I’m peeking out from a porthole in a shelter made from sticks, grass and leaves onto a cleared circle of bushland where four large blocks of Cadbury chocolate are being guarded by fierce giants. Surrounding them, gum trees send filtered light from between the leaves onto a forest floor of native grasses, lomandra, and bracken. A fern jerks awkwardly, two small human eyes peering out from within the clump. Looking closer, I see the ground is a sea of small figures on their bellies, faces painted with ochre and dirt, inching forward towards the target.
I hand signal to my team to move. Four eight-year-old girls decorated with vines and leaves sink to the earth, and begin a slow creep. One turns her head back to me and smiles, her face darkened with mud.
Watching from the rear, I smile to myself involuntarily. Was this really the girl who was so scared of leeches five days ago that even sitting on the ground was a challenge?
It’s the last day of a ‘Rewild your Child’ camp, and the 45 kids currently testing their camouflage and stealth skills have long forgotten their fear of spiders, their iPads, and their parents back at camp.
Held on the south coast of NSW during school holidays, the camps aim to facilitate connection with the natural environment, using the life skills that our hunter-gatherer ancestors practiced. Finding shelter, food and water; making fire and learning to move and see with new awareness.
As one of 15 or so mentors on the camp, my task is not so much teaching skills, as following and encouraging the kids’ own interest and play. One day it was building a shelter down by the river with flood debris, another day it was all about catching ‘pond skaters’ in our hands. By simply playing in this way, they absorb the meta-skills for success in any environment, things like: curiosity, communication, problem-solving, teamwork and responsibility.
The need for more nature time for kids was brought to mainstream attention in 2005 by Richard Louv in his bestselling, Oprah-endorsed book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. As the name suggests, Louv’s research concluded that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, and that many kids are suffering a severe lack of it.
In 2009, it was reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that 40 per cent of children spent less than 2 hours per fortnight doing informal physical activity, such as playing outside or riding a bike. It’s no news for many parents and grandparents, who are painfully aware of the lack of creek fossicking, bug collecting and tree climbing exploring that they enjoyed growing up.
Creeping alongside my team of fierce bush ninjas, I’m happy to be rewilding too, especially when there’s chocolate at the end of the muddy trail.
See bluegumbushcraft.com.au for details.
- Claire Dunn is the author of My Year Without Matches. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org