Category Archives: Health

Nature as Art Teacher – building resilience and lasting memories

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.

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Filed under Art and Craft, Australia, Books and reading, Family, Health, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Play

Beetles, Oreos and Ivory Curls – sharing small joys

Early this morning my daughter and I set off on a walk. Grey clouds and rain loomed but we were determined to a) exhaust our puppies and b) find some funky things to add to our found collection. As we walked, conversation fell to sharing and the different ways in which one can do this. We talked a lot about sharing information (as opposed to a hug or a packet of Oreos). Grace understands that her parents and teachers shares information with her each day but that information exchange is also a constant occurrence in our lives; be it good, sad, joyous, practical or subliminal and so on…

We then decided that during our walk we would find things to share with friends. This is what we found. It’s not much, but it made us feel very happy.

The sound of Kookaburras for Bethe warning us this morning of the impending rain, their unique voice echoing around our streets. This is only because we couldn’t find any squirrels or hear anyone calling for Alan

A gang of Harlequin Beetles, up to some kind of mischief, for Eleanor and Paul because I know they treasure the environment, as much as all my friends do.

A truly beautiful Buckinghamia celsissima or Ivory Curl Tree for Alison. It is one of my favourite Australian plants. Flowering predominantly in late summer the stunning flowers are white to cream and occur in large racemes up to 200 mm long. Their scent is a soft and evocative mix of talcum powder and Yellow Box honey.

Some Gum Nuts for Karen because trees speak to her and also to remind her of what she will see a LOT of come March.

One Hibiscus for Kylee. We know she likes them. What she may not know is that the stamen and stigma (stamenal column) of this beautiful flower makes a perfect broom for fairies.

Why not take a walk around your neighbourhood and see what you can find to share with friends and family. xx

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Filed under Australia, Family, Gardening, Health, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play

Go play! In the kitchen with kids

I regularly contribute to a great Melbourne radio station, LightFM and this morning I chatted to Luke and Lucy about being in the kitchen with kids and how much fun and educational it can be for everyone. Here’s a little of what we spoke about, including some easy-to-do recipes to inspire your child using the senses as a starting point.

Being in the kitchen can really get the senses of young children buzzing. Think sound, sight, smell, touch, taste. But how do you make it fun for everyone? The greatest tip I can give is to involve your child in as much of the preparation of every meal as possible. Try hard not to underestimate their ability*. I have been guilty of this in the past but now constantly encourage my children to “have a go”. I’m also a firm believer that time in the kitchen with kids needs to be wild, noisy, messy, fun (and just a little rude) and as an adult, you need to give yourself over to an afternoon of mild chaos.

TASTE

This is my all time favourite. I’m sure it’s how my mother got me to eat and love celery. Grate some carrot and finely chop some celery stalks. Take two pieces of bread. Smother with peanut butter; add a layer of raspberry jam, a layer of grated carrot and a layer of chopped celery. Heaven. A rainbow sandwich! Every child I’ve ever presented this too has loved it. But more so if they are involved in the preparation of it. It’s not the healthiest option, but once a month or so, I don’t think it can hurt and it’s a taste and textural wowsa. If your child has a nut allergy, substitute the peanut butter with hummous or tahini.

SIGHT

Fruit skewers Summer is the perfect time to have fun with fruit. Take some strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, canteloupe, rockmelon, pineapple, some edible flowers such as nasturtium or basil, some mint leaves and thread alternately onto a skewer. Then eat! So pretty and colourful – just like a rainbow. You can dip into yogurt or BBQ them for extra zing.

Smoothies There’s nothing like the pure vibrant colours produced by smoothies. Bright pink for strawberries, “Hare Krishna” orange for mangoes, bright green for kiwi fruit, although strangely bananas don’t translate – they just turn an insipid beige. Kids love making smoothies and they are a healthy option. If your child is lactose intolerant, use ice instead of milk and cream. Still delicious.

Cakes Buy a good quality cake mix or if you have time, bake a cake from scratch. I’ve never met a child under 8 who doesn’t ADORE making a cake. Let them loose with the food dye and cake decorating becomes a rainbow/sight extravaganza.

SMELL

The smells of the kitchen can be fantastic and intriguing. Spend an afternoon exploring those smells whilst blindfolded. Include some of the yukkier smells such as the garbage bin or dog bowl. It’s great fun, I promise…

TOUCH

You can’t really go past jelly here. It’s just so wobbly and easy for kids to make. Add some chopped up fruit to the cooling jelly for extra fun. There are low fat versions nowadays that taste pretty good.

Making your own playdough is also great fun and the added bonus of making your own (free of chemicals and preservatives) is that you don’t need to worry too much if your kid decides to taste test! There are many recipes around but I think I have the perfect one. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll email you the recipe.

SOUND

Kids love noise. Remember that cooking can make great theatre. Very little children can bang the saucepans and spoons together or stack and unstack plastic containers. Fill up some containers with different items and encourage them to shake them to hear the different noises. Older kids will love getting involved in the actual process of cooking and thrill to the loud cacophony of noises produced by grinding, whizzing, pounding or beating.

Pesto pasta Pick some basil (at its best during summer), a large handful of pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, some extra virgin olive oil, a handful of grated parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon and a good dash of salt and pepper. Don’t bother chopping any of it. Simply pop it all into a food processor or blender and whizz until it forms a paste. Adjust your quantities until you’ve achieved a consistency and taste to suit. Boil some pasta, spoon into bowls, add a few dollops of your pesto on top and voila! A quick, easy and healthy summer meal. The kids can do every part of making the pesto. They can pick the basil and pull the leaves from the stems (I tend to use the stems too), peel the garlic, pour the oil, chop and squeeze the lemon, grate the cheese and add the salt and pepper. Most enjoyable for them, however, will be controlling the blender!

There’s nothing like the sound of popcorn pinging around the inside of a microwave. Buy a bag of popcorn kernels, some brown paper bags and you’re ready to go. Popcorn, lightly salted is an excellent, healthy addition to any school box.

Mashed potatoes Such a simple thing to do and most kids love mashed spuds. Wash, peel and chop up some potatoes. Add to a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain, add butter and a little milk. Set too with the masher. Have them listen to the squishing pounding noises. Even better if you have a bamix. Again the kids can do every part of this. They can peel and chop the potatoes, pour the cold water into the saucepan and add the potatoes. Probably best you drain the potatoes from the boiling water. Then the kids can add the butter and milk and mash. Even more exciting for children if you have a bamix to hand. Top with some chopped chives, mint or parsley.

* When kids are in the kitchen only their parents and carers truly know their child’s ability or developmental stage. So be guided by this. For example, if little Johnny isn’t yet proficient with a knife, give him a gentler, safer task or a blunt knife…. Giving them their own set of cooking implement, including an apron is a good idea.

Enjoy….

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Summer joy – king prawn, nectarine and feta salad

With thanks to the Good Weekend supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald and one of their contributing chefs Neil Perry for publishing this on 29 January 2011.

The flavours in this salad combine in a delightfully fresh, summery kind of way. It’s healthy, low fat, and perfect for children. In fact I’d suggest getting the kids involved in the preparation as well as the eating of this salad.

King prawn, nectarine and feta salad

12 large cooked king prawns, peeled and cut in half lengthways
1 baby cos lettuce, washed and dried
2 heads of treviso or red witlof, washed and dried
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe nectarines, cut into circular slices
100g good-quality feta
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, lightly crushed**

Dressing:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp hazelnut oil (optional)
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small jar, shake the dressing ingredients together. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. In a salad bowl, place the treviso (or witlof), baby cos and red onion and dress with half the dressing. Divide the leaf mix among 4 bowls, laying it out to look attractive. Scatter the prawns and nectarine slices over the leaves, then crumble the feta on top. Sprinkly with the roasted hazelnuts and season with a little sea salt and a good grind of fresh pepper. Drizzle the remaining dresssing over the salads. Serve immediately.

** I couldn’t find hazelnuts so substituted with a mix of pine nuts and walnuts, lightly toasted and gently crushed. I also just made one big salad and let people serve themselves rather than apportioning onto individual plates.

Delicious!

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Colour play fun… but in the kitchen?

Colour is everywhere! Grey days, rainbows, autumn leaves, impossibly blue skies, brilliant pink flowers, murky brown mud or an expanse of green lawn. My children and I have had great adventures exploring the concept of colour during our time outside. To be honest though, I’d never really thought about introducing lessons on colour into our kitchen.

Which is why it was utterly delightful last night when my 7 year old made the realisation that her favourite colour (purple) was taking precedence in the evening meal. There was a shimmering deep purple eggplant. An incredibly beautiful home-grown cabbage. Spring asparagus, with a blush of purple at the tips. Squealing with delight, my daughter then raced about pulling together every hue of purple she could find in the house. It was quite the collection: A large purple platter, a beautiful Iris from the garden along with some sprigs of the pretty plant “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” (Brunfelsia grandiflora). A couple of books, pens and colouring pencils, a skipping rope, hairbrush, a watch, and on it went. She even reminded me of the picture of her friend on page 122 of my book, Small Fry Outdoors!

We happily chatted together whilst preparing dinner about primary, secondary and tertiary colours and whether Indigo was blue or a deep shade of purple. It was great fun and needless to say, she ate every last scrap of the family meal.

Oh, and the meal? Eggplant and haloumi stacks, grass-fed scotch fillet steak sitting atop blanched purple cabbage with spring asparagus on the side. A squeeze of lime, freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of sea salt completed a beautiful, healthy meal.

