What follows is the final part of the interview that I had with Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature. (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.) We end the interview with some of his thoughts about designing for ‘wild children.’
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA
Amy Wagenfeld (AW): What do you see as the most challenging issue that’s preventing children from fully embracing nature? While you have spoken about it in previous questions, let’s fully encapsulate it here.
Patrick Barkham (PB): What’s preventing children from engaging with nature in one word is: adults. We despair about our children being hooked on electronic screens and so forth, as if it’s their fault but it’s down to us adults and I feel the problems are incredibly deep rooted in society.
There are two or three really obvious and practical things in society that I think apply to North America as much as Britain. One is the increase in fear about stranger danger, that our children are unsafe unless we’ve got our eyes on them all the time. Good parenting has become synonymous with perpetual supervision, and we’ve failed to see that this is a very recent phenomenon. It wasn’t a standard that we demanded of our parents as recently as, say, the 1950s. So somehow, we’ve got to get out of that psychological bind.
There’s another problem though, which I think is much more rational, and that’s traffic on our roads. In Britain there isn’t an enormous amount of public space. Our streets and roads are public space, but they are so busy with cars now that it really isn’t safe for children to bike and play on the street, as they once did. An obvious solution, and I think this is happening in the States as well as Britain, is to make streets more shared spaces and have car free Sundays on streets. Neighborhoods can potentially make this happen, particularly if you live on suburban estates with roads that don’t lead anywhere. Again, it’s up to us adults to better regulate our roads and to give children some rights on them, as well as to our car drivers. There’s a brilliant, very elderly sociologist in Britain named Mayer Hillman. He pointed out that we’ve prioritized the rights of car drivers over the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in society, our children.