Why parents should join the kids and go wild outside
Go outdoors to experience the boundless wonders of nature, says Fiona Bird, author of a new fun book. And she suggests that there's nothing wrong with taking an iPad along too
Instead of going outside and exploring the natural world, most modern kids now spend the majority of their time indoors, staring at a screen. But why not combine the two, asks expert forager and mum-of-six Fiona Bird.
The author of new book Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside, believes there's nothing better for the whole family than exploring countryside, woods and beaches, and foraging for food. But she accepts that technology is now part of life, and says it can be a great tool for helping wild explorers identify and learn about everything they find in the natural world.
"I find it useful to take my iPhone down to the beach or into the countryside to identify things," she says.
"Instead of playing on a computer game, kids can go outside and discover something, and then find out about it with their technology. Get outside, and then you can come back and sit on the sofa with your iPad.
"Technology is here to stay and it's incredibly useful. You're not doing any harm by using tech to help you find out about the natural world."
Bird (57) divides her time between Angus in Scotland and the Outer Hebridean Isle of South Uist, where her husband is the local doctor. She's a bit of a whizz in the kitchen after she's been foraging for ingredients, and was once a MasterChef finalist.
"I wrote the book because I felt a lot of the things I'd done as a child were in danger of being forgotten, so I thought I'd document them," she says.
The book is split into chapters for various natural habitats, including Woods, Meadows and Seashore, and as well as easy-to-understand information about conservation guidelines and tips on how to forecast the weather, Bird teaches young readers how to identify different insects, plants, fungi and seaweed, and explains various simple outdoor craft projects, including making pot pourri, leaf bunting or a conker necklace, and building a woodland wigwam.
The book also features My Wild Garden and Kitchen, where you can find recipes using foraged ingredients, including wild garlic parcels and bilberry and sorrel seed muffins.
Bird is an experienced forager herself, and has written a book about the hunt for natural food, The Forager's Kitchen. She explains that while a simple walk in the countryside might not entice kids out of the house, the lure of finding food may just swing it.
"You might have to frogmarch your kids out for a walk, especially if the weather's bad, whereas when you go out to forage and you're poking about like hunter gatherers, it becomes more of an adventure and you lose the concept of time - it's always the bush a little bit further away that might have more exciting things in it."
Bird says modern society doesn't encourage children to take risks, and the result is often that parents feel safer with their kids sitting inside staring at a screen rather than playing outside and enjoying the natural world.
"Some people think they can't possibly let their kids go wild because they don't know who they're going to come across and they worry about the risk.
"But I'm not really suggesting that, I'm suggesting that an adult makes time to do this with the kids, and it's a joint learning opportunity."
And the nature enthusiast is keen to stress that travelling miles into the countryside isn't necessary for children to discover the natural world.
"You don't need to spend hours in a car - you can do it in your own neighbourhood," she says.
"And if you do it in your own back yard, it reduces the amount of time a parent needs to be involved if necessary."
She explains that as you often don't see wildlife when you're in the countryside, she came up with the idea of throwing flour down in the back garden to see how many cats, dogs or birds had walked over it.
"Then take that idea to the countryside," she suggests.
"Get a magnifying glass and a cobweb, and kids can learn about the natural world in their own back garden. You don't have to go miles out."
And the mum, whose children are all grown-up, insists that, rather than parents just taking young children to splash in puddles or go on bug hunts, finding out about the wonders of the wild is something the whole family should do together, whether children are young or old.
"With little kids it's easy - they want to splash in puddles, and they do it naturally. But I wanted to get families to explore outside together, and get older kids out there too.
"I want to encourage people to get outside and see what's there for them. By getting outside too, parents can learn what kids need to watch out for, as well as what's good to take back and use in the kitchen, or dye with.
"When you want quality time, getting outside and learning about nature is a huge opportunity for a shared learning experience. There's just so much out there."
Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside is published by Cico Books, £12.99. It's available now
Ask the expert
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