A year of Kids in the Wild…

IMG_0525It is the end of a fun and challenging year. Enthusiasm for the project has waxed and waned and there were many days when I totally failed to give my kids an hour in the wild, due to illness, lack of time, energy, or inspiration. Sometimes, it was the miserable British weather that stopped play. Izzy going to school proved the biggest barrier, as she was often too tired afterwards to want to go out again. Luckily, her school is increasingly providing outdoor learning opportunities, such as forest school sessions, so she will benefit from that.

We kicked off our year with lots of different wild activities and ended by mostly sticking to the tried and tested things we loved, such as cycling at Seaton Wetlands, pony-riding and spending time at the allotment. Highlights include fossil-hunting, watching birds from a tram, Red Squirrels on Brownsea Island, a breakfast picnic in the woods and making leaf-print flags.

We have got to know our local patch well and we are lucky to live in a part of the world where we have easy access to clean, safe, nature reserves and public open spaces. as well as
wonderful events put on by the local countryside team, I once responded to a post on social media about doing art with a toddler and suggested creating Andy Goldsworty-style installations at the local park. The original poster replied, saying that the only park near them was off-limits due to anti-social behaviour and dog-mess. To be honest, I was shocked, but that lack of access to suitable open space is the sad reality for some people.

Amongst many other skills acquired over the past 12 months, my 2 year old has learnt to identify the call of a Wood Pigeon and my 5 year old can now make a daisy-chain without help. Their stamina has improved and their confidence climbing trees, splashing in the sea and bike-riding has increased. And yet, if I suggest going for a dog walk, or otherwise turn off the TV/computer to go outdoors, I am just as likely to hear groans now, as I was a year ago.

So, after all that, do I recommend that other people should be aiming to get their kids outside for an hour everyday? Well, no. Time in the wild is wonderful and proven to keep us healthy and happy, but despite the benefits, I am loathe to put parents under any more pressure to do the right thing for their children. The fact is, modern life is busy and most of us are seriously disconnected from the wild. Getting out into the natural world for an hour every day would require significant lifestyle changes for many people. I won’t be making a conscious effort to do it in the future for a couple of reasons, the main one being that although E is happiest out of doors, it has become clear that Izzy is not so comfortable. Despite the fact that she has been frequently exposed to nature from a young age (see my previous blog www.toddlerinthewild.co.uk) she would rather have her head in a book, or be building castles out of Lego than donning scarf and hat for a bracing winter walk on the beach. My parenting has always been child-led and I want her to be free to pursue her own interests when she is not at school. So, instead of carving out a special time every day, we will be appreciating the wild as we go about our everyday lives, whether that’s enjoying the dawn chorus as we wake, appreciating the weeds that grow beside the rail tracks as our train goes past, or rescuing snails crossing the pavement as we walk to school. And although I won’t be blogging about our future adventures in the wild, I am looking forward to many more – our first family camping trip, exploring the estuary by canoe and a visit to the Eden project for a start.

31st May 2017 – Bat detecting

IMG_0528 Today marks a year of going wild. A year of blogging. So, I wanted to do something a bit special. The kids stayed up after bedtime and we switched off the Leaders Debate to go up to the local community woodland, where we watched an unspectacular sunset, listening to Song Thrushes and Blackbirds, whilst Gulls and Geese flew back towards the estuary.

We ventured into the dark woods to see if we could spot any Foxes, which I am pretty sure live nearby. Despite tiptoeing, we nevertheless disturbed some Woodpigeons, which clapped into the sky. We heard what sounded like the bark of a fox, but saw nothing. We wandered back up to the grassland, where Slugs were coming out in force. E decided to go ‘fishing’ for them with a long grass stem, whilst Izzy scared the life out of B by tickling his ear with grass.IMG_0535

As the sky grew blacker, we switched the bat detector to 45KHz and headed home. I managed to pick up some chattering bats in a likely-looking tree, but I was starting to worry that we wouldn’t actually see any, when one suddenly zoomed over our heads. The kids were delighted. We saw quite a few bats (most likely Common Pipistrelles) as we walked home. There were 2 bats flittering around our house when we arrived and I wouldn’t be surprised if they roost in our roof. Another, bigger bat, probably a Brown Long-eared, joined them for a while. We stood and watched them, listening to their clicks and raspberries on the detector, before persuading the kids that it was time for bed.

