We spent today at the gorgeous Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent. We were meeting friends form our Home Ed groups and got there early so that I had some time to do some natural history walking with the boys before they got on with the main business of charging around building dens and playing space alien invasion.
The boys were immediately captivated by the quantity and diversity of birds we saw and heard, and were especially excited to track by ear the woodpecker that was tapping its drum beat out on a hollow tree.
Further down the path they stood, eyes closed, letting the music of robins wash over them. They made creeping up on birds to listen to them into a game, with comedy exaggerated steps along the path that wound its way through a stand of redwoods.
As we made our way around, the boys would pull me over to read information boards and labels to them, or I would encourage them to jump down off the raised boardwalk to get up close to the shaggy bark of the redwoods. We talked about the thick spongy bark and its role in protecting the tree from fire (a subject we came back to later as we smelled a Eucalyptus tree and discussed other adaptations to fire). The boys spent a lot of time just holding the trees, gazing up into the canopy as the mist condensed on the leaves and dripped off, pattering softly down onto their upturned faces.
I would stop every so often and ask the boys to listen. It was interesting that when I could hear a stream gurgling over a tiny waterfall it took a few goes for the boys to understand what they were listening to. “What can you hear?” came back with replies of “an aeroplane”, “a road” and then their surprise when they figured it out. It made me feel we obviously didn’t spend enough time by cheery little brooks (our local ghyll is inhabited by abandoned shopping trollies and various items of furniture, which Ollie says is sad like the river god in Spirited Away).
We stopped short of licking anything, but took time to use our other senses to explore the area. I was delighted when we saw a pair of witch hazel trees in full flower and I ran over to them with the boys in tow (after extracting them from a stand of pampas grasses). “Smell them, smell them!”. “Oooo” said the boys “they smell delicious!”. And they did, a remarkable sweet citrus tang, nothing like the astringent smell of the witch hazel extract we have in the medicine cupboard at home.
For kids to really take in their surroundings and be in a peaceful enough frame of mind to stop and smell and listen it is very much about picking your moments. I gave a time frame too – we’re doing creeping, and listening, and smelling, and finding out now. Then we’ll meet our friends and do running, and shouting, and climbing, and building.
In an unexpected turn of events we then ran into a man from the local BBC radio station and were interviewed about why we enjoyed being outside and what benefits it had, especially for the kids. When I said I loved the quote that ‘kids can’t bounce off the walls if there are none” he went “ooo, I like that!” and pressed something on his recording device, so perhaps we made it into a news piece! He couldn’t have picked a family more appreciative of the environment we were lucky enough to have access to that day.
NB Bedgebury is a Forestry Commission site, with good facilities including toilets, café, accessible walks around the lake, cycle trails, cycle hire, Go Ape treetop adventures and a fabulous play trail stocked at short intervals with wooden play frames. Entrance is free if you cycle or walk in, and is £10 for a days parking (correct for Feb 2017, check details online before you travel). If it all sounds too good to be true, we did have a “how on earth did you get dog poo on your scarf!” moment in the first play park to provide balance.