Bush Kids

Children and Nature

Category Archives: Bush Walks

Sunday night walk

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Now that the days are longer and warmer, we all find it hard to come indoors in the evening. Often this urge plays havoc with getting kids to bed and we all linger outside longer than we should. In a bid to find a way of winding down we include a Sunday evening ramble as a seasonal tradition at this time of year: a walk together as a family after dinner but before bed, signalling the end of one week and the start of another. Our weekends are often busy, so this small portion of time with just our family is an opportunity to just be together.

This little evening ritual at the end of the week during the warmer months has now become one of our cherished family traditions. When the children were all small, we used to bundle them into prams after the typically hectic kids dinner to walk them along our quiet road – and more often than not we would return with several kids asleep, granting us a welcome reprieve from the usual crazy bedtime routine. Now that they are all more than capable of walking on their own steam, the Sunday night walk is less a peaceful bush walk with sleepy babies, than a chance to explore together.

One of the things I love about living where we do is that the land around us is full of the connections we have made; places rendered intimate by our interactions, discoveries, and memories. Features of the landscape are known to us as familiarly as the rooms in our home, only they are constantly changing with the seasons and the weather and there is always something new to find. There are favourite haunts, such as ‘wombat hill’, ‘shark-fin rock’, the ‘house boulders’, or ‘troll bridge’, but there is always a new discovery awaiting us: new bracken fern fronds ready to uncurl, a patch of native violets, a sapling just strong enough to shimmy up and hang off.

The Sunday night walk has become a time to connect with each other and with the land around us. We are fortunate to have bush on our very doorstep, but no matter where you live there are always special places around the corner; changes to observe in gardens and parks, scope for discovery and exploration.

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.

Owling

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the approach of winter, and the onset of shorter days and increasingly cool, crisp nights, we have started to go owling again.

In our family the practise of going out at night into the bush with torches to spot wildlife used to be known as ‘spotlighting’. However in Australia, ‘spotlighting’ is most often associated with hunting/shooting aboard vehicles lit up with spotlights and the term just didn’t seem right. After we read the poignant and poetic children’s book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, these night walks have ever-after become known as going ‘owling’.

Just like in the book, going owling is something we do individually with our kids, and only as they are old enough, for the owlers need to walk in silence for an hour or more in the dark over rough terrain.

During these star-lit rambles, the land we know so well takes on different faces in the night, and the forest is full of shadows. We see kangaroos and wallabies, wombats, and different types of possums. We have been searching for gliders as they soar between the treetops. We see sneaky foxes on the prowl and think of our last batch of chickens that went their way.

But the ultimate prize is to see an owl. The general aura of mystery and magic with which owls are associated mean that the children regard them with an instinctive reverence and wonder. Whilst we hear them relatively often, sightings are far more elusive. So far we have seen the Barking Owl, Southern Boobook, and the Tawny Frogmouth.

Returning from an owling walk when the other children are asleep, the owlers are full of stories of what they have seen. Sometimes we review the nocturnal creatures in a guidebook to check up on what we saw or heard. After a drink of hot chocolate it takes only seconds for the weary owlers to nod off to sleep, with visions of wings still hovering in the darkness.

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Raising Risk-Takers

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As I watched my four children set off together to explore upstream along a rugged creek through remote wilderness my heart sang. Fostering a love of exploration and discovery of the natural world in my children is something fundamental to my hopes as a parent. I remained at our picnic spot while the kids clambered over boulders and fallen trees, waded across pools of water and through a thick tangle of roots and ferns and mud. In the dense forest they were quickly out of sight, and after a while, out of earshot too.

And yet, at this point, I had to consciously quell the flutter of parental anxiety I felt. I had to remind myself that all of my children, even the twins (recently turned four) are well equipped with the tools they need to manage and evaluate the potential risks associated with this kind of environment, and that they have the capacity to deal with the challenges and hazards they may have encountered along the way.

Instead of joining them as they explored the creek, we waited for them to return and reflected on how critical it is to provide opportunities, such as this, to let our children rise to challenges – whether physical, social, intellectual or emotional – and in so doing develop strategies and skills to safely navigate the risks they face.

In today’s risk-averse culture, the tendency to want to ‘bubble wrap’ our children to protect them from harm is not necessarily the approach that will deliver the best outcome in the long term. And while risk-taking is now understood as an inevitable and indeed fundamental part of healthy development, it is often much harder as a parent to consciously allow your own child to be exposed to these risks.

While the urge to ‘hover’ is instinctive to parents (and is sometimes necessary – clearly especially when children are smaller), a more practical way to guide your kids away from real harm may be to equip them with the skills and judgment they need to safely manage risk themselves.

It is only very recently that the twins have joined their older brothers on these types of forays into the bush. As they have grown, we have watched and assisted and provided advice as they have gradually developed an awareness and understanding of their own limits and abilities, of potential hazards, and of the consequences of their actions.

As parents, it is difficult to balance our natural tendency to want to protect our children from harm, with the clear benefits of letting our children engage with risk. It is hard for many of us to let go.

Children need lots of opportunities for exploration and experimentation. They need to make mistakes, to falter, and to fall. They also sometimes need to fail, and we need to let them. In so doing they develop autonomy, confidence, and the ability to make reasoned choices. They learn how to evaluate, how to cope with the unexpected, how to manage change and how to rise to the myriad of challenges their lives will present them with.

When the motely crew of adventurers returned they were scratched and soaking wet, the twins had had a bit of trouble getting over various obstacles, and had said they wanted to come back a couple of times. Nevertheless they had remained adventuring with their brothers. This was all forgotten when they described their discoveries: “a moss bed”, “a temple”, “an island”, a fairy waterfall”, “an Indiana Jones swing”, as well as emptying their pockets full of feathers, rocks and unusual leaves.

They stayed for a sausage and were off again, further this time, to see what lay beyond.

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Sunday Walk

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A Sunday walk down to our bottom paddock on a cloudless winter day. Not a breath of wind. Bright sunshine. Only two little people to explore with (the others were skiing).

Snow in plentiful patches on the ground.

Snow in plentiful patches on the ground.

Layers of ice for cracking with sticks.

Layers of ice for cracking with sticks.

A warrior fort discovered.

A warrior fort discovered.

And a fairy home.

And a fairy home.

A snowy bed.

A snowy bed.

Ice crystals to taste.

Ice crystals to taste.

Wet feet drying out on a sunny boulder. Hot cocoa and gingerbread to fuel the long walk back.

Wet feet drying out on a sunny boulder. Hot cocoa and gingerbread to fuel the long walk back.