Total wild time – about 1 hour 30 mins

30th May 2017 – Rainbow activity trail at Seaton Wetlands

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After visiting friends in the morning, we loaded the bikes into the car and headed to one of our favourite places – Seaton Wetlands. There, we followed the Rainbow Trail and did the activities, such as being quiet and listening to the sounds of the wild (wind in the trees, distant traffic and several different types of bird song), throwing leaves and stones into the stream to see whether they floated or sank and finding leaves of different shapes. There were a couple of Rabbits right next to the path (although I totally failed to get a photo), Oystercatchers and Shelducks on the marsh and Swallows zooming around in the sky. The hedges were filled with Roses.

Total wild time – 1 hour 30 minsIMG_0521

28th May 2017 – River Cottage Spring Food Fair

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B was talking about Growing Beer at the River Cottage Spring Food Fair today, so we tagged along for a day out. River Cottage HQ is in a gorgeous location and was looking very pretty with flowers blooming and lambs in the fields. We spent a long time queuing for the kids to be face painted, but the time passed by watching birds of prey flying overhead and eating pizza. Next, we went to listen to B’s talk, but he threw us out as E was being too noisy! After some veggie curry (which the kids declared delicious – annoying, as they would have refused to have touched it if I’d made it) and bubble-chasing, my brother, who works in the gardens there, showed us around the pigs, chickens, cows and lambs. The kids adored the animals, so next on the itinerary was a donkey ride, followed by tea and cake, playing in a mud kitchen, crafting and then walking an alpaca. The day finished by a tractor ride back to the car park – possibly E’s highlight of the whole day.

Wild Time – (not really wild but outdoors and in the countryside) 6 hours

27th May 2017 – Allotment

We took the kids to the allotment with that total disillusionment we always have, which is that they will behave themselves and happily play as we garden. What actually happened was E stood all over my tiny beetroot plants, almost knocked B out with a hoe, messed about with bamboo canes despite being repeatedly told to put them down and generally made it impossible to do anything. At one point, a farm cat walked past with a baby Rabbit in its mouth. We picked some Broad Beans and Elderflowers and later, E really enjoyed helping me to pod the beans. Despite this, neither child would eat the Broad Bean fritters I made for dinner.

Total wild time – about 1 hour 30 mins

26th May 2017 – Sea swimming

IMG_0501The weather was stunning, so it seemed like a good idea to go to the beach. We went to Lyme and as the tide was well out, we took the opportunity to explore the rock pools. We found some sea squirts, anemones and one crab. There was a huge diversity of seaweed. Then, we played in the waves and whilst B watched the kids, I went for a swim in the surprisingly warm water. We sat on the sand with the intention of making sand castles, but by this point, the kids had started whingeing. The salt seemed to be irritating E’s skin, who suffers from eczema and Izzy had got a bit cold. So, we headed back to the car, past all the very tempting ice cream stalls.

Total wild time – 1 hour 50 mins

25th May 2017 – Last day of term

IMG_0498There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for Izzy’s school’s Maypole Dancing in the church grounds. Everyone slapped on the suntan lotion and enjoyed a cream tea, whilst the children threw flower petals onto the grass and wove ribbons around the Maypole.

After school, we headed into Seaton, to paddle in the lovely cool sea, where rafts of seagulls bobbed. As the tide turned and started to come in, I took the opportunity to teach Izzy about the influence of the moon on the tides.

A great end to the term!

Total wild time – about 1 hour on the beach

24th May 2017 – A muggy allotment day

I spent about 5 hours on the allotment, getting hot and bothered and sunburnt. The Broad Beans are doing well and I picked some Elderflowers, but my best harvest was of Horsetail, which I will use to make a hair rinse. B looked after E, who was exhausted after a nursery trip to the firestation.

Total wild time – 0 mins