Where the Wild Things Were – Our 30 Days Wild

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A fortnight ago I did a merry little jig in the back room while my son was at preschool. Often I do one when I need the toilet and I’ve been putting it off a little too long but in this instance it wasn’t for that reason; it was because the postie had been and one of the envelopes contained our 2017 “30 Days Wild” pack from The Wildlife Trust that I’d been waiting for. This meant that June was coming and, though I have no intention of wishing my life away, I was SO excited! Looking at the blank wall chart filled my head with endless possibilities of what we could fill the days doing and made me smile wistfully as I thought of all the things that we’d got up to in the previous 2 years. Eeeee!

It also reminded me that I’d started writing something explaining why I loved it last year (and why I was a little like an over-enthusiastic disciple of a new cult!), so I thought I’d dig it out (!) in case others hadn’t heard of the challenge and wanted to join us in a spot of “getting up close to nature”.

Cue nostalgic, shimmery harp flashback music and wild waving of arms…

“A fantasy that often ran through my head during my childhood was a bird would fly into my bedroom accidently, I would be able to beckon it over to sit calmly on my finger ala Mary Poppins and then in a bit of a mash up with Mary and Doctor Doolittle, I would talk to it and help it to return peacefully back into the garden. Obviously I’d be able to talk the right kind of Bird dialogue to it, because there’s nothing worse than getting your Wren muddled up with your Thrush is there? Just ask Chris Packham.

In fact, you’ll have to ask him because adult me wouldn’t be able to identify them in a police line up without a lot of guesswork. This truth saddens me (and not just because Chris Packham has been a crush of mine for quite some time) as I love nature, am a Springwatch addict and I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person that can just effortlessly bat names about as they walk through the park spotting birds among the plants and flowers. “Which flowers, Laura?” I hear you ask. Erm…the pretty yellow flowers?

We have a son who turned 3 in June (2016) and his favourite question is not “Why?” but “What’s that called?” He asks it about people (“I don’t know his name darling, he’s just the friendly man who smiled at us as he walked past!”), songs on the radio (hoorah for Shizzam on Daddy’s phone), inanimate objects (“It’s still called a pillow, my love”).

He has that thirst for increasing his knowledge of the world around him that leads people to use the phrase “little sponge” accurately and I (like any parent) want to provide him with as much sustenance as possible.

So for the last 2 years I have signed us up for The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild challenge. The challenge encourages people to go out and take part in a ‘random act of wildness’ for every day in June. They give you plenty of ideas for acts or you can just come up with your own.

I wanted to do it because, yes, I’m pretty rubbish at the names but I’ve also always been passionate about wildlife. I want our Bonkers Boy to connect with nature and begin to learn about it too, so that he will start to care about it as he grows. All that and you got a free badge and stickers too, Woohoo! (Who doesn’t love stickers, seriously.)

On some days our activities were small and took up a relatively short amount of time, like watching the bees, snail and spiders in our postage stamp sized unkempt jungle of a back garden. Unfortunately, the garden’s become like that because in the last few years, next door’s building work has encroached on our garden. I’ve found it’s hard to improve a garden when there’s nowhere to safely position a wriggly, unpredictable wee one…he’d probably disappear amongst the long grass and bindweed anyway, in a slightly less drastic version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

I am the woman whose past includes a scattering of sad plant skeletons in the closet, of plants who just didn’t make it (mostly because of terrible under or over watering). Yet, I still encouraged Monkelette to plant different seeds which would hopefully grow (alas the majority of them proved yet again that my fingers are not yet a dark enough shade of green for marathon gardening projects).

Or we would go outside and both of us, rain suited and welly booted, jumped in puddles (because when Monkelette instructs that “You do it!”, resistance is pretty futile).

Some days the weather or circumstances, meant that we didn’t leave the house, so it was time for a spot of arts and crafts; painting a symmetrical butterfly, creating a crab using a food tub lid, using natural objects to make shapes in playdough. These tasks might be followed by us getting our feelers out and wondering “what’s about?” while watching Jess on her Cbeebies “Minibeast Adventure” or snuggling up to read a good book on a wildlife theme or two. Or more realistically in our house, with a child who is a Bookworm, after a cry of “Want another book”, about four.

Other days though we would go out for whole day expeditions, to boldly go where no Cheek had gone before, helped by the fact that June is the month when two thirds of our household celebrates birthdays. Days out where we could explore and watch nature close up or if we were really lucky, touch it.

He’s always been a keen hugger (smaller babies that couldn’t move fast enough would be pinned to the spot by his bear like grip when he first learnt to walk) and last year he was all about hugging the trees. In fact, on one occasion I had to prize his fingers off the trees trunks that lined a path as he wobbled from one to the next. All this huggage was seriously slowing our progression across Greenwich park and though it was adorable, people were waiting for us.

This June I asked if he wanted to hug a tree in Elmstead Woods (we were in the wood at the time, I wasn’t asking him if he wanted to do an SAS style Commando hugging operation…parachute in, hug and get the hell out of there) and he looked at me as if I had asked him if he wanted to eat the tree! No, this year he is all about wanting to climb the trees.

