90% of parents think children are losing their imaginations by age ten, a new study reveals. 
Researchers found lack of outdoor play and too much time spent on computers and games consoles are being blamed for making today’s children less imaginative.
The results come as the Forestry Commission launches a programme of enchanting activities inviting parents and their children to enjoy the magic of forests and arboretums throughout 2013.

The Forest Fairy Tales campaign will see events take place across the country and includes fairy trails, sculpture making, picnics, crafts and story walks across various Forestry Commission sites, including the National Arboretum, in Westonbirt, Gloucestershire.

It hopes to engage a whole generation of youngsters in imaginative outdoor play and reverse perceptions many parents have about their child’s interest in the world of pretend.

Of the 2,000 parents of school-age children surveyed by Forestry Commission England, nearly three quarters think that today’s children play outdoors less than they did as children and half (51%) believe this directly influences how much imagination they have.

Three quarters think children spend too much time on computers and games consoles and over half (55%) think the rise in technology use is also responsible for children’s lack of imagination.

Nearly half (43%) thought that children today are less imaginative than they were as children. A further 37% admitted that their children don’t create their own games using their imaginations and over a quarter (28%) reported that their children rarely or never make up stories.

Indulging in a little make believe has long been thought to have far-reaching developmental benefits for children: Albert Einstein wrote about the importance of fairy tales in boosting children’s intelligence and the child psychotherapist Bruno Bettelheim believed fairy tales helped children develop independence and key social skills such as empathy. (i)

As well as providing important moral lessons, fairy tales create a space where children can vent complicated feelings, explore their wildest dreams and confront their fears about the big bad monster, finding a way to decipher good from evil and resolve conflicts. (ii)

The Forest Fairy Tales campaign will highlight the importance of such imaginative play through various activities as well as free online activity sheets which parents can use to inspire their children.

These activity sheets feature magical items to make like fairy wands and leaf crowns and encourage families to venture into the land of make believe together.

Rachel Giles of the Forestry Commission said:

“Forests are the perfect backdrop to inspire children’s imaginations as many of the most exciting fairy tales are set in the woods, and Forest Fairy Tales will encourage children to explore new worlds using their imaginations, becoming Little Red Riding Hood, a brave knight or a wicked witch.

“Our research shows that many children aren’t engaging in outdoor play to the same extent as their parents did, and we must work harder to encourage those young people to go outside and use their imaginations before the joy of make-believe and pretend is lost forever.

“We hope our Forest Fairy Tales activities will inspire them to use the forest as their playground, a place to create their own fairy tales, confront their fears about good and evil and enjoy less structured play, while learning vital skills that will aid them in their development.”

The survey follows a 2011 Government consultation to which 42,000 people responded which revealed the special place the nation’s forests hold in our hearts.

Many of those who answered said they valued woodlands and forests as places for personal enjoyment and appreciation of the natural world. (iii)

And more than four-fifths of respondents to a Forestry Commission survey in 2011 agreed that woods are “good places for children to learn about the outdoors”, while three quarters thought “playing in woods is good for children’s health.” (iv)

Activities will be taking place throughout the year at a number of Forestry Commission sites. Westonbirt Arboretum will hold the Forest Folk family event from 30 July – 1 August, which will include a self-led family trail to discover mysterious characters in the Old Arboretum and a craft activity to create your own goblin. The event is free after admission and no booking is required. Kids go free at Westonbirt Arboretum from 20 July – 1 September 2013.

Westonbirt Arboretum is also home to a permanent play trail which has a number of fairy tale features including the Dark Dell, Troll Bridge and the ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ sculpture. The trail can be picked up onsite or downloaded from Westonbirt’s website.

The results have been generated in a survey commissioned by the Forestry Commission of 2,000 parents of school-aged children.

Magical fairy tale events this summer at Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire:

Forest Folk Family Event 30 July to 1 August
Follow the self-led family trail to discover mysterious characters set amongst the old arboretum. Collect natural items along the way ready to create your own goblin when you arrive back at the learning centre! Free event. No booking required. 

Westonbirt Arboretum’s play trail includes a number of fairy tale themed features, including:

Dark Dell
Find the Dark Dell a little off beaten track in Silk Wood at Westonbirt Arboretum. Step through the wooden door frame to discover a little clearing of Yew trees. Explore this enchanting little woodland and make up your own tale.

What time is it Mr Wolf?
Beware the big bad wolf! Find the wooden wolf sculpture and hide in the long grass; creep, seek, sneak and surprise your friends!

Troll Bridge
A special bridge leads to a secret path just for families. Who knows who might be hiding underneath!

Pick up a trail when you visit or download on the Westonbirt website:

Bruno Bettelheim, child psychotherapist, “Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales 1976
Readers Digest, http://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/encourage-your-childs-imagination/#ix…
Independent Panel on Forestry (2011) Progress Report. See p6.

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is managed by the Forestry Commission and is renowned worldwide for its tree and shrub collection. Home to five national collections, the arboretum covers 243 hectares (600 acres) and contains 16,000 labelled specimens. Visitor numbers are 350,000 a year, with a membership of over 28,000. Westonbirt Arboretum was established in the 1850s by wealthy landowner Robert Holford and later developed by his son George Holford. Unlike many arboretums, Westonbirt is laid out according to aesthetic appeal rather than scientific or geographical criteria. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt.

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Further information can be found at www.forestry.gov.uk.