Monthly Archives: November 2009

We’re going on a leaf hunt ….

I’m a little obsessed with leaves. Always have been. Their sheer diversity dazzles me. There are water-lily leaves large enough to hold the weight of a small child. Another plant with leaves so large that its common name is Elephant Ears. Others are tiny and delicate, some thick and fleshy, some are beautifully heart-shaped and still others don’t look like leaves at all.
Mother Nature provides literally thousands of leaf shapes, types and sizes in a dazzling array of colours throughout the year. It’s not just autumn when the beauty of leaves is evident.

So with a cry of “we’re going on a leaf hunt”, set off on an exploration with your child – you’ll be amazed at how many you come across even if you get no further than the back garden.

During one of our forays, my kids and I came up with a funky little activity that can be done year round but in spring you’ll find some beautiful young leaves. I love it for its simplicity, the gentle messages it imparts about nature, but best of all that your children can lead the activity pretty much in its entirety.


You will need:
 a collection of small leaves, sticks, bark, small dried berries or currants
 a selection of feathers (bought or found)
 a few blocks of Oasis or a roll of tin foil
 PVA or craft glue
 some white or neutral-coloured tissue paper
 flexible thin bits of wire such as plastic coated or thick fuse wire or pipe cleaners
 gold or silver glitter spray (optional)


 Take a walk around your neighbourhood and collect a variety of objects to make a body, eyes and a beak (such as small spring leaves, sticks, bark and berries or feathers)
 When home, sit outside and carve the oasis or scrunch tin foil into the shape of a bird. (The oasis is easy to carve so young children can do this using a blunt knife).
 Once you and your child are happy with the general shape, use the glue to cover the body with a few layers of tissue paper (torn into small, manageable pieces).
 Wait for the tissue paper and glue to dry, then glue on the baby leaves. Have them all face the same way so they begin to resemble feathers.
 Use real feathers to make the wings. Attach the beak and eyes.
 Finally, twist two bits of wrie or pipe cleaners until they resemble bird’s feet. It’s fun for your child to twist, untwist and twist again.
 When they’re happy with the feet, insert them into the oasis or foil and arrange them so the bird can stand.
 Lightly spray with the glitter for a sparkling version.

Thanks to Katrina Crook for supplying some of the photos. Her website is on my blogroll. Her beautiful work appears throughout our book, Small Fry Outdoors: inspiration for being outdoors with kids (as does this activity). If you’re interested in buying a copy of the book, click here:


Filed under Gardening, Health, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play

Who’s afraid of the great outdoors…?

ig47_ant_MyrNigris1_02-1 The great outdoors …. sometimes the thought of allowing your child to run free whether it’s in a suburban back garden, small courtyard, farm, park, beach or vacant lot can be a daunting prospect.  There are so many variables; so many places of potential injury.  Every stick, insect, flower can appear to be lurking, waiting to stab, sting or poison.  And sometimes, it will simply not appeal to either of you or finding time in the day may seem impossible.

However, it is a place of wonder for children and a vital tool in helping them make sense of themselves and their environment.  By providing unstructured outdoor time, we assist them to develop confidence, a sense of spirit, independence, resilience and creativity.

My children and I live in a country that  is home to some of the most poisonous creatures in the world.  And whilst I adore Australia, I do intensely dislike the deadly creature thing.  Quite frankly the thought of all those vile critters lurking nearby makes me incredibly resentful and fearful for my young children and pets. 020822_black_snake

Take our farm for example.  It is an average agricultural holding on the southern tablelands, approximately 300k south-west of Sydney (180k as the crow flies).  When we visit, I am ALWAYS aware of the number of creatures that could potentially kill, injure or maim my children.  Brown and king brown snakes, black snakes, redback spiders, the occasional funnel-web spider, cocktail scorpions, wasps, earwigs, bees, bull ants – you name it – we’ve got ’em all. However, as a child, I didn’t give them a second thought.  I ran barefoot everywhere (and still do).  I fell off horses after they shied from snakes and simply jumped back on and kept going (three times with a broken arm).  I learnt to ask my mother to shake out boots before putting them on.  If something bit me, I scratched the bite and forgot about it.  Being scared of critters was simply not on my radar.

