It was a beautiful warm Sunday for a family stroll in a local nature reserve. The wind gently swayed with the trees, the sun was warm on the face, while a small stream trickled by. It was just perfection, until the moment the toddler pointed at the stream and said ‘dirty’ and mum and dad tacitly agreed and walked on. My heart sank.
I wonder if this is an honest reflection of where most of us sit concerning the natural world. It’s lovely for a Sunday stroll and the plethora of nature programmes kept us, and continue to keep us, sane during the COVID 19 pandemic, but deep down, it’s dirty and we don’t touch. We simply don’t understand the value of the earth in building robust immune systems. Yet, why are rewilding families so critically important at this point?
Ecologists and scientists are increasingly concerned that the emergence of diseases like COVID 19 is linked to the growing exploitation and cruel treatment of the natural environment by humans. Our sophisticated society is building roads into rainforests, mixing species globally and industrialising food production like never before. Have we so lost touch with the value of the natural world to our health, well-being and very survival? Perhaps now is the time to consider the importance of rewilding our families?
What is rewilding?
Rewilding is the belief that when nature is healthy we are healthy because we rely on water, food and air.
Rewilding is an ecological belief that by setting the right conditions, nature can take care of itself. When nature is allowed to follow its natural processes, then damage to ecosystems can be repaired, while wilder and more diverse ecosystems are created.
For a brilliant example of this watch this Youtube video by George Monbiot about the effect of reintroducing Wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
My simple understanding would consider that rewilding is about an underlying attitude or mindset, that as human beings we are not here to dominate and control the natural world, rather we reconnect and partner with it.
Why rewilding families is important?
Overall, this generation is the most indoor in history. We spend an inordinate amount of time indoors and disconnected from the natural environment. Parents seek to protect their children by keeping them inside or providing a varied diet of pre-programmed activities that are deemed safe and controlled. Yet, our homes can be full of harmful chemicals from man-made fabrics to cleaning chemicals. The most dangerous thing as adults we allow into our homes is the internet. There may be countless safety and parental controls in place, but internet bullying and grooming is increasing. This belays the lie that inside the home is ‘safe’ and outside is either ‘dirty’ or ‘dangerous’
The responsibility for redressing this balance and ‘rewilding’ family is for the adults alone. It is our beliefs and attitudes that influence the younger generation. So why should you step out into the natural world?
Connecting with nature has been shown to support good mental health, well-being and improve the body’s immune system. Free unstructured time in nature support’s a child’s physical and creative development. Family unstructured time in nature is vital for building strong parent-child bonds.
Things you can do to rewild your family
In all of these simple suggestions, there is a principle to be applied, which for us adult dominating humans is to partner and connect with our younger generation so that we all learn to partner and connect with nature.
Put simply: adults, many things about making a family connection to nature are about doing things with children and not for them.
- Spend part of the day outside. This can be as simple as spending a little time outside during your lunch break or finding a local green space for daily walks. During the lockdown, I found comfort sitting under one solitary tree across the road from my Mum’s house.
- Go out in all weathers – ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing’ Wrapping up warm, wearing the right footwear and clothing means that a rainy, windy or snowy day can be enjoyed equally as much as a sunny one. Some of the most enjoyable times I have spent outside with children have been on wet rainy days. We were all dressed for the inclement weather and armed with clipboards and paper to undertake some important fieldwork. But within five minutes the paper had disintegrated. We spent a couple of hours exploring and jumping in every puddle we could find. We guesstimated the size and depth of puddles, talked about how long they might exist and how we could make them disappear more quickly. Yes, we returned soaking wet, but wet clothing was quickly removed. We had towels to dry ourselves, hot drinks to warm us through and big smiles along with comments that that had been the best day ever.
