Turning a new leaf on conkering, blackberry picking and other outdoor pursuits some of today’s children have never heard of

Headteacher Pippa Robinson,with pupils Ryan Elliott, 11, Alfie Buckley, 10, and Ania Sobieralski, nine, at Pheasant Bank Academy, Doncaster
Headteacher Pippa Robinson,with pupils Ryan Elliott, 11, Alfie Buckley, 10, and Ania Sobieralski, nine, at Pheasant Bank Academy, Doncaster
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For a generation of urban children, to whom a stream may be more likely to mean an online video than a body of water, they are a lost world.

But in Doncaster, a charity is attempting to reintroduce the simple outdoor pleasures of frog spawning, playing conkers and picking blackberries in the autumn.

The Lost Words

The Lost Words

All 100 primary schools in the town are being given copies of a book that explains terms and concepts from the natural world that have disappeared from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Words like almond and crocus were replaced a decade ago in the book’s 10,000-entry inventory, with replacements that included “analogue” and “celebrity”.

The latest edition, aimed at seven-year-olds, also omits catkin, chestnut and clover, in favour of “broadband” and “cut and paste”.

But a separate, award-winning book, The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane, attempts to reintroduce readers to the missing entries and with countryside concepts and species lost from their everyday lives.

The Rotary Clubs of Doncaster and St Leger crowd-funded a campaign to put a copy of the book, which has a cover price of £20, in the library of each school.

Phil Sheppard, a teacher at the town centre Atlas Academy and the author and illustrator of several books, said he hoped the gifts would reawaken an interest in nature among children in the district.

“At the moment they are more likely to know about lions in Africa than about the wildlife we have here,” he said.

“It’s surprising how many words children are unfamiliar with. Even ‘conker’, which you would assume they would know, is just no longer at the forefront of children’s vocabulary.

“The book is a conversation starter – a way of getting ideas back into their minds.”

Mr Sheppard, who helped the Rotary Clubs raise the money, said that although urban children still enjoyed outdoor games like football and skipping, the art of conkering was now “something that has to be taught”.

Pippa Robinson, head teacher of Pheasant Bank Academy, a junior school in the former mining district of Rossington, said her pupils were “absolutely delighted” when the book arrived.

“It’s unusual to get a gift like this, and the fact that it came with a lovely letter, was just wonderful,” she said.

“It’s a big hardback book with beautiful illustrations, and it deals in ideas that children really don’t talk about now.

“When I was child, we used to go and look for brambles in the autumn and pick them. The children hadn’t really thought of that or heard of it.

“They know trees but not types of trees, or types of British birds.”

She added: “You wouldn’t necessarily see brambles as you’re walking around Rossington – you’d have to go to the outskirts of the village, and even then there aren’t many hedgerows.”

Ms Robinson said the book had arrived on the same day as a visitor with an incubator full of chicks, and both had fired the children’s imaginations.

“They now see the different species in the book and try and spot them when they’re out,”she said. “We do a lot with the children about how reading can transport you to a new world. But this is their real world.”

The school has capitalised on their enthusiasm with a playground garden and a “David Attenborough Day” as part of its “spring watch” nature lessons.

The Doncaster and St Leger Rotary Clubs put up half the cost of the 100 copies of The Lost Words for their local primary schools, and raised funds for the rest.

John Chapman, of Rotary, said: “The cash came for the other half came in within a fortnight. It was extremely well received.

“The fact that words like conker, kingfisher and bluebell have been taken out of the junior dictionary seems ridiculous because they’re still perfectly usable. But at least it has sparked discussion.”

“There is certainly a core of spoken English words which hopefully will never leave the dictionary or common usage. They are among the great things about this country and its language.”