His desire to try and climb trees (even when that is not remotely possible without ropes and a pulley system as the tree has no low branches) fills my heart with joy every time as I guide his feet, shove his bottom up (he has short little legs so his ambition isn’t always matched by his ability) and hold his hand when he stops (because his certainty at wanting to climb up isn’t always matched by his certainty when he reaches his destination).

My heart is filled with joy because it has shown me that he already has more of his dad’s confidence in this physical area. Thank goodness!

I’ve been in Guiding since I was 7; I’ve been in a continuous happy relationship with my hiking boots longer than with my husband but am also ginger so burn easily. Despite my love of nature meaning that I spent more time inside than out as a child, I am a worrier whose appalling sense of balance means I’ve given myself a self diagnosis of “a little bit dyspraxic”!

All this meant that if in my youth, friends climbed fences in the park, I would stand there hyperventilating at how I would manage it. I definitely didn’t climb trees. Danger is definitely not my middle name. I definitely don’t want our son to look on wistfully though, as other people explore the world around him.
Exploring his world obviously means all possible habitats and from the largest trees and creatures to the smallest. My relationship with mini-beasts is one of fascination (from me to them…I don’t tend to have crowds of insects watching me) but I like them to be on their own turf thank you very much. Moths have to have vacated from my bedroom before I can contently go to bed. Spiders in the garden; I could happily watch for ages / spiders in my front room “argh its scuttling towards me, go away!”. I don’t want Monkelette to have a hang up about creepy crawlies. “Spiders are our friends,” I tell him, “they work hard to make amazing webs, we mustn’t break their webs”. When a spider leapt out at us a few months ago from behind a cushion I had to be brave for him and suggested I’d made a noise because it was a surprise to see it. He ended up in tears still though during that incident and I’m still not really sure why; was it because he didn’t like the choice of door I wanted to eject it from or because it possibly touched him? Regardless, I’ve been trying to halt that reaction since. I want him to feel comfortable to watch and hold minibeasts and happily our 30 Days Wild has enabled me to create the opportunities for him to start to do this. I pointed out anything and everything I saw for him to inspect. A woodlouse got inspected slightly too closely on one instance. (RIP Woodlouse). Knowing names helped develop his fascination so I tried to look up those I didn’t know.

When a bee landed on his t-shirt, he looked down at it, he didn’t freak out, the bee realised its mistake and moved on and mentally, proud mummy did a little happy dance!

So I’ve been trying to learn some flower names too. Even if I learn a few every year then eventually, in 40 years or so, I’ll maybe be considered knowledgeable. But he’ll know more. He’ll be an expert. Just the other day he was kicking a football while carrying an Oxeye Daisy that he’d picked and I loved the juxtaposition in that image so much!

However, I really am trying to stop him from picking the flowers with the catchy rhyme “Smell with your nose, Look with your eyes, but leave the flowers for the bees and butterflies” but he currently loves smelling and then possessing. He’s like a flower capitalist mixed with a Ninja at times “Oh that’s a pretty flower isn’t it…Oh no I wish you hadn’t picked that!” There seems to be a theme developing with regard to flowers though as it’s becoming increasingly obvious that his heart apparently mostly belongs to red ones!

Our 30 Days Wild Challenge enabled me to focus and have a reason to try and get us out the house and exploring the natural world as much as possible, even if it was just a walk or a picnic or a spot of cloud gazing in the various wonderful parks that we could access by foot or via public transport from Hither Green. It gave me an enthusiasm to keep it up, to know more, to teach him more, to explore more, to find out more together.

It taught him to be quiet around animals if you want to watch them, that little creatures are amazing when you look closely at them and we mustn’t hurt them (and they really won’t hurt us), that mummy thinks flowers and birdsong are beautiful and will say so repeatedly, that he will use the phrase “Wow! It’s amazing” a lot about the world, that when walking down the road with Grandma despite everything he can see around him, he will still choose to share and point out the little piles of poo he can see! Yep he’s definitely 3!”

So that was 2016, here’s to discovering what Wild Things can be found in 2017 and where us Wild Things will be! Hooray!

If anybody wants to sign up for 2017 you can register here (it’s definitely not too late):

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/30dayswild

You can get a free physical pack sent to you with a wallchart, seeds and stickers or a digital pack instead. The Wildlife Trust has “101 Random Acts of Wildness” for ideas on their website and will send email updates with ideas. Lots of people write Blogs about their #30DaysWild. Our 2016 #30DaysWild adventures are all public on my Facebook page (and some of 2015) like a miniblog if anybody wants any ideas (or just fancies being nosey about what we did in a bit more depth) and I will continue with this for 2017 (or if I get my finger out…a proper actual Blog!).

For great ideas of where to take your little explorers, check out our over 200 days out suggestions, all reviewed and recommended by Gin Families.

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Laura Cheek is currently a SAHM who is also a qualified primary teacher. This means her poor family have to put up with "The Look", the bossiness and far too much "tut" that might be useful one day. She loves her local community and has her fingers in many voluntary pies. One day she will be an organised, graceful, stylish, domestic goddess. Today is not that day.

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