I am in the land of trees again (with warm thanks to everyone who commented on ‘Talking to Trees’ a few weeks back). This time, my starting point is a bit dispiriting. The child health journal Acta Paediatrica has just published research measuring the strength of 350 ten year-olds against a similar group who were measured ten years earlier. The findings show that our children are getting feebler: arm strength is 26% down; the ability to do sit-ups has plummeted. Children can’t climb trees the way they used to.

According to Tam Fry, of the Child Health Foundation, ‘school authorities and health and safety have contrived to knock the sap out of our children’. I think that they have knocked some of the soul out too.

So, perhaps it is time for a concerted effort to bring back tree climbing.  Steiner educators do a fantastic job emphasising the way in which children learn through body movement. I am convinced that this way of learning goes on mattering throughout our lives: if I want to memorise a poem or work out a problem, I make much better progress if I go for a walk or stride up and down at the same time.

I’m not nearly as fit as I’d like to be, but I’m sure a degree of fitness is important.  It’s quite a few years since I read a wonderful book called ‘The Daughters of Copper Woman’, which describes the experiences of Native American communities on the west coast of North America when European colonisers arrived. There’s a passage in this book where the author describes how strong the young people used to be, because of the amount of time they spent swimming, climbing, hunting, exploring.  It seems to me now that we risk creating a generation of children who are so starved of interaction with nature and so detached from physical activity and freedom that they lose their capacity to explore, take risks, experiment. Yes, climbing trees is dangerous; so is swimming across a lake, so is climbing a mountain, but more dangers lurk in a childhood that is passive. Playing a computer game is no substitute for climbing a tree.

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