From as young as seven or eight I'd often be gone all day, off into the bush with my closest companion, my dog, and one or two mates. We'd be exploring the creeks and gullies, teasing frill-neck lizards, climbing trees to the highest branches, making cubbies, throwing spears and stones. Later, when I moved from a country town to Newcastle as a teenager my mates and I were less active but outside nonetheless. We were, of course, perennially bored and in search of an opportunity for a spot of mischief. And so we grew.
A boy or girl aged seven or eight today is very unlikely to be far from home, even beyond sight of home, and that is if they're outside. The fact is that children are likely now to be inside, and it is a change that has occurred within the span of one generation. These children are inside staring into a screen, playing an Xbox or Playstation, perhaps in company with other kids in separate houses, or chatting on a social site on the net.
As Planet Ark has found in a survey of 1000 people to mark its National Tree Day at the end of this month, the landscape of childhood has changed. "In a single generation we have seen a profound shift from outdoor to indoor play, with 73 per cent of respondents indicating that as children they played outdoors more often than indoors compared to only 13 per cent of their kids," the Planet Ark report says. We are an outdoors nation that has produced an indoors generation.
The big question is the effect, if any, this marked change will have on these young people as they become adults. Chasies and inventing games on the run may well develop skills different from those acquired playing screen games. Imagination, social, physical and motor skills are likely to be different, or at a different level.
Will the changing landscape of childhood produce different adults? Is the new indoors childhood all bad?