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unplug & play

Autism & Wildcraft Adventure – How Gamer Kids Chose to Unplug & Play Outdoors Without Argument

Something quite unexpected happened when I started hosting our outdoor activity events for kids. We started getting an increasing number of enquiries and bookings by parents whose children were on the autistic spectrum. The event that caused this unexpected but welcome interest was our Wildcraft Adventures. I wanted to find out why this was happening.

children are at risk from too much screen time

Children today live in a world where screen based technology and instant information is everywhere, it makes me feel quite old sometimes. The lure of video games is getting so strong with young people today that some writers are referring to this as the new drug of the 21st Century. Listening to parents talk about the battles they have with their children when trying to reduce their screen time it reminds me more of a heroin addiction rather than a popular game enjoyed by young people.

“Kids love the shiny tech as much as the rest of us. The ubiquity and pervasiveness of screens across every aspect of our lives has happened with astonishing speed with limited disconnect anymore between on and offline. This is voted as the number one barrier to kids playing out across the whole network from parents to organisations. How can we make sure we’re aware of our screen time and we find balance by making time for WildTime, offline, outside, liking other stuff like plants, trees, the sun, the rain and all the cool creatures?  How do we help them navigate all this technology?” Project Wild Thing

No wonder children love video games so much, they can transport you to another world and you are constantly rewarded for your efforts. As adults and parents it’s our responsibility to help our children strike a balance between technology which is (quite understandably) attractive and the real world of social interactions and nature. I think one way we can do this is through inspiration. Igniting the natural urge to play in every child’s mind. That is how Wildcraft Adventure™ came about, but more on that later.

I’ve spoken with a few parents about their experiences managing their children’s screen time. I was shocked to learn of one parent who threatened to turn off the WI-FI as a consequence of some behaviour only to become frightened that her 15-year-old son would physically attack her. I was also surprised by one mother who was shocked to see her 10 year old son had wet himself while playing Minecraft on his iPad for the first time.

The first child mentioned above is dyspraxic and the second child (it is thought) has autistic spectrum disorder. These two children have learning differences and I believe that they are prone to get ‘hooked’ on popular computer games like Minecraft and Terraria, but so do many other children without learning differences. I really wanted to explore why.

minecraft official logo

Minecraft is a worldwide phenomenon. Having sold countless copies. It’s a game that children with ASD seem particularly attracted to.

Something about the format of video games really engages kids in the make believe world of computer games. Children rarely take complete responsibility for their actions and there’s usually an adult keeping their little worlds moving along. Kids have so little control in their real lives and decisions get made for them all the time. So, to be given the power to build a world that is totally of your own design, where all decisions are made by the child, their own preferences and choices, must be such a refreshing change and escape for them, no wonder they find it hard to come back to reality. Is this the big attraction of non-competitive, world building video games like Minecraft?

In our outdoor education business, my partner and I created an outdoor adventure game called Wildcraft Adventure™, which is based on popular video games, using lots of common themes that feature in kids favourite games. It has been a huge success with almost 100% positive feedback from kids and parents. We have also had some amazing feedback from children on the spectrum and their parents. These particular children normally find interacting in teams really difficult.

In our Wildcraft Adventure™ game the children get split into teams (known as ‘clans’) and they compete for points in a variety of outdoor challenges. The clan with the most XP (a common gaming term referring to experience points) wins the game. Thought the emphasis is definitely not on this competitive element, but more on teamwork and shared play.

Wildcraft Adventure - characters

We have been told by many parents that anything competitive can be a challenge for their child who has ASD but this has rarely been a problem in the Wildcraft Adventure game. There is not a prize for winning and the game is about collecting resources and completing challenges which earn you XP. The emphasis is on earning XP rather than winning the game, the gaining of experience and new skills. The game suits children who are competitive and non-competitive. While some children will focus on finding the most precious and well-hidden resource to earn them the maximum amount of XP, the other children will focus on creating a space that uses the imagination, like building a vegetable garden, which will also earn them XP but is less about competition and more about creativity. Each style of play is rewarded and rewarding in itself. If there are two different types of children in the same clan then they can go their separate ways without getting into conflict with one another. Each team member can pick and choose their own preference of play within the game, this helps group cohesion.

One session that we ran was for a Home Education group of 20 children with 6 parents attending also. There were both high and low functioning children with ASD. Within the group one child had been taken out of school because of anxiety, another child with cancer, another child who didn’t speak any English and also a child who had just moved to Britain from the USA and didn’t know anyone in this country.