- Take a dusk walk – Take some torches and head into the garden or to a wood or a beach. Spend time listening to the sounds as evening falls. Perhaps you could have a family challenge on a clear night and see who can be the first one to see a star or an easily recognisable constellation like the plough. Wrap up warm, take a few blankets and a groundsheet to lie, then lie back and watch the stars emerge.
- Climb trees – I love the bit in the film the sound of music, where Captain Von Trapp returns home and passes what he thinks are village children climbing trees. Only to realise they are his children. Fraulein Maria, modelled freedom for them by climbing trees and gave them the clothes to do it in. Adults, it’s up to you. Climb trees with the children in your care and see what happens. I guarantee, the children will love it and they may even help you get down if you get stuck!
- Observe the natural world close up – gardens, parks, beaches are teaming with plant and animal life. A couple of id books or phone apps and some magnifying glasses can provide hours of enjoyment. As an adult, I decided that it was time I could name a few native trees. So I bought a tree identification book and took it with me on my walks. I will admit to a huge amount of pleasure when I identified an Ash tree from its winter bud.
- Play in mud – Permit children to get dirty. You can do this by providing clothes for that purpose.
- Build dens – It is surprising what a couple of old sheets and some rope can be turned into. A box of things can be left in the garden for children to use, developing their creativity, and problem-solving skills. Adults might want to show the children what to do first and help out with some knots, but after that leave the major building to them. If you’ve never built a den before, perfect! You can learn together.
- Go camping – as a family take an adventure and spend a night under canvas.
- Winter barbecue – A memorable experience for me was a barbecue on the beach in November to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We took hot soup, cooked burgers and lit a fire to keep us warm. As we stood together on the beach, we had the rare experience of seeing a faint glimmer of the northern lights. It was a magical experience. Before we left, we removed all traces of our presence. We took home what we had brought, extinguished the fire with seawater and scattered the ashes.
- Grow something to eat – It’s really easy to grow mustard and cress on a window sill and quick to turn it into a sandwich. Seeds are available everywhere. Another thing to try is a seedsprouter. The shoots are highly nutritious. I have no garden at the moment, so this is what I am experimenting with. If you have a garden, then have you thought about growing carrots?
This is the seedsprouter that was given to me as a Christmas present. It is really easy to use and takes up little space on a work surface. I must say that my partner and I took a great deal of interest each day watching to see if anything had sprouted. There was a tingle of excitement when something did. It would make a simple and nature connected present for Christmas or a birthday. Why not give it a go?
This is an affiliate link, so if you do click on the image and buy the seedsprouter, I would receive a small commission. This would not affect the cost to you. Thank you
- Wild Forage – the easiest and most perfect thing to forage is blackberries. By late summer the hedgerows are teeming with them. Local blackberries are sweeter than shop bought and free. Just make sure you leave plenty for the birds.
- Watch/listen to birds – The song of a blackbird, in particular, kept me going this spring. I loved his daily concert from the silver birch tree in the garden. There are many bird watching sanctuaries where it is possible to while away a few hours.
- Pond dip – in rock pools or ponds.
- Hang up a bird feeder – I put a simple bird feeder outside my front window. Seeing the range of birds that arrived gave me a huge amount of pleasure. I went from only recognising Blackbirds and Robins to various members of the Tit family, Nuthatches, Chaffinches and a Green Woodpecker. The bird feeder increased my interaction with nature and was such a simple thing to do. It is such a lovely way to capture the interest of children.
- Rewild your garden – leave holes under the fence for hedgehogs, let some of the lawn grow long. Plant flowers that bees and butterflies love and leave a few weeds for insects.
As our normal everyday life has now been turned upside down with the advent of the COVID pandemic, many more of us are facing the challenges of working from home and an altogether different type of routine. Yet, whether you work from home or not, how do we make time for nature and why should you? Here are my tips and suggestions for building time with nature into your everyday life.
I have to learn to live with life and not try to work against it. But how and where can I learn? I think I have found a teacher in the natural world. The rhythm and cycle of nature show me if I am prepared to listen.