" I liked making mud pies, and I loved making bracelets from wood. I liked making creatures from branches and making the dragon’s eye. I had a really great time and I wanted it to carry on for longer."

These are the words of a youngster who took part in an innovative scheme that helps children and young people to explore the outdoors through play sessions.

Others were equally enthusiastic about their experiences: “I wish I could come every day,” said another. “I loved the bear hunt through the woods.”

“The children get so much out of it, they tell us afterwards how keen they are to come back,” says environmental play worker Jennifer Scott, who helps run Wild And Safe Play Spaces, more commonly known as WASPS. “They love being outside in the fresh air, making dens and rafts, or doing craft work using natural materials.”

Run by Bradford Community Environment Project, WASPS works across the district with youngsters up to the age of 18, encouraging them to play safely and respectfully in local green areas.

They are involved in activities such as building dens, climbing trees, making mini rafts and building small camp fires at popular outdoor spots including woods, parks and community gardens – generally within walking distance of their home.

“We have worked in Heaton Woods, Judy Woods, and Park Wood in Keighley, as well as nature reserves and natural areas adjoining or close to schools. Brownfield sites are also used,” says Jennifer.

“We cook on open fires, and the children learn traditional crafts to make bracelets and mobiles from wood. What we use depends on what is in season – to make beads, for instance, we hollow out a thin branch of elder and chop it up. And as well as making mud pies, we do a lot of paintings using mud. We make dream-catchers and kites, and there is a lot of water play.”

They also look at the flora and fauna of the site. “We look at mini beasts and we organise scavenger hunts for different types of leaves.”

The experience, playing alongside other youngsters, helps to build children’s confidence.

“Once they are used to going outside and trying new things, you can see them growing in confidence,” says Jennifer, who works alongside environmental play worker Liz Melling. “They say they want to play outside more often and enjoy it better than playing indoors.”

Adds Jennifer: “There is a demand for outdoor play opportunities for children, because so many don’t have any.”

Prior to the scheme’s launch two years ago, BCEP carried out widespread consultation within the community. They found that many youngsters did not get the opportunity to play outdoors due to a number of factors including perceived ‘stranger danger’.

“People told us that they didn’t feel they could let their children out as they were afraid of something happening to them, and childminders didn’t feel in a position to make that decision,” says Jennifer. “So children play inside the house, watching TV or playing on computers.”

WASPS runs throughout the school holidays, and holds activities at after-school clubs too during term time.

“For some children, it will be the first time they have been into a wood,”adds Jennifer. “Even some children of secondary school age have not spent any time exploring the outdoors. They may have walked through a wood, but have never spent time in one.

“It opens up the children’s knowledge of local open spaces – the sites are close to their homes so they can go there themselves.”

WASPS also introduces families to the outdoors. Says Jennifer: “We might work with a group for ten weeks and at the end we would run a family session which gives them the chance to see what their children have been doing.”

Feedback from parents is always favourable. “They all say their children get a lot out of it. Many say they ask to visit local woods, or walk to school through woods instead of being driven.”

They don’t let the weather deter them. “We put up tarpaulin shelters if it’s raining – the children don’t mind the rain.”

  • For more information about WASPS, contact BCEP on (01274) 223236, e-mail info@bcep.org.uk, or visit bcep.org.uk.