Urban Vs Rural Childhood

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Recently I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of rural versus urban childhoods. Does the perceived safety of a rural environment allow children more freedom? Are children who are brought up in the city more tolerant of difference? Are rural kids fitter? Do urban kids have more access to cultural and intellectual stimulation?

As part of my MEd I had to read a report about urban and rural childhoods.  It was not well researched and had many flaws, but it concluded that those children who grew up in urban environments had much higher ‘social capital’. i.e. they could socialise better with a wider range of people, had a wider range of experiences and social networks and that this is led to more economic stability in adult life. I don’t feel like I was stunted by my own rural up-bringing, nor that I am less economically stable than if I had had an urban upbringing; but who am I to judge myself? Munchkin, at two, has a much more diverse range of experiences than I did at her age thanks to living in London.

The second thing that made me think about the urban vs rural childhood was CoombeMill’s blog and in particular the Country Kids photoblog linky that Fiona has started.  This week she put up photos of her kids climbing trees and I thought, “I remember that, and I loved it!” I remember the freedom of being outside all day from a very early age and wonder if I’d have been given the same freedom had I lived in the city? But I also remember visiting my London cousins and feeling much more naive than them, despite being older.

I grew up in a hamlet of 15 houses miles away with nothing but a post box and a phone box and 3 miles to the nearest bus stop. As a teenager I did get frustrated that I couldn’t visit them without relying on my parents, but overall I loved the freedom.  I’d go miles (literally) on my bike with friends with the only proviso being that I should be back for tea.  I could spend the day making dens in the farmyard.  I could identify flowers, trees and insects.  I got muddy and I knew where milk came from!

As an adult I enjoy the convenience of the big city.  I couldn’t go back to having to get in the car even for a pint of milk, but I do miss the countryside.  I miss the community of living in a small village where I know everyone.  I have much more of a sense of community in London than I thought I would, but I don’t know my near neighbours.  Long Sunday walks to the park are lovely, but not quite the same as a country walk. I make jam, chutney and sloe gin (collected sloes at Mum’s when we visited last weekend!) but I get funny looks when I offer people a jar/bottle!

OH and I are planning to move to the country in the next few years, so whilst we’re in London, I intend to take Munchkin to as many museums and galleries as possible.  I do worry that rural village school will lead to a more blinkered view of things like race and I know that we’ll have to work harder to counter those things.  I hope my understanding of the rural life will allow me to give her more freedom than I would in the city.  There are pros and cons to both upbringings.

I know we have a diverse range of readers and I’d love to know your thoughts.  What are the pros and cons of bringing up children where you live?



19 thoughts on “Urban Vs Rural Childhood

    from_fun_to_mum (@from_fun_to_mum) said:
    October 29, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I was an urban baby and an urban teenager. A year ago I became an urban mum of an urban baby who was in the tube at 4 months old (and loving it). I have NEVER lived in a house (always flats, big ones admittedly) and never had a garden (but loved our Italian balconies). I love it that way and the country side makes me actually a bit bored because I just don’t get it, I suppose I have never had the slow life so I don’t appreciate it. I know it sounds shallow, but why go for a walk is there are no shop windows to see, right? There are surely many cons about living in a city, but for me…well, I can’t think of any.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 29, 2011 at 9:15 am

      I love your comment about walks without shops – LOL! It’s funny how different views can be! Munchkin was on the tube in a sling and I love that, but I do miss that “slow life” and never get bored of it!

    Elizabeth Holdsworth said:
    October 29, 2011 at 9:27 am

    We live with our two kids in a city, but spend lots of time doing outdoorsy things, making good use of the parks, local nature reserves and our allotment. So, they’re as happy sowing seeds (badly, but with enthusiasm!) as they are in the city museum. I think, given the opportunity, that a bit of each is best – on summer days away and during the holidays we often go somewhere more rural, but we’ve also taken them on city breaks. If we had the cash, I often think of moving somewhere more rural, but in truth, I think we’d miss the city stuff too much!

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 29, 2011 at 9:34 am

      I suppose whereever you are you have to make an effort to expose them to as much as possible!

    Sarah said:
    October 29, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve just blogged about that. We live in a village just outside the city of Montpellier so I reckon we have the best of both worlds. We can go for country walks or go 20mins into town for town life.

    My boys definitely love living here because they have loads of freedom and I feel they are safe.

    alyce said:
    October 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I grow up in a village where everyone knew everyone, untill they built new houses now that has all gone! My mum still lives there and it is nice, but since moving to a small town I like the fact the shop stays open till 10pm and is open on a sunday and I have everything near to me. I would like my son to grow up in a village the reason being schools! I don’t want him to grow up chavvy! where we live its live chaville! Xx

    Lakes Mum said:
    October 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I grew up in small towns sometimes right on the edge as if in the countryside. We had lots of freedom and roamed the countryside. Yes it wasn’t very multi cultural but I gained independence and learned lots. I spent 4 years in cities at uni but didn’t really like it!

