One father overturned his relationship with his kids and gave himself a new job: The Marketing Director for Nature. Here’s how he did it.
This is an interview I conducted with the man behind one of the most exciting environmental projects out there.
1. Can you briefly introduce both yourself and Project Wild Thing?
I’m David Bond. I live with my wife, my two children and my mother in south London. A couple of years ago I looked at my family, their faces were lit with blue glow from television and iPad. I realised there was something missing: nature. With my creative partner, Ashley Jones, we decided it would be a good idea to try and sell them nature. I gave myself a new job—the Marketing Director for Nature.
I strong-armed a bunch of clever creative types into coming up with amazing, innovative ways to connect kids with the great outdoors. Project Wild Thing is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of my shift from family man to Nature’s marketing exec. It is a serious business, but the film turned out funny, which has been a good thing.
The film launched The Wild Network, a campaign to get people talking about why kids do not develop a connection with nature. We’re asking people to take the Wild Time pledge and swap at least 30 minutes of screen time for wild time every day.
2. How did your relationship with the natural world begin and how has it changed over time?
I wouldn’t say I was especially connected to nature as a child, certainly not compared to some of the people I’ve met making Project Wild Thing. I grew up in suburbia in the south of England. When I came home from school I’d throw down my bag and run out to play in the garden or cause mischief on my bike on the roads around my neighbourhood. I always looked forward to the summer holidays, when we’d head out to the Yorkshire Dales and go camping, hunt for rabbits and stargaze.
I still love camping and I try to get outdoors as much as I can. Living in the city with two small children and a busy job means it’s hard. But having made the film I’m really aware of the positive difference it makes to my children when we’ve spent time outside.
3. How has your relationship with your own children changed thanks to the film and your own efforts to get them outdoors?
We’ve been spending a lot more time outside recently! I feel like I have to, given that I’m the Marketing Director… It seems obvious to me now, but I really had not clocked how beneficial it is for children to spend lots of unstructured time outside. They develop a calm confidence that you can’t get any other way. Now that I can see that we get outside more and more, and enjoy it more and more.
In the film I strap a camera to my daughter’s head to see how she spends her time. Just four per cent of her life was spent playing outdoors, the same proportion as she spent in the bathroom. I repeated the experiment recently and it was more like 12%. I’m proud of that: she’s the first success story of Project Wild Thing.
4. Why is it important for us to make sure kids get access to the outdoors? What can they learn there that they can’t learn anywhere else?
Children can benefit from the outdoors in many ways. A large and growing body of scientific research shows that more access to nature makes children more active, healthier, happier, calmer, better behaved and helps them perform better at school. But you don’t need science to tell you that. It’s written on children’s faces when they’re outdoors. You can see it in their eyes when they’re kicking the life out of a puddle. But if you want the science, here’s a clip from the film:
5. How can time in nature improve fathers’ relationships with their kids?
I’m constantly in a rush. There’s something about the mix of smartphones and the puritan work ethic that’s really dangerous. There’s never time to stop and just be with your children. I think that’s especially true for fathers. But the times when I’ve managed to slow down have mainly been adventuring outdoors.
By nature (like a lot of men, I think) I like to run the show. I find myself leading my kids, saying “oh, we should climb that hill and look at the view”. I’m beginning to learn that when I shut up and let them lead, I have a much better time.
I’ve slowly realised that they don’t care about the epic views or vistas. They want the bugs and the dirt and the up-close-dying-fly-trapped-in-spider-web action. I’m no Bear Grylls, but I’ve discovered, with them, that I quite enjoy having my hand in a rotten log scrabbling for earwigs. I’ve rediscovered the excitement of nature. It is hard to experience as an adult, but still amazing. And seen through children’s eyes it is infinitely more fun.
6. Do you think nature is important for boys and men more generally?
Absolutely. I think the outdoors is the single best place to release energy. Baden-Powell, the progenitor of Scouting, wrote that ‘every red-blooded boy is keen for adventure and an open-air life’. I’m not sure every boy would describe themselves as ‘red-blooded’, but I do know that getting out into nature is good for boys and many studies have shown that it’s the magic bullet for attention deficit, depression and anger. Sadly boys suffer worst from these—perhaps because they get so little chance to feel free and self-determined.
Every modern kid’s going to be an IT expert (at least compared to my generation), but very few will have the quiet confidence that comes with being able, if push comes to shove, to spend a night in a forest. That’s going to be an unusual skill to have in 20 years’ time. Feeling confident and part of the natural environment means you respect it too.
7. What advice do you have for fathers wanting to get their kids outdoors?
Just get outside and do it. Start with five minutes doing something really small scale. Dare your kids to pick up an insect that they’d normally recoil from. You don’t need to go anywhere fancy or spend money on special kit. Just head to a local park or nature reserve and see what happens. That said, it’s always good to have a packet of wine gums up your sleeve to throw in the bushes to lure children along on a walk…
If you’re stuck for inspiration we’ve developed the Wild Time app, a free smartphone application packed full of outdoor micro-adventures.
8. What has happened since the film and what direction is the project heading in now?
Someone told us that releasing the film would be where the real work begins. That was true!
Hundreds of people have been in touch to arrange screenings of the film in their local communities. Thousands have the film on DVD and online. You can watch it here.
The release of the film in October last year saw the launch of a huge movement – The Wild Network – committed to campaigning to reconnect children with nature. It’s free to join and anyone who believes that children should be able to roam free, play wild and connect with nature is welcome. Please help us by adding your name to the movement.
9. Will children spending more time outdoors benefit the natural world too?
Children need nature, but nature needs children more. Children who regularly play in nature grow up to be adults who care about green space and environmental issues. We’re going to face some really tough questions over the environment in the coming 20 years. It’s important that we care about it. If, as children we can walk with confidence in nature, as adults we will care for it. Reconnecting children with nature isn’t a luxury – it’s an insurance policy for the future.
Photo: Project Wild Thing
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