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.
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.
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.
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….