Author of ‘Call the Vet’, Anna Birch sends us another letter from the country…
‘Number One: Climb a Tree’ pronounced Beth, aged 8 3/4. ‘But which child hasn’t done that?’ she asked incredulously. It did indeed seem slightly far-fetched that the National Trust could imagine that any self-respecting 11 3/4 year-old child might not have done this.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the National Trust is a great organisation. I love its ethos, its assets and now its ideas to get kids active.
As they say on their website: ‘There’s nothing quite like fresh air, exercise and family time. You can’t beat the fun you have in the Great Outdoors and creating memories that will last a lifetime.’
Recognising that sometimes it is a struggle to get kids outside, they have created ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾‘. They want to encourage kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and most of all enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer!
Even if some of it seems rather basic. But teacher friends of mine, some working in challenging city schools, tell me that building a den (no 4), flying a kite (no 7) or eating an apple straight from a tree (no 9) may not be on the parental agenda. As for numbers 28, 48 and 42 – climbing a huge hill, abseiling or wild swimming, well they would be unthinkable and quite possibly unmanageable for many.
It has made me realise how fortunate the country child is, and in particular the off-spring of a farming family. True, we are quite tied to the farm and its calendar, and it can get a bit tricky celebrating birthdays in the middle of calving time. Two years ago Jack celebrated turning eight with a woodland themed party – a hashing trail with a den-building competition in the wood on the farm. All was fine until farmer Rob was caught up calving a heifer whilst I had to manage ten excited small boys toasting marshmallows on the open fire they had built. Yet on the other hand we have all this space. Camping out in the wild (no 3) and bug hunting (no 31) are basic summer amusements just beyond the backdoor.
By the time Jack was 10 3/4 he and Beth had ticked off all but three of the challenges. So this summer we took a fantastic family break in Wales and went rafting. No 43 was comprehensively tackled.
Having spent a good deal of this mostly sunny summer smelling like an old woodsman from having smoked myself over the campfire and supervising rather over-enthusiastic cooking (no 47), I am in no hurry to teach the children how to light a fire without matches (no 44). So that leaves just no 17: set up a snail race. We are saving that for a rainy day.