Go outdoors to experience the wonders of nature, says Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside author Fiona Bird, but you can take an iPad too. Lisa Salmon reports.
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.”
Bird, 57, divides her time between Angus in Scotland and the Outer Hebridean Isle of South Uist, where her husband is the local doctor. “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.
Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside is published by Cico Books, £12.99. Available now.