When Alanna was in Year 9, she came home from school clutching a map, or to be more specific, an OS Explorer Map 152: Newport & Pontypool.
The great giveaway was part of an Ordnance Survey campaign to increase school children’s awareness of maps. Each eleven-year-old in the UK received a free map which covered their home area. Maybe the OS considered South Wales to be a slightly more dangerous place for children to explore, because Alanna was nearer fourteen when she got hers.
Inspired as the idea was, it didn’t work – not in our household at least. My daughter tossed the orange-covered map dismissively onto the dining table and headed to her bedroom. There was no hint her passion for the great outdoors had been ignited, no search for an old rucksack, no suggestion her young life was about to be transformed.
Harri, on the other hand, was delighted; it’s not often you get a brand new OS map for free.
Encouraging young teens to explore their local area undoubtedly takes more than an OS map; maybe a dishy boy who lives on the morning side of the mountain (remember the Donny and Marie song?). Even then, there’s always the family taxi, or a bus. Given an option, teenagers don’t walk, with or without a map.
The idea is to get children to try ‘outdoor adventures’ they haven’t experienced before at National Trust properties and locations throughout the country. Sign up and they get a sticker pack, summer trail and a map of wherever it is they’re going to start venturing into the great outdoors.
When I first spotted the campaign poster (ladies’ loos, Tredegar House), my heart sank. Not a reaction I relished because I’ve always found that if you can actually prise a child away from the television or computer, they generally enjoy being outdoors and active.
Running around in the rain, playing in the snow, poking sticks around in a pond… these are things children do naturally, aren’t they? Not anymore, apparently. Now they need to be rewarded for being energetic, inquisitive and adventurous.
Going to the dentist, having stitches taken out, getting full marks in a spelling test – all deserving of a nice coloured sticker, but flying a kite? Persuading two snails to race one another down your garden path? It all seems rather tame to me.
Some of the suggested activities are things our parents would have gladly handed us a sticker not to do: making mud pies, hunting for bugs (and hiding them under the bed), climbing trees (and falling out of them), building rafts.
Okay, of the 50 ideas, I admit a few did sound quite challenging. Number 38: Bring up a butterfly instantly brought to mind an insect version of the 1930s Cary Grant film, Bringing up Baby.
And number 25, making a grass trumpet? I’m still trying to visualise a grass brass instrument and failing dismally.
Picking blackberries – I still do it; climb a huge hill – most days; jump over waves – oh for goodness sake!
Are today’s children really so cosseted, so attached to their computers, that they need to be encouraged to make dens (one of our favourite summer holiday pastimes), skim stones (something Harri still loves to do, bless him), or go on ‘really long’ bike rides.
In the late 60s and 70s, when I was growing up, we children used to disappear for hours on end, returning home only when we were hungry or someone fell in the reen.
Making daisy chains, playing pooh sticks and finding frogspawn were things we did instinctively because they were fun.
I really applaud what the National Trust is trying to do but I think it’s really sad if their hunch is right and today’s children won’t catch a leaf or gaze at stars unless they’re being bribed with a sticker.
At 51, I’ve done most things on the list but I’m going to commit to a few new activities this year:
No 3 – camp out in the wild (I’ve stalled for six years, but no more, I’m doing it!) – 2021: we wild camped twice while walking through Wales in 2014.
No 30 – hold a scary beast (I’m determined to get over my fear of spiders) -2021: it’s no good, spiders are just TOO scary.
No 45 – find your way with map and compass (something I really must master) – 2021: I never mastered paper maps but I love online mapping, which has given me the confidence to go hiking alone.
No 51 – put my head under water (I added this one myself and I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to do it – sticker or not!) – 2021: does the shower count?
I’ve been reliably informed (by my middle daughter) that I’ve ‘misinterpreted the grass trumpet’. Apparently, ‘if you blow through a blade of grass it makes a trumpet sound!’ Just so you know!!