I realise that I have my mother to thank for this.  She taught me to be aware but not fearful.  “Always look down when you walk through the bush.  Stop if you see something and back slowly away.  They are more frightened of you than you are of them”, and so on.  Now, as a mother to two young children (and despite my tendency to over-protection), I am determined to make sure that they have a similar carefree childhood. So, instead of dwelling on what might be, I still follow the advice of my beautiful, wise mother.  My children are aware, but not fearful.  They have understood since they were tiny about the concept of responsible risk.  Joyfully, they have learnt to co-exist with “the nasties” (as they call them) and just get on with free fall play outdoors.  CIMG0881

I delight in watching them spin a heavy dose of imagination into their time outside.  After all, outdoors is a place where a child’s  imagination can truly roam free.  There are wild things hiding; it’s home to fairies, pixies and the occasional troll.  There is no room for fear in this imagined world.  It’s a place of high adventure, where they can get down and dirty with bug catcher and magnifying glass in hand.  They can become conquering explorers, artists, amateur botanists, pirates, fairies or Robin Hood all in the blink of an eye.  And what’s more, all the required costumes can be found in-situ. 33010010

So, with spring (and autumn) upon us, I encourage you to celebrate outdoors with your children whenever you can.  Splash through puddles, pick some blossoms or colourful leaves, help find fairies, lie under a tree and daydream, hunt for weeds and other garden pests, plant a sunflower, ride a tandem bike, visit a Botanic Garden or just do nothing together.  Whatever outdoors means to you and your child, you can find something together that will delight you both without having to give a second thought to “the nasties”.

Until next time….


Filed under Gardening, Health, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play

a veggie-led backyard revolution…


There’s a quiet revolution going on in the suburban backyards of Australia.  Rather than sitting back and admiring our perfectly manicured “outside rooms”, gazing lovingly at our mondo grass, perfectly coiffed hedges of murraya, buxus or newly acquired rows of trendy agaves, we are choosing to head outside armed with buckets of kitchen scraps, water collected from baths & showers whilst we attempt to figure out where we should build a chicken coop, locate the veggie patch, compost heap and herb garden.

Suffering a slow death (and not for lack of water) is the passive, over-structured garden.  Instead we are rediscovering how much fun it is to actually interact

koalatreehugger_narrowweb__200x317,1 with Mother Nature and the vital lessons she has to impart to us and our children about nourishing ourselves and our environment.  Despite our hectic lives, we are taking time to get down and dirty, and, somewhat surprisingly, we are finding that we love it.

So what’s behind this shift in the suburban landscape?  I’d suggest a few things.

Everyday we are bombarded with messages on climate change and the potential impact it will have on our lives.  No longer an obscure issue, we (collectively) now have a nascent understanding of some of the associated issues and their ability to directly affect what we do and how we do it.  It unsettles us.  Gone are the days when we could drop a coin into a bucket held by a man dressed in a koala suit and feel that we were doing our bit for the environment.  “Think global, act local” is once again foremost in our minds, so it comforts us on many levels to get out into our backyards, plant trees, attempt to grow our own veggies and provide a safe, happy and productive environment for our family.

The economy is doing nothing to provide peace of mind.  Food, fuel, water, medicines and shelter are all more expensive.  And with the global economy continuing to flat line, the ability to provide the basics for ourselves at reduced cost is very appealing and for many of us, more necessary.


Subconsciously, global terrorism may also be impacting on our lifestyle choices.  Terrorism is no longer a remote event, occurring in a far-off country.  There is an unspoken fear in many communities that some day soon, “something” may happen closer to home.  So our home becomes haven again; we are bunkering down, cocooning and trying to figure out what we should do to protect ourselves and maintain the peaceful lifestyle Australia affords us.

