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Coillte offer after-school initiative to get kids back into nature

FamilyBy Robbie Farrell
The Coillte after-school camp is a great way for kids to enjoy nature
The Coillte after-school camp is a great way for kids to enjoy nature

Hours in front of a screen, less time playing outdoor and a society faced with the concern of ‘stranger danger’ has led to a generation of children who simply don’t have the freedom to explore the natural world around them.

According to new research from Compass Club by Coillte which is a new after-school outdoor programme in Irish forests nationwide designed to help children to grow a love for the outdoors, through fun experiences and activities that get them out and about with their friends and develop essential life skills that stick with them for life.

Half of children in Ireland (51 per cent) only spend 30 minutes or less playing outdoors after school and parents overwhelmingly admit (64 per cent) that this is far less than when they were children. 

This worrying trend is leading to what has been termed ‘nature deficit disorder’ amongst a generation of children. 

Children are missing out on life forming nature experiences with the research showing that almost half (45 per cent) have never climbed a tree, the same portion (48 per cent) have never gone walking in a forest with friends.

Two in three (62 per cent) have never pitched a tent, more than two thirds (69  per cent) have never toasted marshmallows over a fire, almost three quarters (74 per cent) have never sat around a camp fire and a staggering eight in 10 (84 per cent) have never used a compass.

Compass Club, from Ireland’s forest management organisation Coillte, have developed a unique new afters-chool programme of outdoor skills for 6 to 12-year-olds taking place in 47 locations nationwide from 19th September 2016. 

The clubs take place in Coillte forests mainly and are designed to encourage exploration and discovery in a supervised environment with small group sizes creating a greater sense of freedom.

The child-led courses are built on the principles of strength based education and the syllabus is designed to develop problem-solving, critical thinking, inquiry and investigation, spatial awareness and sensory perception – all with a healthy dose of fun. 

For kids, they get to pick up school curriculum skills in an environment that couldn’t be any different from a classroom. 

Their awesome forest adventures include everything from navigation, knot skills, rope swings, scavenger hunts, games, building shelters, learning about habitats and toasting marshmallows. 

Key findings from the new research from Compass Club by Coillte show:

  •        Half of children (51 per cent) spend 30 minutes or less playing outside after school
  •        3 in 4 adults (75 per cent) believe that children spend more time online with their virtual friends than they do playing outdoors with other children
  •        Nine in 10 adults (89 per cent) believe that children today spend more time looking at screens than any other activity
  •        People believe that children today are less able to socialise and make new friends in their neighbourhoods than when they themselves were a child. 
  •        More than four in five parents (81 per cent) are concerned about strangers approaching their children when they play outdoors.  Only 7 per cent of those asked had no concerns about letting their kids play outdoors.
  •        Parents’ surveyed believe that playing outdoors as children contributed to their development and kept them physically fit (86 per cent), helped them to socialise (74 per cent) and fuelled their imagination and creative spirit (72 per cent).

Emma Godsil, Director of Godsil Education, is an education consultant with a background in psychology and teaching.  

Emma is an expert in strengths based education and contributed to the development of the Compass Club by Coillte course syllabus.  She explains:

 “This research demonstrates that our changing lifestyles are depriving children in Ireland of the many positives which we all experienced playing outdoors when we were growing up.

Extensive international research concludes that outdoor learning contributes significantly to raising standards in education and improving children’s personal, social and emotional development. 

The underlying strengths based philosophy that Compass Clubs are built around, combined with the well documented benefits of outdoor education, make these afters-chool courses a very unique offering for parents and children.”

Shane Stafford, General Manager of Compass Club by Coillte, said: “We are very proud to officially launch Compass Club by Coillte today. 

"Our courses started a few months ago and so far we have given over 3,400 children awesome adventures in Ireland’s beautiful woodlands and taught them skills that will stand to them for life.  

"Parents have praised the courses, and our adult leaders, for helping to build their children’s confidence.  Kids have simply had a ball learning in the outdoors and going home to build shelters in their back gardens.”  

Further information on course locations and September start dates can be found at www.CompassClub.ie.

Each school term has a different theme with new experiences and skills. After-school courses are six weeks long, 12 hours with a two hourly session one afternoon per week, and cost €120.