07 Apr Getting Kids Into Nature
Caroline Webster, author and founder of the blog Caro & Co, chats to us about motherhood and encouraging unstructured play in kids; getting them off technology and exploring the outdoors instead and about her mother’s recent brush with COVID.
Can you tell us about yourself and your childhood?
My life is full but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have two teenagers who perplex and amaze me in equal measure. I believe it’s essential to keep children engaged with the world around them, and vital to foster creativity, imagination and resilience in all children.
I grew up on a typical ¼ acre block in suburban Melbourne and I remember making cubby houses amongst the plants in our garden or up our trees. We had an enormous Liquidambar in the front garden. I think I spent more time up there than I did inside! We also had a perpetually muddy lane beside our home, which was the perfect place for mud pies and puddle jumping.
I don’t ever remember Mum having to encourage me to play outdoors; I was always outside. But this was pre-technology – I didn’t have a television until I was about 8 or 9. Forget mobile phones or computers!
With little else to do, outdoors quickly became my ‘go-to’ place to explore, learn and have fun.
We were also lucky enough to go to a friend’s farm each Christmas holidays… Bliss!
My writing focuses on getting kids into the kitchen, food and food sources, gardens and gardening, nature and outdoors, animals, photography, technology and how to effectively balance a child’s use of that technology with real-life experiences. Hence my book; Caro & Co: Helping Kids Find Wonder in the Everyday.
We can all get so caught up (even our children) with the digital age nowadays. How do you balance your children’s time and yourself with digital-based activities vs. non-digital activities?
We have at least one 24-hour digital free period each week. It’s remarkable how quickly the family will adapt to having no devices about. It’s a time I treasure. I also demand that we have dinner together each evening sans technology. And of course, I’d advocate simply going outside and going for a walk each day is something we should all be doing.
How do you inspire your kids to play outdoors more?
By remembering I am the parent and that it’s okay just to turf them out. They will whine for about 10 minutes but they will quickly find their own fun in no time.
I have always found that if you mix the magical into the practical, children are far more likely to want to spend time outside.
That is, suggest that there are fairies or dragons about or that you’ve seen a troll lurking in the garage. Make outdoors a time that children get excited about by repeating to your children that there is always something new to learn, discover and engage with. I also believe it’s important to let them discover by themselves.
How can we inspire kids to turn off their technology and get outdoors?
One of the easiest is to take their technology outside. For example, encourage them to lie under a tree with their device. I can guarantee that within 10 minutes they’ll be playing up the tree without the technology. Or set them a regular task outside. It might be walking the dog, washing the car, mowing the lawn. Try and find a spot in your home for a veggie garden. It doesn’t need to be on a grand scale – a few pots at the back door or on a balcony will do. Give them the responsibility of planting, tending and harvesting it.
Again, mixing technology with the outdoors can be very effective and help give them an ongoing love of spending more time outside. For example, head outside with their devices and set them a photography challenge. Give them a subject; it can just be a word such as “red”, “autumn”, “leaves” and have them photograph everything they can see that relates to that subject. They can then print out their photos and make a collage.
They could also be encouraged to start a “found” collection. Starting a “found” collection and using the finds to create a pretty indoor display or for use in nature craft is my all-time favourite. Leaf and flower pressing or painting is also great fun.
How can families living in city areas include the outdoors more in their everyday?
A simple walk around your suburb is a great place to start. Head to your local park regularly. Do a bit of research and find some good, nearby bush walks (it doesn’t have to be an all-out attack on a national park!), head to your local beach or river. Some urban cemeteries are truly beautiful – they are little green pockets of nature and full of history to boot!
On that note. What would you include in a kids nature explorer kit?
A magnifying glass, a couple of small plastic airtight jars, a sketch pad and pencil, a small camera, a small headlamp, string, matches and a penknife (age dependent), water, Band-Aids, a compass, a small local flora and fauna identification book and some sunscreen!
Do you stick to any particular daily routines or habits?
I aim for a long walk in the morning with the kids and the dogs at least three times a week. My kids (being teens) could sleep all day, so sometimes this can be tricky! I also do the crossword every single day, accompanied by a strong cup of Yorkshire Tea. Other than that my days are fairly haphazard and varied.
Your book talks about kids discovering wonder again. What are some things that parents and adults can do to activate their sense of wonder again?
Try and see the world as young children do – their world is a constantly wondrous place, no matter what they are doing as they are always learning and exploring (both indoors and outside). Think of the things that give you joy and try and factor them into your life more regularly. Try to worry less, laugh more and never, ever take yourself too seriously.
Caroline ‘Caro’ Webster is an author and founder of the blog Caro & Co. She lives in Sydney, NSW with her husband Robert, and two children Grace, and Angus. She has a book published called; Caro & Co: Helping Kids Find Wonder In The Everyday. Caroline is passionate about the slow-life method of parenting, encouraging community and supporting Aussie farmers. You can find more of Caroline’s work via her blog, Instagram, Facebook + Twitter.