The day went extremely well and we had some great feedback off the parents. One of the children with ASD managed to stay for the whole day when normally he goes home after just half a day, his Mum was so pleased. At the point he did get upset, he was given an iPad to calm him down in which he played Minecraft but every so often he would engage again with the game and was mostly settled in the woods for the whole day.

All the children had fun and engaged with the game. There were a couple of melt downs but parents were there to help calm the child and they resumed play quickly and without incident.

What struck me was that the children all spoke a common language, the video game language, so there was common ground for everyone to understand, which even crossed real-life language barriers. Whatever the need of the child, there was an understanding of the concept of the game, but instead of sat indoors stuck to a computer screen they were outside getting fresh air, exercise, socialising and learning new skills.

UPDATE (Jan 2018): Having had such a hugely positive response from parents of children with ASD to Wildcraft we have since developed the ASD Friendly version of the game which uses specially created  game componenets presented as a social-story rather than reams of text. The children love it and this has also proved to work well for children with other learning diffrences including dyslexia.

lea wakeman - outdoor educator

Our Wildcraft Adventure days (which have been such a hit with video gaming kids) have now been transformed into a shorter, simpler, fast-paced outdoor game that anyone can run with a group of kids. It’s called the Wildcraft: Mini Game and it’s available from our website.

You can find out more by following the link below.

Thanks for reading,

Lea

Lea Wakeman is an outdoor activity leader and founder of Woodland Classroom, based in the UK. She is also a qualified Counsellor and has worked as a Mental Health Mentor.

CHECK OUT THE WILDCRAFT MINI GAME

kids get off screens and outdoors

Why Kids Chose to Ditch Their Video Screens To Go Wild Outdoors

Children are choosing to leave their screens behind and are opting for a new outdoor game which combines bushcraft & survival skills inspired by their favourite video games which aims to get them reconnected with nature and excited about the great outdoors once more. It’s been so successful that activity leaders across the globe are now signing up to run this game, Wildcraft Adventure, for themselves at their venues and joining the mission to get kids off-screen and outdoors.

kids get off screens and outdoors

Kids make their favourite video games come alive in the outdoors.

Wildcraft, borrows themes from popular video games like Minecraft and is giving kids an outdoor experience they won’t forget. Though barely a year old, it’s been a huge hit with parents and children.

Contact us to find out more.

Taking Video Games to Our Wild Spaces

It was over a year ago, we were sat in our garden and asked the question; “For those kids who are spending too much time glued to their screens and have little interest in getting out into nature, how do we engage them in a way so that they choose to go outside? Simple, we take their video games outdoors!”

But this is not Pokemon GO, we’re not getting kids to take their mobile devices out into the woods and calling it ‘quality time outdoors’, they’re leaving those at home to play a video game style adventure for real in the woods which includes all the challenges they’ll be familiar with whilst at the same time engaging them in the natural world. Yes, there’s lots of hidden nature-learning woven into the game and they have to use their new knowledge and skills to gain points and experience throughout the day.

When creating Wildcraft Adventure, we did some serious research. We watched and spoke with children playing games like Minecraft and Terraria, and talked to parents about their experience of their children’s love of video games. It soon became very clear that although the children do get a lot of pleasure from the games, it’s become a real problem for parents, as they want to put a reasonable restriction on their child’s screen time. Parents told us that they faced an uphill struggle as there’s such an addictive quality to these games that restricting screen time can cause arguments in the family home. Many children do not seem to be able to easily drag themselves away from their screens. The more parents we spoke with, the more we heard about this recurring problem in the home.

We remembered back when Super Mario & Sonic the Hedgehog first came out. There are many common themes in video games such as collecting resources, protecting yourself from monsters, beating the boss, making potions and building your world, which all fit really well with the outdoor adventure we were creating. Our game requires players to use team building, problem-solving and lots of imagination.

minecraft kids get outdoors

Kids sometimes come dressed as their favourite video game characters. They use new skills and their imaginations to build their camp.

Opening Up A Natural World of Adventures

Wildcraft is also proving to be a great gateway activity for kids who are coming along to our days and then wanting to know more about bushcraft, forest school and associated outdoor activities that are out there.

