During the summer holidays my son (9) spent a week with his Grandmama at a Victorian beach where I spent much of my childhood. He had, in his words, “the most sick and excellent time.” He had Grandma pretty much to himself which meant he could eat whatever he wanted, go to bed late and sleep curled up next to her each night with sand from the beach between his toes and in his hair.
He spent his days walking by himself to the milk-bar to buy frothy milkshakes & packets of whiz-fizz. Then it was always off to the beach. There was beach-combing, swimming with stingrays & schools of sparkling fish, sun-baking and jumping off the end of a very long pier – over and over and over again. He got a sun-kissed, “Coppertone” tan and his eyes are still shining – so full of happiness and contentment. Of particular joy to me, was his new found sense of independence, maturity and resilience. A small example of this? He was given $50 to spend during his holiday. I was certain he’d buy $50 worth of lollies, but instead he chose a book that captured the essence of his holiday.
Coming home was also a new experience as he got to fly by himself on a airplane for the very first time. So very grown-up. As I greeted him at the airport, he was tongue-tied with excitement; wanting to share all the wonderful experiences he had had and the beautiful things he had found outdoors. He thrust a large bag of his bounty into my hand, announcing, “we need to do something with these.” There were conkers, seed pods, feathers and a mass of shells. And oh, what shells! There were pippies, exquisitely spiralled nautilus, cat’s eyes, luminescent oysters and large perfectly formed scallop shells.
So we have now set about making a collage which will eventually be mounted on the wall in his bedroom. My hope is that not only will it serve as a reminder of a near-perfect summer holiday; it will, each time he looks at it, remind him of the beauty and diversity of nature, the environment and his place within it.
Sometimes something literally takes your breath away and transports you to another place where imagination, joy and gratitude collide. This happened to me last week. I was visiting a dear friend who I hadn’t seen for several years. She lives with her two beautiful daughters in the Noosa hinterland. They know that I’m a big believer in fairies and have written a book on being outdoors with children and encouraging lots of unstructured play. I had told them I was going to bring a copy of my book for them and a few bits and pieces for lunch.
In anticipation of my visit and to say thank you, they prepared a fairy home for me.
Here’s what they did.
I love the cotoneaster berries that are tranformed to become a ‘rock climbing wall’ for the fairies. And the garage, complete with a little car to get about. There was a room for reading and a room complete with an open fire to stay warm. The large piece of bark is, of course, a slide complete with soft leaves at the bottom to ensure no fairies get hurt when whizzing down.
The red earth was packed up against a stone wall by the girls. Mixing it with just a little water made the perfect mud brick wall on which to complete their masterpiece.
The girls worked steadily, for around an hour, flitting around their garden (just like fairies) looking for the right materials. They were happy and their faces glowed with a sense of achievement and pride on showing it to me. I was, simply put, honoured to be presented with such a precious gift. The gift of imagination and love. x
Today I visited The Point Preschool in a leafy suburb of Sydney. I adore this preschool and all that they do to encourage innate connections with nature in their young students.
So I was well and truly chuffed when I arrived to find a group of 4 year olds busily making the Gum Nut Potpourri recipe from my book, Small Fry Outdoors. They are making little boxes of it for their Mums for Mother’s Day. They were so happy, their faces earnest with concentration – pouring, mixing and playing about with the gum nuts and leaves and loved the responsibility of undertaking the project with little or no interference from adults.
The Point Preschool is inspirational. It has won many awards for the work it does in championing sustainability and natural playspaces. It has a very strong commitment to the environment and education for sustainability. As many of you know, the aim of education for sustainability is to promote a sense of responsibility, respect, empowerment, active participation, enquiry and social change. Education for sustainability focuses on biodiversity (nature connections, gardens and animals), environmental health (chemical reduction, pest management, food) and resources (water and energy use, waste minimisation).
As Catherine, the Director of the preschool says, “Early childhood is a great time to involve children in education for sustainability and develop life long practices to ensure the respect and protection of our planet. We believe a sense of wonder, belonging to and love of the natural environment, living things and animals is critical for young children to develop lifelong respectful, positive and proactive attitudes towards protecting our environment, caring for all living creatures and creating a sustainable environment.” I couldn’t agree with her more.
So rather than have Dad and the kids head to the shops, why not encourage them to head outside to find the perfect Mother’s Day gift or better still, have them try the potpourri? Playoutdoors bliss.
Welcome to number #2 in the series "Plants kids can play with“.
