Sticks and Stones…

…make really good toys!

There’s been a bout of conjunctivitis going round Tom’s nursery and, when I picked him up last Thursday, it was clear he had succumbed to it. Which meant he couldn’t go to nursery on Friday. Working from home with a toddler, especially one who is not really sick, is a far different thing from working at home with a baby who can’t yet reach your keyboard. Clearly, if I was to get anything done some of Ton’s energy needed to be run off first.

We’ve been working on building him a mud kitchen for the garden, so it seemed like a perfect time to gather up some natural materials to go in it. So off we headed, with an old plastic bag in tow, to gather up some stones from our local patch of woodland.

Tom though this was a great game, once I’d explained what we were doing. Although he was rather too keen to empty everything back out of the bag at various intervals throughout our walk.


Once we had collected a fair number, we headed home to try out their potential.

They were put into boxes and emptied out. Dipped into plant pots and awkwardly stacked on top of each other. Thrown onto the paving stones to make a clunk and banged against tables. In short, stones are awesome.


So awesome that Tom kept bringing me his shoes and coat at various points throughout the weekend so we could go back out to play with them again.

Hurray for stones! (And sticks which have provided many a diversion when out on walks)


A Smell of Spring?

Is it just me, or is there more than a hint of Spring in the air? I mean, this has been the most ridiculously mild winter anyway, but the last few days have definitely smelt pretty Spring-like.

Tom and I were out on the Marshes on Wednesday, enjoying the afternoon sun after a rather wet morning. There was still a bit of a chilly wind blowing, but otherwise it was a lovely mild day. The kind that makes you want to explore.


We had a great afternoon of nature play. Tom found a feather, which he then made me carry for the rest of the walk. 


We stopped by a while by some fallen logs, which were perfect for prodding and climbing on.


Tom got a bit tired of walking towards the end, so hopped back in the buggy for the final loop towards home. We passed hawthorn bushes with fresh young leaves just starting to appear, and this blossom laden tree.


I know it’s not the end of winter quite yet, but I couldn’t help starting to make plans for when the weather is warmer…picnics and day trips and weekends in my mum’s garden. It’s that optimism that comes with the first signs of Spring.

Of course, these early signs, along with all the extreme weather we’ve experienced this winter, likely relate to climate change. Which is a dampening thought. But I still can’t stop myself from enjoying the thought of the changing seasons.


Barriers to Wild Time #2: Risk Averse Culture


Like every parent, I started worrying about Tom from the moment I knew I was pregnant. Once he was born, that worry only intensified. He was so small and so vulnerable and the world seemed so full of things that could harm him.

Thankfully, I am surrounded by very practical, down-to-earth people. And some (long) time after Tom’s birth, I emerged from the sea of overprotective-new-mother hormones with at least some of my rational faculties still intact. That doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t still in my mouth every time I watch him making his perilous way upstairs, or negotiating his way down from the armchair in his room. It just means that I remember to swallow the words ‘watch out’ more often and fight back the urge to interfere.

I really do believe that it is impossible to learn without making some mistakes. Like all new toddlers, learning to walk is meaning a lot of falls for Tom. But I’ve learnt to let him fall (unless it would mean serious injury), because otherwise he will never learn how not to fall. And a kiss and a cuddle soothes most bumps.

This attitude of trusting Tom to be able to learn from his own mistakes has been a great help in overcoming the perception of the risks found in the natural world. Especially when Tom was a bit younger and everything went straight in his mouth. Here are a few things I have found helpful when spending time with a baby outdoors:
1. Taste Safe
When Tom was first able to crawl, and could suddenly escape from the protective blanket to grab everything within reach and try to eat it, I found it really difficult not to snatch every single thing out of his hand. Eventually, I taught myself to differentiate between things that are dangerous (poisonous plants, small stones, dog poo etc), things that are ‘taste safe’ ie. fine to lick but not to swallow, and things that are harmless if swallowed (edible plants such as dandelions, grass, clover etc.) Most things actually fall into the ‘taste safe’ category. Fortunately, most of them also don’t taste good, so are quickly spat back out again. Interestingly, once I relaxed and let Tom mouth more things (keeping an eye out in case it looked like they were about to be swallowed), he soon decided that most things in the park weren’t worth eating. He still likes a good blackberry though and the odd dandelion will occasionally disappear…


2. Embrace the dirt
Along with relaxing about Tom putting everything in his mouth, I have a very chilled out approach to him mucking around in the dirt. Granted, some does get eaten, but only minuscule amounts and there may even be some advantage to this.

3. Pick your Spot
So that Tom can get on with exploring without me jumping on him every few moments, I scout out an area before we settle down. I avoid anywhere I can see dog poo , cigarette butts or large amounts of rubbish, pick up smaller bits of rubbish (I carry a spare plastic bag in my handbag just for this purpose), and try to choose somewhere that has a good amount of space, so I’m not constantly dragging Tom away from a bank of stinging nettles.

4. Allow Some Distance
According to the Nature Play website, most children have a ‘safety line’; a distance which they are prepared to go from you. Experiments with Tom suggest that this line will be just a little bit longer than what you would be comfortable with! However, I have found that he won’t go more than about 5 or 6 metres from me – a distance I can easily cover if he gets into a sticky situation. I can also see most of what he is doing, but am too far away to be tempted to interfere with every little thing. It’s taken some time for me to get used to this, and I am still not entirely comfortable with him being so far away from me, but he has never caused himself any damage and ‘checks in’ with me regularly (glances over to check where I am or comes over to show me something he’s found).

Wild Baby

Ultimately, I think that overcoming our perception of the outside world as ‘risky’ to babies and young toddlers takes time and requires a shift in attitude. Once you see your baby as a capable small being, able to learn from his mistakes and act in his own best interests, it is easier to accept that the risks are not really as great as they first seem.

The Natural Play website has some great advice for enabling babies and toddlers to explore freely outside: