Heather and Andrew, along with their two adventurers Stella and Walter, live in Kumara on the West Coast of the South Island. They love the wild remoteness of the area with its ridiculously beautiful trails. Find out how their kids are thriving with a nature based childhood.
Living beside a rainforest sounds idyllic! How did you end up in Kumara?
Andrew and I both grew up in Christchurch but have lived all over the country. We moved seven times in six years before we decided it was time to put down roots and raise a family.
The West Coast had always beckoned us. We loved the idea of buying a home with a big section that was so close to the wilderness we wouldn’t even need to drive.
Basically, we wanted an awesome place to raise kids that was affordable enough to survive on one income. It was a lifestyle choice. Andrew applied for teaching jobs and quickly got a position nearby so we made the move and have never looked back. We can literally walk from our front door and be in conservation land covered in thick rainforest in less than a minute.
What is your ethos behind raising kids in nature?
Growing up camping and tramping makes a pretty strong impact on a person. We can thank our parents for that. It’s something that we both wanted to pass on and make even more of a focus for our own children. Andrew and I met in scouting as leaders and spent years adventuring together before having kids. Outdoor education with scouts, clients, and students, has shaped our careers to this point. I guess you could say that taking kids into the outdoors is second nature to us. Raising kids in nature IS our ethos.
Resilience is a buzz word right now. How do you help your children face challenges in nature?
I think about this all the time. From our backgrounds in education we often see a lack of resilience. Kids have a tendency to give up far too quickly and our kids are no different. It’s how you respond to it. Nature is the perfect classroom for building resilience. Whether it’s walking that little bit further, carrying that bigger pack, getting back on your bike after falling again, or climbing that hill. The key is praise. And huge amounts of it. Build them up and they will go further then you could ever imagine. I am constantly telling my daughter how strong she is. How I love watching her strong legs climb that hill. I marvel at her agility and tell her, even when it’s ‘easy’. Then when she does struggle (which she does) we encourage her to keep going. Once she pushes through that barrier and succeeds we praise, praise, praise. She is so proud and so are we. The best part is that you can then transfer those examples from the outdoors to the classroom. “Remember when you were mountain biking and kept falling, but you got up and kept going, well you found that so hard but got there in the end. You did that, so you can do this too”.
For more urban based families, what accessible nature activities would you suggest?
Even if you live in the heart of the city there are still plenty of parks to explore. We’re pretty lucky in New Zealand. As much as kids love playgrounds (and so do we!), try not to focus on just those. Sometimes the corner of the park under the big tree is just as exciting as the brightly coloured fort at the other end. Find big rocks and imagine they are miniature mountains - map out how you would summit the top and where you would camp over. Make a pretend campfire out of twigs, or build a hut under the leaves for insects. Then when you do get out of the city, you can build on these play based experiences and build a real hut out of driftwood or fallen branches, make a real campfire, or summit a real peak. Your experience is only limited by your imagination.
What do you believe the benefits of a nature based childhood are?
A nature based childhood allows kids to be kids. It builds their imaginations which builds their minds. It allows them to find peace and calmness in the quiet of the trees. It encourages perseverance and resilience. It teaches them about the earth and how it functions. It demands respect for the planet and creatures big and small. A nature based childhood teaches kids not to be afraid and that knowledge is power, because spiders really aren’t that scary when you learn about them. And perhaps most importantly, it allows kids to spend time with family away from the distractions of devices.