“Before coming I had tried to get (my son) to join in a forest school day but he said ‘it wasn’t his thing’. However ‘would you like to go on a Minecraft style bushcraft day?’ And he couldn’t sign up fast enough, he was so excited he couldn’t sleep the night before and you certainly didn’t disappoint on the day. Thank you.” Parent

We’ve heard so much about the growing concerns that so many parents have about the increasing amount of time that children spend in front of screens. And our Wildcraft Adventures are providing an antidote for that. We believe it’s really making a difference in inspiring children to get outdoors more.

“They were so inspired that they will be joining a local bushcraft group, so thank you.” Another Happy Parent

We’ve hosted over 35 of these events across Wales now, reaching hundreds of children. We’ve massed up over 4,200 hours of outdoor playtime for kids, when they might otherwise have been indoors playing computer games. So to us, that’s a really positive thing. Don’t get us wrong, we agree video games can be great fun, but what kids today need is a healthy balance in how they spend their time. Nature Deficit Disorder is a growing problem in our young people today.

Going Global

Woodland Classroom have teamed up with the National Trust and other venues across Wales to bring these events to as many children as possible. But they’re ambition to get more kids off-screen doesn’t stop there and now they have made Wildcraft Adventure available internationally to anyone who runs their own outdoor activity programmes so that they can run the event at their own venue. Activity Leaders in both in the UK and the US have already signed up to join the mission.

You Could Run Your Own Wildcraft Events

If you’re an activity leader who would be interested in hosting Wildcraft Adventure at your venue, then you can find out more HERE.

Wildcraft sets the players a number of challenges based in a whole day of activities. There are elements of forest school and bushcraft involved which combine with the video game theme to make a stand-alone lesson plan for experienced outdoor activity leaders to deliver.

“We’re really excited about the Wildcraft Adventure… I was really inspired by what you guys are doing.   We’re looking for ways to get our kids out of the classroom, playing together.  Your game gives us the perfect vehicle for mixed-age, cooperative, outdoor fun.” Brenda Sutter – Laurel Tree Charter School, California US.

In popular video games like Minecraft and Terraria, players have to survive in a hostile environment, build their own house, hunt for their food, search for materials and fend off wandering monsters. You can tell parents that their child may be able to survive in the wilderness on the computer screen, but can they do it out in the woods? Wildcraft slams down the gauntlet and kids are taking up the challenge.

What Parents Are Saying About Wildcraft

“Such a fantastic antidote to the ever increasing creep of the screen! Highly recommended and ever grateful.”

“My son had a fabulous time in a caring and safe environment. As an avid computer gamer, to spend all day outside living as a survivor was an amazing experience for him.”

“What an amazing experience for my son. Like many parents I worry about the time he spends on electronic games and the fact that I have to beg and bribe to get him outdoors. Not so with this genius idea to use popular computer games to tempt him into activities that I knew he would love if he would only give them a chance. When asked if he wanted to go again, my son’s reply was “no, Mum. I HAVE to go again.”

Parents who want to find out when and where the next Wildcraft Adventure is being run by Woodland Classroom can check out their upcoming events page HERE. We have also developed a version of the Wildcraft game that you can play in your own back garden with the kids. It’s called the Wildcraft: Home Edition. You can find out more about that RIGHT HERE.

If you want to find out about Wildcraft Adventures running outside of Wales then drop us a line to find out where you can sign up for a game near you.

children learning firelighting skills

wildcraft adventure in wales online

WILDCRAFT – MAKES THE HEADLINES

Our Wildcraft Adventure has caught the attention of the biggest national news website in Wales. We’d been looking for a way to engage young people in activities in nature, particularly those kids that might not be attracted to a traditional Forest School activity day.  Computer games are, of course, hugely popular with so many children and our Wildcraft Adventure uses this popularity to get these kids interested in a day in the woods. Parents understand the benefits of outdoor play and know that being out in nature is good for the body and soul.  Ultimately, we’ve been able to reach more people with this important message and we hope that the kids who attend our events are inspired to keep playing outdoors by continuing their adventures in their own backwoods.

It was great to get the call from a journalist at Wales Online wanting to hear all about our adventure days. She reckoned it was, “quite possibly the most fun you could ever have in a forest.” Lets face it, once the kids are outside their own creative minds takes hold and they’re off, in a world of imagination and natural play, taking in fresh air and getting exercise, whilst Mum and Dad get the satisfaction that their kids are getting some of that quality outdoor time they enjoyed back when they were children themselves.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AS FEATURED IN WALES ONLINE  HERE

wales online logo

 

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