Bush Kids

Children and Nature

Category Archives: Bush Play

Deluge

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We have had more than 6 inches of rain in the past week and it is still coming down. Everything is absolutely sodden. As we are at the top of the range there is water flowing out of the ground everywhere, cascading down the hills, creating streams and rivers of water all over the place.

At first, we enjoyed the novelty of being indoors by the fire and listening to the sound of pouring rain outside. The water tanks are overflowing, and rain at this time of year just before things start to warm up is good news for spring growth in the paddocks.

Yet it is never long in this family before cabin fever sets in and the need to be outside overrides the weather. We simply rugged up in our waterproofs (or in board shorts, which are apparently also suitable) and set out into the rain to explore the deluge.

Always the first to fill her boots with water, this water baby will paddle in anything.
This fellow loves rolling in the mud too.
And our galloways look even more like teddy bears in the rain when their coats go curly.

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Looking after one another

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There are a multitude of positions along the ‘free range kids‘ vs helicopter parenting spectrum, and just like with other parenting issues, most likely the approach you take will be informed by a mix of intuitive, environmental, individual (your own and your children’s needs) and historical (the experiences you had in your own childhood) factors. This debate has ignited a great deal of argument about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parenting. Overscheduling? Being too protective? Letting your kids roam freely? Yet it seems to me that whilst all this judgement of other parenting styles doesn’t get us anywhere, what we as parents may need to do is to let go a little and let the children take the lead.

Whilst in our family we believe risk taking is a necessary part of childhood development, there is another frequently overlooked aspect to all of this which, it seems, is less about us as parents and more about the experience of the children themselves.

We have just returned from a week camping with another family on a headland above a beautiful sheltered bay on the South Coast. In addition to lots of all-in family rambles along the shore, the kids (aged between 4 and 8) spent many hours riding their bikes around the campground or down to the beach to play on the sand while we settled in around the campfire for another pot of coffee or an evening glass of wine.

Our children are comfortable doing this type of independent roaming (and we are comfortable with it) only because they are together. Together they provide each other with company, support, and confidence. They look out for one another and assist each other if something goes wrong. The older kids provide instruction, help and guidance to the younger children. They steer them in the right direction if they veer off the course. The group of children, sans adults, play and enjoy themselves on their own terms.

Looking after one another is an aspect of childhood which is much less common now than in previous generations. The insular modern western family unit leads a heavily programmed life mostly aimed at productivity. There are fewer opportunities for groups of children to congregate and engage with one another, especially without adult supervision. In the past, and certainly still in many Indigenous cultures, extended family groups share residential, economic and social interactions and co-dependence. Peer groups of closely related children (or closely residing, in the case of the western concept of ‘neighbourhood’) are a core part of childhood socialisation and development, with older siblings (or neighbours/friends) playing an important role in guiding, instructing, and looking after younger children.

If adults are always around, there is little scope for these relationships of mutual help, collaboration and peer socialisation to occur. Children don’t learn how to be responsible for themselves and for one another. It seems to me to be less of a case of ‘free-ranging’ or ‘helicoptering’, but more that we need to give our kids the chance to develop these important life skills.

We recently met a family who said that they couldn’t let their children (aged the same age as our eldest and older) do stuff by themselves as they were not confident that they would look after one another. This, they said, was the sticking point. Yet in order for kids to understand the imperative of taking responsibility for each other, they have to have the opportunity to learn how to do it in the first place. Our children appear to see looking after one another not only as a prerequisite to doing things by themselves, but also as a preference. Who wouldn’t want to ride down to the beach to play instead of waiting around for the adults to drink more coffee?

Do you have the space in your life/family for children to learn how to look after one another?

Winter Wonderland

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To say that the kids were excited about the beginning of winter is an understatement. In one of the few places in Australia where winter means snow and skiing, this is undoubtedly their favourite time of year. When we woke up, then, on the first morning of winter to a landscape transformed by a blanket of snow, their surprise and delight was immeasurable. The snowfall here had not been forecast; the afternoon before we were out paddling the canoe in the sunshine. The 15cm of powder snow that fell in the night took us all completely by surprise. Moreover it is very unusual to have any snow here so early in the season, let alone so much.

There was no question in anyone’s mind, it had to be the work of Jack Frost spreading his winter magic about.

 

The normal rule regarding no snow play before breakfast was cast aside and the first hours of the day were spent joyously playing in the new snow. The policy here is that if the school bus can’t get to you, you don’t have to go to school (a policy we exploit as often as possible as our 4WD vehicle can often make it through). And so, on days such as this, there is nothing for it but to completely relish the snow. And relish it the kids certainly do!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And in spite of having spent nearly all day playing outside in the cold, and in spite of sodden clothing and throbbingly frozen hands, they were still out there at sunset, making the absolute most of this fabulous gift of the first winter snow.

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Weapons for Outdoor Boys

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SONY DSCOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is our collection of boys weaponry. It includes swords, shields, spears, staffs, knives, daggers, and wands and is in constant use. If the kids are outside, there is nearly always an imaginary game of rangers, ninjas, wizards, bandits, or warriors afoot. Bows and arrows are also a big part of life here, however archery is more of a hobby than a game, and their bows are real pieces of equipment, not toys.

