There was once a time when banishing your child to his bedroom during daylight hours meant that he had misbehaved. Otherwise, come rain or shine, the little tinker would be fed a hearty breakfast and despatched to the great outdoors for the day, free to roam until it was time for tea. But somewhere along the way, amid the spectre of stranger danger, over-stuffed schedules and traffic hazards, our children have turned into sedentary creatures, hidden away indoors, watching Peppa Pig jump into big muddy puddles rather than doing it themselves. A Natural Childhood report commissioned by the National Trust, found that fewer than one in ten children regularly play in wild places compared to half a generation ago, while a third have never climbed a tree and one in ten can't ride a bike.
"The result of the report really struck a chord with parents," says Julia Horne, of the National Trust. "They want their children to have a better connection with nature, but often don't feel confident about how to make that happen in a safe but stimulating way. We want to encourage families to reconnect with nature and the outdoors by having lots of fun and big adventures." This desire was the inspiration behind 50 Things To Do before You're 11 3/4, a nifty National Trust guide to classic activities that embrace the great outdoors. Don't be alarmed - this isn't your usual 'climb Everest' or 'trek the Sahara' type bucket list. But by golly how your child will love creating a whopping mud pie, rolling down some eye-wateringy high hills and constructing a den that's worthy of its own postcode. And there are plenty of other ways to make the most of all the facilities that are closer to home, too.
It's a brilliant way to get outdoors to appreciate and explore the natural world, as well as promoting family bonds. Whether in your back garden, your local park or forest, or one of the 400 National Trust locations around the country, now's the time to get out there and get back to nature with some brilliant activities. All that's needed is a balanced approach, which recognises the benefits rather than just looking out for risks. Try our ten terrific outdoor challenges for starters...
Climb a tree
Choose a tree that has sturdy branches from the bottom to the top and that you can reach from the ground. Be sure to wear trainers or boots to give you a solid grip - leave your flip-flops behind. Don't forget to give a wave to everyone left down below.
Top tip for success: For safety, keep three limbs on the tree at all times. It's worth investing in a book to help you identify different types of trees - we like A little Guide To Trees by Charlotte Voake (Eden Project Books, £7.99) or Nature Guide Trees by DK Publishing (£9.99) - then you can go on a treasure hunt to spot different species.
Where to try it out: Trelissick Garden in Cornwall and Stowe in Buckinghamshire.
Build a den
Fallen branches, twigs and leaves make surprisingly cosy dens and are all generously provided by nature for free. If you want to make it naturally waterproof, pack loads of leaves into the gaps. Leave the power tools at home - you're not going to need them here.
Top tip for success: Choose a dry, flat spot for the most solid den and never build using sharp objects. It helps to start by leaning sticks against a low tree branch wigwam-style. Make a note of which materials work best. If you build a sturdy wigwam out of strong branches, it may still be there the next time you visit.
Where to try it out: Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire and the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire.
Skim a stone
There is no finer way to pass the time that with this timeless game. You'll need flat water, like a lake or the sea on a calm day, somewhere safe and stable to stand where there's no danger of falling in when you throw really hard, and some stones from near the water's edge. Make a game of it to see who can do the most bounces. Keep a tally of how many times each stone skims, and present the winner with a prize as a Super Skimmer.
Top tip for success: Choose your winning stone carefully - the smoother, rounder and flatter, the better it skims. Throw it hard and low so it spins quickly across the surface of the water. Before you throw your tone just make sure there is nothing in the water that you might hit, like ducks or swimmers.
Where to try it out: Glendurgan Garden in Cornwall and Wallington, Northumberland.
Hunt for bugs
Head to places where bugs and insects like to hide - under rocks, in the mud, in the bark of fallen trees - and have a competition to see what's the creepiest crawly you can find. Dress for your adventure in wellingtons as it can get quite mucky (that's part of the appeal). And pack a magnifying glass to see the little creatures close up and a notebook so you can record the details of your finds.
