“Go outside and find something to do,” was a common refrain in my home when I was growing up. With little choice and left to my own devices, the outdoors quickly became a place of wonder and a mix of the magical and the practical.
A clump of pampas grass, despite the razor-sharp leaves, was a hideout from monsters, our dogs and every now and then, Mum. A large liquidambar tree was a home away from home. Everything was dragged up there including, with some difficulty, our dog (no mean feat, she was a Bassett Hound) and an entire tea set. The vacant lot behind our home was where wild (and spooky) things dwelled and where we ourselves could be wild.
A muddy lane-way was an ideal place for baking mud pies, jumping in puddles, painting faces and trying out the latest in bicycle manoeuvres. We had the perfect lavender bush where fairies dwelled – and where we experienced our first bee sting. We roamed the suburb in packs and became little explorers, collecting an extraordinary array of objects ~ some of which I still have today.
With no structured play, we unwound, recharged and spent plenty of time sitting still and watching nature do its thing. A troupe of ants or a fly tangled in a spider’s web could mesmerise us for hours.
Being outside also taught us many lessons about our immediate and greater environment and our place within it. We learnt not to fear the outdoors, but to respect and love it. Nature became second-nature to us.
We fought with free-range bantam hens for a patch of clean grass (all that chicken poo!) and still they rewarded us with delicious eggs each day. Leaves were raked back onto the garden and compost was regularly added to the veggie patch ~ the resultant vegetables, used to cook simple delicious meals, made us wriggle with pride.
Now with children of my own, I delight in helping them discover the wonder of outdoors. Of helping them write their own story, to find their place in nature and also build their desire to stay connected to it. After all, it’s their story to tell ~ they are the future environmental policy-makers. As Richard Louv says, if we don’t first help our children to love nature, they will never know it. If they never know it, they will never appreciate its magnificence and importance.
And while my children’s personal patch of outdoors is sadly much smaller than mine was, they still find adventure in the simplest of places. Nature doesn’t have to be hard. A gutter overflowing with rain, a nearby park, a back garden, a vacant building lot, a weed bursting from a crack in the sidewalk, a cacophony of early morning bird chorus, a crab curled tightly into a shell, sunrise over a eucalyptus forest, the sound of a neighbour’s chooks, flowers overhanging fences, the smell of the garden after a shower of rain ~ everything in nature can be a thing of wonder and learning.
Is nature second-nature to you and your children?
Until next time….