Explore: verb, to traverse or range over (a region, area, etc.) for the purpose of discovery: to explore the island.
Once upon a time I lived on a new build housing estate in a small town in the middle of Scotland. The town was completely new to me. I had only ever visited it once before moving there and this was only a brief visit to a friend’s house.
Within a few months of living here I had been on nearly every path surrounding my house, almost every street in the town, explored the old railway lines and graveyards, climbed trees in the nearby woods. I had a nosey about in the quarry and climbed on the diggers in the silence of the snow. I could tell you a great spot to go and see bats where there was even a rundown old bench for sipping whisky on. I knew the best place for a quiet morning run and the best trees for pull ups. I quickly found how all the other towns were linked, though not by the main roads. I knew the people at the post office and the library, the times of the market, and the quickest ways to get to these places from my house.
A colleague from work happened to live on the same estate. One day I mentioned the ponds out the back of his house and I was met with total bewilderment.
“What do you mean, what ponds?” Imagine a tone like I was making it up.
“The ponds!” I said, note the plural.
This time it was my turn for bewilderment, how could he not have seen them? They had been living there longer than I had. So I described it.
“Ah right there. Yeah, never been there.”
It turns out he had never been further than the front door and rear car park. There was no inclination or interest to know what was surrounding the house. When he left it, it was to go directly to the car.
I was incredulous. How can you not know? How can you not want to know more about where you live? Admittedly this area had been planned by the developer, but it was still beautiful, consisting of several ponds with real ducks in them, surrounded by reeds and one of them even had a brand new bench, a million miles away from the rundown one that sat atop Bat Hill. The ponds were, and maybe are still, a hefty stone’s throw away from his back garden.
As an adult, I understand that people make their own choices. It is not for me to suggest ways in how this person could enrich his own life. But just imagine how much more it would be if he began to pay attention to his own local surroundings. As a teacher and as a parent I find that quite alarming. The most immediate thing a child should be exploring when venturing outdoors is their own immediate environment. And unless you live on a motorway, this can be done anywhere; and should be.
Young children should be picking up leaves and touching trees, looking at birds, clouds and planes, jumping in puddles and getting themselves dirty without worrying about getting dirty. This will stoke the flames of curiosity and as they get older they will become more naturally curious about their world. But initially they need to see these things within an environment that they are familiar and most comfortable with. This is the one closest to their home. I see little point in taking your child to the zoo if they cannot even tell you what is across the road from where they live.
And hopefully, once this is encouraged at a young age it will continue into adulthood. You often see internet posts or memes about the importance of play, and how adults should allow themselves time to do this for their mental well-being. But maybe adults should be learning to be more curious as well. What’s at the end of that road you’ve never been on? What’s in that random looking clump of trees? What does it look like from on top of that hill? Can I see my house from there?
Or maybe it’s just me. Spend the weekend looking and exploring.
Currently listening to Stave by Osi and the Jupiter. Fantastic. Album of the year so far.