This unease reminds us of the staples of life –we hanker for a return to the “good life” of our childhoods, which was, on the whole, a time spent outside whiling away the day with lots of unstructured play (and not a nintendo in sight) and very little to worry about except what mum was preparing for dinner.  We long to provide this for our own children.

26951327-1.ChooksOr maybe it’s none of these.  Perhaps we are simply sick to death of gardens which offer nothing but a vacant green room, with little to engage or educate our children and no place for their beautiful imaginations to take hold.

Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled with our new-found involvement, and am now longing to hear, once again, the 3.00am call of the lovelorn rooster and hoping that I will soon find a beautiful Choko vine spilling over the back fence.

This article has also appeared in a recent edition of the online newspaper, The Punch at


Filed under Australia, Gardening, Health, Kids, Outdoors, Play

Turf ’em outside….

grace and grace 035

Overloaded with structured play, organised sports, friends to visit, homework (for some) and the general “busyness” and cacophony of a household, young children can easily become worn out and occasionally stressed or even depressed.  As parents/carers, the signs of stress in our children can be easy to miss, as we ourselves go frantically from this thing to that, all the while trying to figure out how to achieve that ever elusive work/play life balance (for everyone in the family).  Parenting is a relentless gig and at times the entire family needs to step back, take a breath and look for some relief.   The biggest stress buster for young children?  Turf ’em outside…

Taking time outside is a natural antidote to stress.  Without anyone telling them what to do or how to do it and with

angus and mummy on grassthe opportunity for private, quiet play and discovery – it affords little minds and bodies a chance to unwind and be at peace with themselves.  And these periods of stillness and reflection can impart a real sense of place and foster a connectedness with their world.

Here are a few outdoor activities you might like to consider:

  • Grab a blanket and kick back watching the clouds go by.  Every shape and object is up there and identifying and describing them can really fire little imaginations.
  • Buy a small unlined-book and encourage your child to start a nature journal by drawing what they see around them.  It may be a bird swaying on a power line, the neighbour’s back garden, a patch of grass or some billowing clouds racing by.  Rainbows are always a popular subject to draw.  The sketches may be nothing more than a few squiggles and a splash of colour to begin with, but as it slowly becomes the repository of thoughts, dreams, tender drawings and little gems from nature,  your child may well become very attached to their journal.
  • Buy a disposable camera and let your child snap away.  To avoid disappointment, you might want to give them a few suggested subjects, lest you end up with 24 pics of the ground or your child’s left foot.  I guarantee, however, that in no time, they will be better photographers than you….
  • Watching spiders, ants and other industrious little creatures going about their business often mesmerises children.  And interestingly, the busier the insect, the more likely it is your child will sit statue-like observing.
  • Kids love selecting their own personal patch of outdoors and turning it into the perfect Hidey Hole. Encouraging private time in this way develops stillness and independence in your child.  My daughter once fell asleep with a beautiful smile on her face, deep in the recesses of her hidey hole.

varied including angus first day school 2007 066

Of course, recharging doesn’t always have to always be so “zen-like”.  A good dose of rough ‘n tumble, tree climbing, hide and seek or a simple walk or run can have a similar effect. After all, outdoors is where the wild things are and where children themselves can be wild for a few hours.  The important thing is not to structure their time or direct the play.  Sure, you can offer advice or ideas if asked.  But be prepared to retreat and let their beautiful little imaginations conceptualise, implement and lead their chosen activity.  You never know, in doing so you might just find time for a quiet cup of tea by yourself….

I’d love to hear from you on your ideas for de-stressing using Mother Nature as a guide …. I’ll send a copy of my book; Small Fry Outdoors – Inspiration for being outdoors with kids to the most inventive idea.  I won’t judge the best entry … I’ll leave that to my resident young outdoor warriors…


tom and angus and others 008


Filed under Gardening, Health, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play