Some weapons in the collection come and go: staffs and daggers are constantly being collected and whittled from trees until just the right shape, but just as often they get taken on some mission, and then forgotten and so return to the bush from which they came.

There are some swords made out of scraps of wood from the workshop, and decorated with glittery stick-ons by the kids, as well as some finer quality daggers made by their Papa.

The beautiful embossed leather swords (see top picture), made by Alejandro, are heirloom quality and are the most cherished pieces in our arsenal. The blade is sufficiently long to satisfy the older boys, and, best of all, they come with a fantastic sword belt, which the boys wear across the body making it easy for a quick draw. Each sword comes with your choice of symbol embossed on the hilt and on the belt. Our children, including our only daughter (who, is must be said, prefers a fairy wand to a sword) have all received one of these swords, in turn, as a very special christmas gift.

The bejewelled wooden swords from here are more suitable for slightly younger children, and were a favourite with our boys when they were aged 4-5.

Also heavily used has been this wooden bushcraft play knife from iwishiwasa, with its own sheath and knife belt. The older boys have recently graduated to real pocket knives but the owner of this little knife is still reluctant to relinquish it to his younger siblings.

There is always a lot of adjusting of belts and scabbards, and fine-tuning of kit that goes on prior to the commencement of any of this fantasy play. Even the fairy in the house doesn’t spend as much time on her wings as these boys spend arranging their weaponry. In spite of all this, if they find themselves somewhere without their favourite sword, a stick will always suffice.

Sticks and Dragons

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In an attempt to prevent the usual flurry that accompanies the first morning back at school after the holidays, I was up late locating school hats and missing drink bottles when I discovered this: a 6 year-olds school back-pack full of things gathered during the holidays. There were sticks, gum nuts, a large stone, lumps of charcoal, acorns, autumn leaves, bottle tops, a peg, bits of wire, a rusty horseshoe, a knight and a dragon. Evidence of holidays spent outdoors, of adventures experienced and treasures found along the way.

When the owner of the bag discovered the next morning that his treasures had been unpacked, his immediate response was “where are my sticks?”. Tempting though it was, I know this little fellow better than to throw out his treasures. Even the sticks, it seems, have a particular character and use – as a wand, a staff, or, in this case, as a barricade in a tree house.

Instead of being glad when the kids return to school after the holidays, I usually feel quite heavy-hearted that the days of freedom are at an end, that it is time to return to classroom-based learning and a rigid curriculum. We all cherish the holiday freedom which allows the kids to immerse themselves in the forests and creeks that surround our home, or sometimes further afield.  Days to ride and climb. Days to linger and read. Days to wander and explore. Days of sticks and dragons.

Fortunately the kids don’t appear to share my feelings, and seem happy enough when the start of term swings around again, and excited about swapping holiday stories with their friends. How do you feel when it is time for the kids to return to school?

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Herding Jellyfish

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Large families like ours are typically made up of individuals with completely different personalities, needs and strengths. There are times when the whole sprawling gang of us jostle for attention or for space to realise our own needs. When our family is outside, adventuring, we are at our best and most in tune with one another. At the end of a busy week with a travelling husband, I packed the kids, the wetsuits and plenty of snacks and we headed to the coast for a day of sun and sand.

And the entire day, four little people swam and played and surfed together. They made teepees and rafts from driftwood, together. They collected jellyfish together, washed up by the dozen along the shore, and herded them into ‘yards’. I took the opportunity to sit back and watch them, listening to their squeals and laughter and relishing in the harmony.

Summer of Swimming

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P1010121-1Australian summers are traditionally synonymous with swimming. Long, hot days and plenty of accessible water mean that most of us have grown up swimming in pools, dams, rivers and, of course, beaches. So far this year we have had barely a shower or bath between us, as we have spent nearly all our days swimming. There is nothing better than happy exhausted kids from long days of swimming in the sun.

Each summer, we also take part in the ‘Learn to Swim’ campaign, run at our local pool daily for two weeks, so that the children can develop the skills to swim safely and confidently. Our property contains numerous dams and creeks within close walking distance to our house, making it imperative that the children understand the basics of water safety. As their swimming abilities grow, we also encourage our children to join us in kayaking, surfing, snorkelling and many other water-based activities. It is exciting that our eldest (now eight) is now a strong enough swimmer to be able to surf behind the breakers at the beach, take on the rapids in the river, or snorkel in the deep water. The younger children are still in life jackets in deep water, but their swimming skills were boosted by the two month road trip we did to northern Australia, when we swam nearly every day.

The twins are doing swimming lessons for the first time this summer. For smaller children I feel that regular exposure to swimming and lots of time gaining confidence in the water is actually more important than lessons, which come into their own later once they are ready to put floating, breathing, and stroke technique all together. Learning to swim is really all about consistent time in the water.

As if we hadn’t had enough swimming, next week we are off to the coast to surf, snorkel, fish, paddle and swim some more. Do you swim all summer long too?

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