    My children were born in Hastings which had a population of 80,000 bigger than any town I grew up in! It was hectic and multi cultural but my children had little personal freedom. We had access to all the shops and services we needed right on the door step.

    We moved to the edge of Kendal in the summer of 2010 and have fields behind us. My children have much more freedom in our quiet estate. They have less contact with people from other ethnic backgrounds but I’m trying to teach them to treat everyone equally. They go to a village school which is almost 100% white the same as my old schools were! We have to travel further to get all the services and shops we need and I’m sure that when my kids are teenagers they’ll be dying to leave!

    Its really horses for courses and city and country each have their own pluses!

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 29, 2011 at 10:12 pm

      Very true. We were at Kew Garden’s today and that’s one of the things I love about London – you’re never far from green spaces, but I long for fields just out the back…

      Thanks for your comments! 🙂

    Elizabeth Mommatwo said:
    October 29, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    I grew up in the sticks (just outside Kendal – Lakes Mum, i’d love to know where you are!) and loved it when small, hated it in my teens, miss it now. Loved living in London but wouldn’t want to raise my boys there as they’d grow up so fast. I think the small town we’re in now has too little to offer but don’t want to live in a city – just near one, in a small village so we’re in the country but with easy access to the benefits and culture of a city. I’d love to live close to London.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 29, 2011 at 11:30 pm

      That sounds familiar! The problem with living just outside London is the cost involved. One of the benefits I see of moving out is being able to get a slightly larger house, but anywhere within commuting distance is just as pricey. 😦

      Becky Willoughby (@LakesSingleMum) said:
      October 29, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      Hi – I’m out towards Burneside!

    FionaCambouropoulos (@coombemill) said:
    October 30, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Really interesting post. I was brought up in a village near a town so semi rural. We lived in Suburbia in Esher before moving with the kids to Coombe Mill (then having 3 more). I believe every child is best off where their parents feel happiest. If you are a city lover then your children will appreciate your love of the city. For us the City is for visits to friends and family, day trips, culture and dare I say it McDonnald’s (we don’t have one withing 45mins of home) but home is here on the farm in Cornwall. Which ever way round you do it, exposing your children to both life styles is good for their understanding and appreciation of life. I fully expect my children to leave home and want to travel and do the City thing, but I have no doubt that their childhood memories of endless friends, space, freedom and fresh air here on the farm will keep them coming back for holidays and time out. A well rounded child has an appreciation of both town and country, can enjoy green space and the freedom to run around whether this is a city park or country woods.

    FionaCambouropoulos (@coombemill) said:
    October 30, 2011 at 1:57 am

    I really ought to comment on the village school thing too. there are only 60 in our primary school and 3 classes. This definitely has + and – points. They have to get along with everyone as there is little escape, as a Mum you know all the kids and all the parents which is sociable but not for everyone. Gifted children can easily move up groups in a multi year class or a struggling child easily move down but school finance and facilities are more limited. As with everything there are trade offs to make, there is no right or wrong, we just all do what we feel is the best for our kids and they are all different! At the end of the day whether your child is in a large urban school or small rural school I believe they are more shaped by our expectations and support as parents than the school.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 30, 2011 at 9:08 am

      As a teacher, I totally agree. Research shows that family background is key to achievement, especially at primary school age. By secondary the key influences are family and social groups.

    circusmum said:
    October 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    I’ve always lived in a big city and as much as I may moan about house prices, crowded commutes and the football crowds blocking my street I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
    Luckily it’s only a few stops on the train or 30mins in the car and we have farms, fruit picking, marshes etc so the outdoors is at our feet.
    It would be nice to have a greater sense of community which I am sure a more rural setting would have but I love the international feel London is and diverse mix of cultures.

      morethanamummy responded:
      October 30, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      I do love London, and will miss a lot when we do move out. If I had no choice but a city, I’d definitely chose London, but the country girl inside me can’t quite call it home!

    Motherwifeme said:
    October 31, 2011 at 8:58 am

    London v country is my/our biggest ongoing dilemma. We are kind of tied to London for next few years due to OH business. I love our area of London in the main, lots of green spaces, a real community, know all our neighbours plus all the big London cultural benefits. But I do worry that it’s a place where kids grow up exceedingly fast and I also worry about schooling. We are lucky enough to have an amazing primary school on our doorstep, but compared to the village school I went to, it’s massive. And as for secondary education, we’d have to opt for a fee paying school. In my ideal world, we’d be in London at the week and in our country retreat at the weekends, but we are, rem, still working on that one!!!

    Sloe Gin Recipe « morethanamumblog said:
    October 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    […] day is extravagant, but here at More Than A Mum we don’t like to be too conventional and post rural/urban blog discussion of rural pursuits left Loretta complaining I’d never offered her Sloe Gin! […]

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