Top tip for success: Remember that you're an enormous giant compared to these little beasts, so be gentle - take a look before you touch them. You might be having too much to want to go home without them, but bugs like where they live so make sure you put them back.
Where to try it out: Wallington in Northumberland and Coleton Fishacre in Devon.
Eat an apple from a tree
Money may not grow on trees but apples do! Simply find a tree with eating apples and somebody to help you reach the branches if the apples are quite high up, then take a big crunchy bite. Or why not pick a few to make an apple crumble or pie for dessert? (If apples are not in season, choose a fruit or vegetable that is, or head to a local farm where you can pick - and eat - your own.)
Top tip for success: You'll find the ripest and juiciest apples are on the outside branches, furthest away from the trunk. Don't eat raw cooking apples - they usually taste rather sharp and could give you a tummy ache.
Where to try it out: Cotehele in Cornwall
Fly in the wind
Have you ever looked longingly at a beautiful bird in flight and wished you could fly? Well, you can. Just lean into the wind and spread your wings (okay, your arms) and feel the force of the wind support you. all that you need is a really blustery day and a wide, open space.
Top tip for success: For a maximum bird-in-flight effect go to the top of a hill but stay away from any steep edges (because you're not actually a bird, remember).
Where to try it out: Emmetts Garden in Kent, Standen in West Sussex and on the Yorkshire Coast.
Make a grass trumpet
Find a clean, wide blade of grass. Hold the blade of grass flat between the heels and tips of your thumbs, pressing them together. Then take a big breath and blow into the gap between your thumbs, to make a tune. It may take a few attempts to master the knack, but once you have, you can play a merry melody. Get together with some friends and start your very own natural band.
Top tip for success: For the loudest squeak, make a hole in the grass with your fingernail then position the blade so that the hold is at the gap between your thumbs. Press your lips firmly together before you blow.
Where to try it out: the gardens of Hidcote in Gloucestershire and Nymans in West Sussex.
Feed a bird from your hand
It was one of Mary Poppins' favourite songsm and now you can take a leaf out of her book. In cold weather, birds will be especially grateful for food, and it you do it regularly, you may find the birds become more confident and trusting to feed from you. Shape your hand like a plate and don't worry about cutlery - beaks are provided. Fill it with a little birdseed or some breadcrumbs, and wait for the birds to come flocking.
Top tip for success: Some birds can be timid and will fly off quickly if startled, so don't flap your hands about or they won't stick around. Instead, stay as still as you can - they can even see your eyes moving - and wait patiently and quietly. Sometimes, it can take a while for the birds to feed, but it's always worth the wait. Always wash your hands afterwards - those beaks get seriously sticky.
Where to try it out: Feed a bird on the lawn at Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire or at the bird-feeding station at Hatchlands Park in Surrey.
Grab a clean plastic tub or bucket and a small net to help you catch things, and head out on the beach at low tide to see what's the weirdest creatures you can find. A murky pond is also full of life. Scoop some water out in a tub - use a figure of eight action to pick up the most tiny creatures - and check out what lurks beneath the surface. Pond life tends to be tiny, so you'll need to look really carefully to see what might be flitting about in the water.
Top tip for success: Be careful to keep your hands out of the pool or you might feel a little nibble or pinch. These crazy creatures like where they live, so put them back in the pool once you have taken a good look.
Where to try it out: Birling Gap in East Sussex or Traeth Llyfn in Pembrokeshire.
Cook on a campfire
There's no kitchen in the great outdoors but you don't have to miss supper; just pack your chosen ingredients and cooking equipment, such as skewers for your marshmallows, a pot for your beans or a pan for your bangers. then set up a campfire with the help of an adult; they can also make sure your meal is cooked through. (Always check that it is safe to have an open fire where you are: in some areas, it is prohibited.)
Top tip for success: This is not the time for a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Keep it simple at first with food that cooks quickly and easily - sausages and beans or bacon (for tasty outdoor sarnies). Soup also works well.
Where to try it out: Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire and Penrhyn Castle in Gwynedd, Wales.
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