When we go bush walking with our kids, we always come across a multitude of natural loose parts – rocks, stumps, sand, twigs, bark, logs and water to name a few. They come with no specific instructions and the children alone can decide on how to use and/or combine materials. Playing with loose parts can assist in the holistic development of children because:
Loose parts can be adapted and manipulated in many ways, exercising children’s gross and fine motor skills.
Loose parts can be used in any way the children choose, encouraging creativity.
Loose parts encourage open-ended conversations between multiple players, allowing children to practice social, emotional, and language skills.
Loose parts in nature come for free, but we always ask our kids to leave anything they pick up for the creatures, great and small, who may need them. We also don’t have room in the car anyway. Of course, Andrew and I are always at hand to guide play, just in case sticks, turn into ninja nunchucks.
“Giving meaning to loose parts requires us to think about the possibilities of how a child learns and consider the materials and environments she uses. Loose parts create endless possibilities and invite creativity. For example, if a child picks up a rock and starts to play, most likely that rock can become anything the child wants it to be. Imagination, creativity, curiosity, desire, and need are the motivation of loose parts.”
Determined to give the family a break from our routine bushwalks in eucalypt-laden forests (well, okay, we live in Australia), I booked a walking tour at the Muogamarra Nature Reserve in Cowan. Muogamarra is only open to the public six weekends a year, between August to September, when the wildflowers are in bloom. The Reserve is home to over 900 species of native plants, 16 reptiles, and 140 native birds have been sighted here. We got a sense of the Reserve’s popularity when at 9.30 am on the day of our walk, we arrived to an almost full carpark and lined up for maps behind a throng of nature buffs, young and old, all bright, early, and eager to explore.
Decades ago when I was growing up in the Philippines, a distant relative we called Lola [grandma] Eling stayed with us one summer. That summer, Lola Eling took me, my brother, and her grandson on outings with minimal fuss and preparation. Our recent walk at the Bungoona Path and Rawson Parade Trail in the Audley end of the Royal National Park reminded me of the impromptu days out to parks with Lola Eling with just breakfast leftovers neatly tucked in her handbag. One time she just picked up a pot with some leftover rice that was mostly the brown crunchy bit, dumped the leftover fried egg and tuyo [dried fish] inside, wrapped some plates and cutlery in tissue, put all these in a plastic bag, then off we went to rent bikes at the local park. In Lola Eling style, this impromptu walk was agreed to on the day because the track was short and it was near where we had to drop off my sister-in-law, Alicia, anyway. We brought some leftover fruits and crackers from home.
My sister-in law, Alicia, and her partner, Neil, recently joined my family for a winter walk at the Forest Path in the Royal National Park. The Forest Path was built in 1886, seven years after the park was declared a “National Park”. Logging was permitted in the area during the early part of this century, but public pressure led to the cancellation of the logging contracts. The signboards at the start of the walk remind visitors that “These majestic forests remain a memorial for those people who spoke for them.”
Despite having weeks to check out the Wildwalks track notes for the Forest Path, Andrew and I left reading them to the last minute. This meant we ended up being at the wrong entrance to the walk in Audley, while Alicia and Neil were at the correct entrance, closer to Waterfall. The kids were oblivious to the slight mishap. With a stroke of serendipity, Alicia and Neil were able to receive Andrew’s voicemail on our whereabouts before their reception failed and it turned out they had to come back to the NPWS Office in Audley to buy their park entrance ticket anyway.
“Take the day and leave us the moon ‘carpe noctum’ and we will seize the night.” – Atticus
I recently read Richard Louv’s book, Vitamin N, and was inspired to incorporate some of his practical outdoor activities in my family life. I started with the moonwalk: a winter walk on the night of a full moon. Our first moonwalk was on the afternoon of my day off, when the sky was still blue and on the cusp of darkening, with streaks of pink clouds on the horizon. Earlier that afternoon, as I parked into our driveway, I looked back at the rear view mirror hoping that the kids were asleep so we didn’t have to go on the moonwalk in the 9°C weather. The kids were both wide-eyed, twisting and turning, eager to get out of their car seats. With their high-pitched voices they announced that we didn’t have to go on a moonwalk because they could see the moon outside the car window anyway. I assured them that the walk would be quick and that we would bring a flashlight and a scooter. We rummaged through the layers of toys, books, and dirty clothes on their bedroom floor – no flashlight. We took out everything in our boot – no scooter. We just had to make do with what the outdoors had to offer.
It was a sunny winter morning when we decided to stop by Wollstonecraft to explore the Gadyan Track in Berry Island. Berry Island used to be a stand alone island until it was connected to the mainland in the 1960’s through a man-made isthmus of rocks and mud, making the flat picnic area enjoyed by many today. The island contains rock engravings, stone grinding grooves, and middens made by the original occupants of the North Sydney region, the Cammeraygal. To the east of the island lies an Australian Navy establishment and to the west lies a fuel import and storage facility.
The Royal National Park is Australia’s first national park and the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the United States. It was a crisp winter Sunday morning and we started the day lounging at my sister-in-law and her partner’s place in Engadine for a quick visit to return their car that we borrowed last week before heading to the Royal National Park next door. I was so excited to show my kids the ocean-fronting clifftops, the open Pacific Ocean, and coastal heathland that captured me in my twenties but I was met with both of them saying “I don’t like bushwalks,” eyes glued to the TV, intent on finding out how Owlette, Catboy, and Gecko would thwart Romeo’s evil plans. Andrew and I finally succeeded in prying them away from the TV (after all we’re about walking with kids) but it really made me wonder whether they were actually getting anything out of our walks.
After a week of winter rain, I was relieved that the sun finally came out on the last day of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. With our daughter spending the long weekend with my parents, Andrew and I decided to take our two-year-old son for an easy walk to the Nepean Lookout in Glenbrook. The Nepean Lookout boasts stunning views of Fairlight Gorge that was carved by the Nepean River along part of a fault line running along the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains.
The Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills is home to over 100 species of birds being the last remnant of genuine forest in the Sydney Hills District. The Forest was established in 1939 with parts of it naturally regenerated from earlier agricultural clearing and other parts planted as an arboretum. According to the Forestry Corporation, the Dharug, Guringah and Gummeriagal Aboriginal people traditionally visited the Forest.
After a lazy Saturday breakfast of rice bubbles, leftover Thai, and what turned out to be stale peanut butter on toast, our family decided to go on a bushwalk. Andrew and I consulted our trusty go-to list of bushwalks then agreed to take the kids to the waterfall at the Hunts Creek Reserve in Carlingford. A bushwalk leading to a waterfall and only 25 minutes away? It was hard to say no.
A Dutch organisation is encouraging parents to allow their children to be involved in risky play. Risky play is defined as thrilling and challenging forms of play that involve a risk of physical injury and this is usually done outdoors. Risky play involves allowing children to experience height and depth, movement and speed, den building and using tools, and fire. Something to keep in mind for the next walk?
“I am not wearing that raincoat because it is not raining!” my four-year-old daughter cried as our small family of four packed into our car. “But it might be raining up the mountains today so we have to be prepared.” I answered in exasperation looking up towards the overcast sky. Her expression changed to wonder as she asked quietly “Why is it raining up the mountains and not here?” I made a mental note to Google how to explain it better in the future and settled with “The world is a very big place and sometimes it rains in one place but not in another.”