I’d love to hear how you have ‘played’ with the concept of colour in your home or during your time outdoors. x

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Plants kids can play with #3 A Seuss plant

This week’s plant was chosen by my 7 year old daughter. In her words, “Mummy, you should write about Marigolds. They always look sunny, sometimes funny and I like eating them too.” As that sounded Seuss-like to me, how could I argue? So here’s our tribute to the humble French Marigold (Tagetes patula) and some tips and ideas on how kids can have fun with this sweet plant.

With only a little bit of love and lots of sun, French Marigolds will reward you with a splash of colour from mid-spring through to late autumn and sometimes beyond. In Sydney, we’ve had success growing them during our mild (generally frost-free) winters. Virtually foolproof they can be grown from both seed and seedling.

Given the rapidity with which they grow and the fact that they are also so quick to flower, they are a very rewarding choice for the often impatient young gardener. They can be grown in containers, pots, old toys and the garden itself (mass plant for a stunning effect). We’ve even grown them in a pair of old shoes.

So where’s the play to be had with this plant?

Go hunting in the toy cupboard and find a toy that has seen better days. Old tonka trucks are ideal. Encourage your child to fill the truck with potting mix, plant the seedlings, water gently and voila, instant Marigold patch.

If your child already tends a vegetable plot, suggest that they plant some Marigold seedlings throughout the area. Known as a companion plant, they’ll send insects such as White Fly packing from your fruit and veggies.

Marigolds come in a range of sizes and colours (warm-hot on the colour wheel) so grab some colouring in pencils, pick a few blooms and let your kids explore the concept of mixing primary colours to create some (secondary and tertiary) masterpieces.

Pick individual petals for use as hair or a skirt in a “nature drawing”.

Pick the blooms and make a flower salad (combine with other flowers such as Nasturtium, Basil, Rocket, Viola, Rose, edible Sages and Lavenders). The taste of Marigolds is a bit peppery, with the petals themselves having the mildest flavour.

Encourage your child to pick the petals to sprinkle over their meal to add a bit of zing! They look fantastic sprinkled over rice and pasta dishes or dips such as hummous. (The leaves can also be added to salads or steamed for use as a green vegetable).

Play “the smelling game“. Along with some Marigolds, pick a couple of other plants with noticeable scents (eg. rosemary, roses, chocolate mint, basil -basically anything “smelly” you can find) and place them all in a box with a lid – a shoebox is ideal. Blindfold your child and have them pick out the plants one by one and try to identify the plant by smell (and/or feel). Marigolds have a pungent, earthy scent. My daughter describes it as smelling “like a carrot that’s just been pulled“.

Well that’s it for this week. I hope you find a little bit of #playoutdoors fun in each and every day.

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Dragon poo, nasturtiums and why we need both…

Yesterday my daughter and I spent most of the day in our small suburban garden, planting, pruning, weeding and watering. For young children, everyday tasks such as these can be ‘teeeedious’ which is why I try to mix a little magic in with the mundane whenever I’m outside with my kids. In doing so, I’ve found that they are far more likely to engage with nature and are then happy to help out with boring garden tasks. With some forward-planning (and a trip to my local nursery), our back garden was turned into a haven for fairies, a hideout for gnomes and the stomping ground of a large but, thankfully, benevolent dragon.

Whilst watering we found a beautiful fairy pond in a nasturtium leaf and picked some of the flowers to add to our salad for lunch. We also harvested some delicious fresh chillies from a plant sown into our garden a month ago. It is now laden with chillies of every colour and has by its very beauty encouraged my daughter to explore spicier flavours.

Not far from this plant we unearthed a cheeky looking Gnome who seemed quite content to hang out amongst some Violets. Gnomes are funny creatures. You either love ’em or hate ’em, but let me give you the tip, when a child discovers one by chance and you hear the resultant squeal of glee and witness the huge smiles radiating from a 6 year old; I guarantee that you’ll tolerate even the most kitsch Gnome face smiling up from the greenery.

When mowing the lawn we found a hole that had obviously been scraped out by a very large creature. We suspected a dragon and our theory was confirmed when not much further along we located some dragon poo (small white pebbles) neatly piled up under a lavender bush. This dragon was obviously trying hard to cover his tracks, but no such luck when you have an eager dragon-hunter hot on your heels.

Probably the highlight of the day was discovering some precious fairy glitter left on my daughter’s tomato plant. We have collected this and will add it to our found collection of nature’s treasures, unless of course, the fairies come asking for it.

The cost of providing the ‘set’ for this outdoor magic was minimal – a bag of white pebbles, one ceramic gnome, one chilli plant, a willingness to dig a hole in my lawn, a pot of gold glitter glue and a cardboard box. The upside is I now have a willing helper who is keen to weed the garden with me when she gets home from school later today.

The outdoors is where imagination and discovery collide in the most spectacular fashion. Mother Nature’s secrets are just begging to be discovered and what’s more, she is a brilliant, patient teacher and your child a willing student. Everything outdoors is pure magic. Encourage your child to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the magic in the mundane, the enchantment in the everyday and the word boring will vanish from your child’s vocabulary…….

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