This week we feature the majestic Liquidambar styraciflua. Also known as Sweet Gum, it is native to eastern North America. However, it is also a common tree here in Australia in large private gardens, public parks and gardens and streetscapes (in temperate areas). So why and how do kids play with such an large tree?
First of all it sits somewhere near royalty in the climbing stakes: When I was a little child we had an enormous Liquidambar in our front garden. Its branches were in all the right places and the shadowy crown acted as the perfect hideout. I was convinced it was my very own Magic Faraway Tree. My sisters and I could get to the very top as the branches were strong and oh, the view! Everything was dragged up this tree over the years, including a full tea set, blankets and pillows and our dog which was no mean feat as she was a Bassett Hound. My children are now very lucky to have three Liquidambars in our garden at the farm. These trees have strengthened their beautiful little bodies as they scramble up and down, helped with gross and fine motor skills and provided hours of ‘babysitting’ duty for me.
The leaves, being palmate in shape provide a myriad of craft opportunities. We have used them for stencilling leaf ‘hands or people’, making clothes for peg-dolls, used them in our sets for fairy play/capture/attraction and used the leaf tips when making ‘baby birds’.
In autumn, the leaves come into their own. From a muddy yellow, through to a pearly black and all the colours in between, the Liquidambar puts on a beautiful display as autumn progresses. We have spent hours trying to match (on paper) the various colours found on the tree. Whether kids manage to match the colour or not is incidental; just encouraging them to explore the concept of colour in this way is great fun. And when the tree loses its leaves altogether, we spend time sketching the ‘skeleton’, or outline of the tree on wintery afternoons.
And then there are the conkers. Oh the wretched conkers! When forming they make perfect earrings or a ‘bullet’ to shoot out of a home-made popgun. We’ve used them as counters and also painted them to make natural ‘marbles’. Once dried, however, the conkers are wicked spiky things, lurking in the grass just waiting for an unsuspecting foot to land on it with force. I estimate probably 40% of the Australian population has done exactly this at some point. However, the dried conkers do have an upside. They can be used as ‘stamps’ to dip in paint and roll around on bits of paper to make funky squiggles and shapes on the page. They also burn beautifully in the fireplace over winter.
If you have some space in your garden, consider this tree. If you don’t, take a walk around your neighbourhood and you are sure to come across them. Just watch out for the conkers!
Some months of the year evoke more memories than others don’t they? When I was a child I used to love sitting at the kitchen table with my mother making clove pomanders in December. My little fingers had to work hard to push the spiky cloves into an orange but the resultant decorations were well worth it. Mum was a firm believer that they also kept silverfish at bay, but I’m not so sure. No matter its application, the rich scent of that little circle wafting from the table smelt, well, “happy” to me. To this day, I always think of my beautiful mother when I see a jar of cloves, let alone smell them. And together with cinnamon, nutmeg (or mace) it evokes memories of good times, home as haven and the tingling feeling that Christmas is not far away…
Many pot potpourris have the same effect on me. Considered a bit old fashioned by some, my kids and I still love making the occasional batch, because it is dead easy to do and there are no particular rules as to how one goes about it.
Given I am always looking for a way to mix the outdoors with the indoors, I devised an Australian twist on a Christmas potpourri using Gumnuts as one of the main ingredients:
You will need to head outdoors and find a good selection of dried gumnuts, (or other interesting seed pods), a handful of orange leaves (and if possible orange flowers) and then head back inside and find:
1 firm orange
1-2 teaspoons or Orris Root powder
a few cinnamon quills
a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
a handful of cloves
drops of orange blossom oil
drops of cinnamon oil
Dry the orange leaves and flowers on a cake rack in a light airy spot for a week or so until crisp to the touch.
Slice the orange into thin rings around ½ cm in width. Rub with some orris root powder. Place on a cake tray in a cool oven (around 120 degrees Celsius) until the orange has dried and become crisp without burning. Remove and cool completely.
In a decorative bowl of your child’s choice, combine the cinnamon quills, cloves, gumnuts and dried orange leaves, flowers and segments. Now gently transfer the mixture into a large paper bag and add the orris root powder. Hold the bag closed and gently toss the ingredients so the orris root is distributed evenly. You really should store this away for a month or so, but we’ve never had the patience for that.
Empty the contents of the paper bag back into your bowl and sprinkle with a few drops of each of the essential oils. Every month or so, you might need to add a few more drops of oil.