwed up eyes. That’s another thing. Children can learn about respecting human’s boundaries by the way they interact with animals, leading them to respect animals as living beings, with personal space, autonomy and all is one of the great aspects of interacting with them.

One more thing, a bit of a ‘my organisation’s doing such great work and has no funding’ bitch, but imagine if all of those hoardings JCdecaux donated for Wild Thing frog-licking were donated to local initiatives – so when people saw them, there was somewhere close by to go….

Project Dirt is trying hard to be a social network for projects – it’s part of the wave of interest in outdoor play made shiny, it’s not got an audience beyond those already involved though, so for participant projects its currently of limited use, so it’s got a bunch of inactive accounts. But, it’s trying to make links. We need links. We need organisation. And, a self appointed PR guy for nature … well there’s a role there, and I’m not saying I’d fill it better. But if we’re having one, it’s ok to give critical feedback, I hope.