Category Archives: Play

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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Filed under Australia, Cooking, Family, Food, Health, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play

How to do nothing and enjoy it…

A rerun of a post I wrote in December last year. Still as accurate this year…..

In Australia, for many, December means celebrating Christmas, hot days, gifts, reconnection and relaxation, family, more hot days and approximately 9 weeks of school holidays. We’re a month into summer and the heat can be oppressive. If you’re lucky and have access to a pool, beach or outback dam, the summer break invariably means much time spent cooling off in the water, perfecting the ultimate ‘bomb’ or dive, hunting for sea creatures in the sparkling depths of rockpools and seaweed forests, or catching yabbies in a muddy dam using nothing other than a bit of string and some pongy meat.

However, unless you shut out all forms of media during December, it can be frustrating to have the festive period defined by mainly European and North American media viewpoints of what the season is. Reindeer, snow (and the associated activities the white stuff brings), hot baked dinners, holly and mistletoe, mulled wine and egg nog all abound, to name just a few. Here in Sydney, these Christmas “markers” repeated in our mainstream media just seem plain silly (and lazy on behalf of the Australian media). Every now and then I’ll see a token picture of Father Christmas on a surfboard but that’s about it.

So I thought I’d share what the summer break means to me and my family. Firstly, school has finished for the year and will not return until some time in February. There’s no homework for up to 9 weeks (a personal favourite of mine); endless stretches of warm days, sea breezes and late nights spent attempting to avoid manic and hungry mosquitoes, whilst watching reruns of ridiculous, yet highly entertaining B-grade movies.

It’s spending most of the day in our bathers eating a vast range of summer fruits such as peaches, nectarines, mangoes, lychees, rambutans, strawberries and raspberries and then washing the sticky juice off your arms and legs whilst running under the sprinkler in the nud. (regardless of age). The rules are relaxed on who sleeps where and at what time one goes to bed. I often wake in the gentle, quiet hours of early morning to find my children sleeping on the couch or verandah with our puppies – it’s a delightful amorphous mass of arms, paws, the occasional snort, whiskers, twitches and general loveliness.

It’s getting up early before the day becomes too warm to walk the puppies but forgetting to change out of your PJ bottoms. And then the flooding sense of relief as you meet other people on the harbour track who’ve done exactly the same thing. It’s the daily opportunity to head to the beach, and later that evening curl up in bed with the salt still scratching your skin; waking the next morning with salt-encrusted bed-head. (This is another favourite of mine as I’m CERTAIN it has to be good for you).

There’s a BBQ to be had every other day, entertaining friends who casually drop in clutching a fine bottle of chilled wine whilst shaking the sand from their toes. There’s fresh seafood to eat, books to read, summer quizzes to ponder in a newspaper that offers little else at this time of the year.

It’s watching with delight as my children take the “shortcut” and scale the backyard fence to go play with their mates. Summer break means that beach cricket will be played, Lilos will be burst, Aloe vera will be applied to “Coppertone” bums and bathroom scales will be pushed under the vanity until January 1st.

And whilst my family doesn’t observe any particular religion, this time of year will inevitably find us lying under a Moreton Bay Fig in Sydney’s iconic Botanic Gardens listening to Christmas Carols whilst flying foxes screech overhead.

What I like best of all though? Sydney’s summer break affords me the perfect opportunity to remind my children of how to do “nothing” and actually enjoy it. Without the distraction of school or work, the likelihood of over-structured time or prescriptive play is reduced tenfold. With no formal learning, no rushing here or there, we find ample opportunity to unplug, reconnect with each other and spend way too much time outside in the sun enjoying all that playing outdoors has to offer. I am convinced that this is the best Christmas gift I can give my children.

To all, a happy festive break. Whatever it means to you and however you celebrate, I hope it brings much joy wherever on our beautiful planet you might be.

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

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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Two children on love, imagination and outdoor magic

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

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Gum Nuts for Mum

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.

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