On a recent holiday to Kangaroo Island, Eli and I were following my husband’s family to a picnic spot several hundred metres up the road. Without even thinking I whipped Eli up, put him on my hip and started the walk in the heat. My father-in-law challenged me and said, “Aw put him down Mum, he can walk, a boy needs to walk!”
“If you don’t mind waiting a few years,” I replied as I reluctantly put my 15 month old on the ground. I couldn’t have expected what happened next.
Eli gravitated instantly towards the bush and scrubland on the side of the road where he found a lovely fine leaved fern and sat down. I looked around to say to my family, “See, see, this is going to take ages!” But I chose to stand and watch him and this is what I discovered.
Eli touched all the fine leaves of the fern exploring their delicate texture and lush green colour, then pulled off a piece. He turned around to show me and said, “Wow!” I knelt down and shared in his wonder. Eli got up and walked a metre further down the road and found another fern of the same type. I watched him study those leaves and he compared it to the little sample he had in his hand. Then he pointed to the original plant with an affirming grunt as if to say, it’s the same. I agreed, “Yes it’s the same, it’s the same!” We found another plant further down that was also the same and he spent time looking at the three ferns, studying and picking the leaves.
After giving him enough time to explore we both walked to the picnic spot on foot. I gave my father-in-law a big hug and said, “Thank you for encouraging me to let Eli walk as we just shared a most wonderful moment.”
Even though I know the little things are the most important moments, I find that when I’m tired and busy, I actually need reminders and encouragement to spend this time. It’s scary.
This month my sister, Trudi Bennett (who co-founded Educated by Nature), took Eli (18 months) out to a local wetland on a location scouting trip. I was happy that he got the opportunity to go out exploring the bush because we hadn’t been properly in nature since our holiday in Kangaroo Island a couple of months ago. They arrived home sweating sunscreen and my beautiful ‘tornado’ was back emptying the kitchen draws and running around the living room. Trudi showed me a video of their experience at the lake. I was amazed!
Here was my son, my active veracious tornado with the attention span of a flea, sitting down by a lake on his own accord, entranced by reeds blowing in the wind. I couldn’t believe he was sitting still for so long. He got up, touched the reeds, sat back down and continued to watch them peacefully. I saw a moment when he stopped exploring, sat down, his shoulders dropped, he let out a deep breath and he truly looked relaxed and at peace. It was beautiful to watch. My sister asked how often we go out to the bush together. I tentatively replied, saying that we usually go to parks with playgrounds instead of more natural spaces. Even though it is my philosophy to encourage Eil to connect with nature, limit superficial stimulation and allow him to create his own imaginative play, I haven’t yet developed a routine in nature. It’s strange that as a mother I feel pressured and guilty if I don’t take Eli to the park (playground). I sometimes feel that I’m not a good mother if I’m not giving him that childhood experience. Media and TV ads tell us how we need these manufactured things to help develop our child’s growth.
This week I took Trudi’s advice, I took my son to Bibra Lake and we avoided all playgrounds. I even went as far as parking on the verge so he couldn’t see one. What a wonderful time we had! Jumping, making snow angels and throwing dried fallen leaves from the gums above; finding fallen branches and using them as a broom to sweep up fallen leaves; playing games of hide and seek and peek a boo behind trees; climbing over a fallen log; and breast-feeding under a canopy of beautiful tall trees. Then his favourite, the magic of blowing dandelion seeds. He spent 15 minutes in wonder, squealing in delight and watching them float in the air.
Ultimately this is the reason why I am so excited that these nature playgroups are finally starting. My son and I, and many of my mothers’ group friends, are wanting the safe opportunities and encouragement to be reminded of how to play in the bush. To rediscover the importance of instilling sense of wonder in children, being outside, connecting to nature and using our imagination. I know these things will bring about qualities that I want to see in my child, the ability to respect animals and the environment and not needing constant entertainment, to be calm. Through the Mud Pies Nature Play group I feel confident that children can be engaged and calmly stimulated through nature.
Claire van der Merwe