Caroline Webster, author and founder of the blog Caro & Co, recalls a time in her childhood when she discovered the beauty of nature and a sense of wonder for the first time.
When I was little, my mother gave me a birthday card. Apart from the standard birthday greeting, she wrote, ‘As you grow up, my wish for you is that you remember to use your words, love deeply and always strive to find wonder in the world around you’.
It was such great advice and something I’ve attempted to do every day since. Over the years I’ve asked over 500 people to name the one moment in their lives that filled them with wonder. Over 90 percent have responded with a memory of a special time spent outside; most often when they felt they were alone and discovering something extraordinary by themselves. Finding wonder has always been easy for me. It can be found everywhere, in the simplest of places and in many of the activities we undertake everyday – you just need to know how and where to look. And, of course, wonder is amplified tenfold when you head outdoors.
Indeed, ‘Go outside and find something to do’ was a common refrain in my home when I was growing up. Each time I stepped outside, the outdoors quickly became a mix of the magical and the practical.
A densely-leaved shrub was a hideout from monsters, our dogs and, every now and then, Mum. A large tree was a home away from home. Everything was dragged up there including the dog and an entire tea set. It was also where we went when we got cranky and decided to run away from home. The vacant lot a couple of blocks away was where magical creatures lived and where my sisters, brothers and I often set off on dragon-hunting adventures.
The muddy lane-way beside our home was the ideal place for baking mud pies and jumping in puddles. We had the perfect lavender bush where fairies dwelled – and where I experienced my first bee sting. We became little explorers and collected an extraordinary array of objects, some of which I still have today.
With no structured play, we unwound, recharged and spent plenty of time sitting still, watching nature do its thing.
Being outside also taught us many lessons about the environment and our place within it. We learnt not to fear the outdoors, but to respect and love it. We also took the advice of our parents not to eat a berry without first checking with them and never to trust shiny black spiders.
We fought with free-range bantam hens for a patch of clean grass and they still rewarded us with delicious eggs each day. We tended to our very small veggie patch with enthusiasm and love – the resultant vegetables were used to cook simple, delicious meals and made us wriggle with pride.
My own children are now teenagers and I regularly offer them the same advice I received all those years ago. Certainly, the advent of technology means I’ve had to work a little harder to help them remember to look for wonder around them in everything they do, and to actively engage with the outdoors and nature whenever they can.
Writing my book Caro & Co: Helping Kids Find Wonder In The Everyday has been a joy. All the activities, either indoor or outside, are simple and inexpensive, and rely mostly on the ready imagination of your child. I might not be an educator but I am a mother who firmly believes that, if you are guided by your knowledge of your own child, together you can find a little wonder in everything you do. So go on. Open the door, step outside and find some magic.
This is an edited extract from Caro & Co: Helping Kids Find Wonder In The Everyday by Caroline Webster and is published by Sally Milner Publishing, $32.99.