Sarah Todd: Skipping ropes in my hobby horse... it's time to get competitive again

THUMP, thump, thump … What we thought was a herd of elephants outside turned out to be our daughter practising for a skipping competition.

She was determined to be picked for the school team and was busy working on her double bounce, cross-over arms and a very dangerous-looking lasso type movement which later knocked the lampshade off in her bedroom when it became too dark to skip outside.

Her face was a picture when she came home waving a letter from the teacher to say she'd been chosen for the big inter-school competition.

This, coupled with a recent swimming gala, made me realise how important competition is.

She might not be the top dog at sums or spelling, but she was judged as one of the best at skipping and walked into the classroom the following day at least two inches taller.

What's wrong with firing them up with a bit of competition?

Our son has taken what seems like an age to get reading. But when he discovered a classmate had the same book he took a torch to bed and read and read to finish first. He's not stopped reading since. All because of a bit of competition.

It was so sad to learn this week that, according to a new report, a quarter of youngsters spend all their spare time behind closed doors.

This is a real hobby-horse of mine.

It doesn't look like this so-called indoor generation is doing much reading. Mostly it's television and, of course, blessed computer games.

Sadly, I've never seen the naturalist Chris Packham on any of his television programmes (too busy outside). But he sounds a brilliant bloke and he has thrown his two penn'orth into the debate.

"When I was at school, I would come home, dump my bag, jump over the fence and ramble until it was way past dark," he remembers. "I was able to engage first-hand with nature. I used to feed fox cubs. I would catch grass snakes, go bird nesting, climb trees, go fishing, and swim in the river. All these things were just part of my everyday life. Now, I never see young people in the countryside where I live. I don't see boys kicking a football, riding bikes, climbing trees or making dens."

Chris (he's rather handsome, so something of a new hero) is also all in favour of traditional outdoor games such as British Bulldog – banned by many schools because of health and safety fears.

Arla Foods supported the report and they have launched, with Mr Packham's help, a scheme to offer grants to create spaces that encourage nature.

For details, go to www.kidsclosertonature.co.uk. Shame it's a computer website but you can't have everything. All they're short of now is an element of competition to give this campaign a real kick-start. Where's that skipping rope?

CW 29/1/11