Bush Kids

Children and Nature

Category Archives: Bush Gear

Low Cost School Holiday Adventuring

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These school holidays we will be spending a lot of time at home, instead of our usual road trip north. During winter, the warmth of the house and the slow pace of holiday mornings mean that it is easy to get lulled into the stay-indoors trap. With four children at home, however, it doesn’t take long for cosy mornings by the fire to devolve into a scene of outright devastation, and I know the only answer is to get us all outside, whatever the weather. We all take a bit more encouragement at this time of year, especially when it remains close to freezing all day.

With this in mind, these holidays I set the kids a ‘Winter Adventure Challenge’ as an incentive to get us out and moving every day.

Adventures come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on the ages of your children, an adventure might be something as simple as letting them walk by themselves to visit a neighbour, a ride on a nearby bike track, having a picnic in a secret spot in the garden, or going on a night walk by torchlight. They don’t have to be complex undertakings at all. Finding adventure activities all around you, and in your local area, is a great reminder of how the simple things are often the best when it comes to keeping kids happy. Even an ordinary activity can become an adventure to children if you pitch it right.

At the beginning of the holidays I made a rough list in my head of the various activities available close by – ranging from trails in national parks in our area, to bike rides, to walks around our place. The list was entirely flexible – able to be adapted according to weather, inclination or other variables. And apart from a few trail treats for energy boosters, and the fuel required to drive to a national park or two, not one of these activities cost a cent.

What do you need for a Winter Adventure Challenge?

1. A sense of fun. The kids will only enjoy it if you are too – climbing and exploring and pumping the bike jumps to get some air – along with them.

2. Backpacks/hydration packs. Our kids recently received their own hydration pack, so that they can drink plenty of water (and they really do drink a lot more water this way), carry their own snacks, plus (in the case of the older boys) a bit of their own gear. Any backpack will do the trick, and carrying their own stuff encourages them to develop independence and be more responsible for themselves. It appears that carrying one’s own chocolate (instead of mum or dad being in possession) is a great motivator when little people get tired on the trail.

3. Adventure Challenge chart. I made a simple chart so that the kids could record the various adventuring we did throughout the holidays including the total number of kilometres we hiked, or skied, or biked etc.

4. Spare clothes. On our first day we mountain biked then walked a few kilometres down to a large dam on a neighbouring property. I made the mistake of not taking spare clothes, thinking that due to the fact that there was still ice on top of the water, no one was likely to be going for a dip. Not so – within a short time shoes were wet, socks were sodden, and various little people had stripped down to their underwear to paddle in the shallow, but freezing creek. I should know better: NEVER leave home without some basic spare clothes, especially in Winter when wet clothes can be a disaster.

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5. Maps. Going for a hike in the bush or even a walk in town is a great opportunity for kids to learn some basic navigation. Kids of all ages respond really quickly to visual representations of their journey. Topographic maps are great for teaching more detailed map reading skills and navigation, but even a google map print-off will help them learn to recognise and interpret spatial and geographic information. Maps (and possibly a compass) also enhance that sense of adventure: never underestimate the value of tools such as these (even if they are sometimes just symbolic) to encourage kids to want to learn.

6. Curiosity. Foster your children’s interest in the natural world by giving them the time and space to stop to explore both the sensory and the physical world around them. Get off the trail and check out whatever sparks their interest: follow creeks upstream, looks at tracks in the sand, listen for birds, collect gumnuts and leaves and feathers, marvel at the sound ice makes when you skim it across a frozen dam – the possibilities are endless.

So far during our Winter Adventure Challenge we have mountain biked, hiked two trails in national parks, climbed plenty of boulders, explored a gorge, and whilst walking home got caught in a dramatic storm that blew in out of nowhere over the mountains. In seconds we were in a blizzard and by the time we got home our hair and eyelashes were encrusted with snow, and our hands were icicles. In spite of the painful cold and whipping snow, we were all hooting and shrieking with excitement. A winter adventure of the kind that childhood memories are made of.

Winter Kit

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We moved to the mountains after years in remote parts of northern Australia and the Pacific: adjusting to the cold Winter here has necessitated some conscious strategies and gear purchases. Certainly when the children were very small, getting them all wrapped up and out the door for some chilly play time was challenging, but nonetheless always worthwhile.

I am a firm believer that no matter how awful the weather it is essential to get outside with children every day, even if, on the foulest day, it is only for a short time. In order to get us all outside and ready for whatever the weather throws at us, I have found it critical to assemble some reliable Winter basics.

With four children in the family, we tend to approach our purchases of outdoor gear and bits of equipment from the top-down – that is, we invest in the best gear for our eldest in the knowledge that this will be passed down to the three others below. On the whole, we have found that buying a better quality product for kids means that it will last and reduces wastage in the long run.

What you need for getting outdoors with kids in winter will be location-specific. Most places in Australia do not need snow-proof clothing, yet in the northern hemisphere the extreme winter cold is another matter altogether. The following explanation of our winter kit may, however, still contains a few ideas that may be useful for adventures with kids in the cold anywhere…..

Merino base layers

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Building dams, picking wildflowers, sleeping in swags, and climbing boulders – all in Icebreakers.

The merino revolution is a break-through for mums: no more battles over scratchy nana-knits; merino is soft and not itchy next to the skin, it is warm and breathable, and best of all machine-washable! Every winter in the mountains I make sure our entire family has a set of merino base layer garments. I bought my first Icebreaker in New Zealand for hiking about 15 years ago as an alternative to the highly synthetic polypro thermals I had always worn. I still wear that same T-shirt, and we all live in our merino base layers daily in the winter months – under soccer jerseys, for skiing, and to school. I no longer argue with my boys about how many layers they have on before they go outside – they know the rule is as long as they have their Icebreakers on, they can decide for themselves how much else they need to wear.

Well-fitting muck boots for icy puddles, mud, slush and snow
We find the usual basic gumboots generally available in Australia not sturdy enough for our conditions. Our boots need to fit well, or they have a tendency to get sucked off at the first sloshy mud puddle. We like them to reach as high as possible on the leg: the higher they are the more waterproof your feet and the deeper water you can travel through without them filling up. They need to have an aggressive tread, suitable for stomping on ice as well as climbing boulders and other slippery surfaces.
Ideally, a Winter boot should be both rain and snow capable, otherwise (especially if you have multiple children) you will quickly find that you have a boot surfeit issue. This Winter, (thanks to a tip off from Forest Kids) we bought our first pair of Bogs boots – and here we think we have found the boot that does it all. Bogs boots are quite different to standard gumboots – they have a wetsuit-like ‘neo-tech’ upper, are insulated, and virtually completely waterproof. They are certainly more pricey than your average rubber boot, but so much superior in comfort and function that we are all hoping for a pair of Bogs boots one day…

Waterproof jackets
This year we invested in some quality Macpac waterproof/windproof shells for the boys. They are easy to throw in a daypack for later use if required, and so light and compact that the boys carry them themselves in their own bags.

Waterproof overpants

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Taking on ice, snow, mud, and flowing creeks – all in Slicks.

Waterproof overpants: very 1970’s but oh so practical. When Dash was a baby, he was always in the dirt, in the water, in the mud; no matter the weather he was wet and filthy. Not only did he create an inordinate amount of washing, he wore through the knees on almost all his pants. After a bit of looking around, I found the solution: Slicks: an Australian brand who make the best waterproof pants for kids. Reinforced at the knees and at the rear, lined, and tough. They are particularly useful from the crawling stage through to about four years.

Thermos of hot drink
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We always carry a pre-prepared thermos of hot cocoa with honey, whether we are out for a walk on our own place, or up on the slopes skiing. A hot drink does wonders for warming up little people from the inside out, and is great for keeping energy levels up.

Spare clothes, socks, a towel or blanket
These children of ours always get wet, to varying degrees from full body immersion to just sodden feet. In winter, this means we need to carry a few spare jackets and socks and/or a towel to dry off wet bodies. I also always have a couple of blankets in the car to wrap them up in if they get really frozen.

Gloves
If little hands are cold, there are often complaints. Along with spare socks, I always tuck a couple of pairs of gloves into my pockets for when the wind chill starts to turn fingertips blue.

Matches

Keeping warm and happy by a fire.

Keeping warm and happy by a fire.

If we are on our own property, or somewhere else appropriate, we light a fire during our forays in winter for warmth, and find that the presence of a fire keeps us out there longer. We often bring some sausages or marshmallows to cook.

We have taught the older boys how to strike a match and build a fire, and from the time they can move independently, our children learn about fire safety. Sometimes we let the children have a ‘kid’s fire’ – a smaller fire of their own not used for cooking – on which they can throw armfuls of tussock grass to see it flare up, or set the end of a long stick alight.

I should also add that the kids have their own version of winter kit, usually involving no where near enough clothes, snowballs stashed in pockets and always sticks, many sticks.