As a parent of two young children, there are many favourite books in our household that lay bent, pages worn and covers torn. Out of love and frequent use, these tales have woven their ways into our memories, somewhat memorised in fact by the rigorous and unrelenting repetition demanded by my darling four year old.
Bringing The 'Gruffalo' To Life
One chilly morning while out at our local park, I was struck with an idea of how to put this connection between our favourite stories and the outdoors to good use. My daughter was very engrossed in all things ‘The Gruffalo’ and here we were trying to entertain and engage her in her lovely surroundings outdoors without much success. Today she wanted swings and slides and this little patch of dry grass, rocks and winter bare trees at the end of our street just wasn’t going to cut it.
So out of the blue I ask her "Do you think a Gruffalo might live in a park like this one?". Seeing her curiosity ignite I continued…."Or what about these scratches on the tree trunks, could they be from the Gruffalo’s sharp claws, or his terrible teeth?" (possums I assume). And so, an easy 30 or so minutes passed and not only had my four year old become more engaged and aware of the environment around her, but she was using all of her senses and had begun to take over the story telling and lead the direction of our adventure and our hunt for the Gruffalo.
‘Claw’ marks and scratches on tree trunks, foot prints and scuff marks in the gravel, we looked for places the little brown mouse might be meeting the Gruffalo (‘down by the lake’ or ‘near the rocks'). We even used some leaves and sand to make our very own Gruffalo crumble. By utilising the story for inspiration we turned an ordinary little park into an exciting place for mystery and adventure.
Just A Sprinkle Of Effort & A Little Imagination
I feel that sometimes, when we think of nature play and getting the kids outdoors, we overlook the simple outdoor spaces that are readily available to us. The spare block at the end of the street or the little suburban park which has lost its lustre and needs some TLC. These outdoor spaces can still be bought to life and utilised. We don’t always need idyllic forests and postcard perfect mountain tops in order to bring wonder and enjoyment in the great outdoors. Just a sprinkle of effort and little imagination is all that is needed.
So next time you are at the park and the kids are restless, or the slide is too wet to play on, how about going on a bear hunt? Perhaps pretend to be a dirty dinosaur, recite the words from a beautiful story like “I went walking, what did you see? I saw a …… looking at me”. Help your little ones notice their environment, see it, touch it, smell it. Explore and encourage their imagination, it will not only help them connect with their favourite story but also with their surroundings and most importantly with you. Everyone can get involved in the adventure and as parents we might as well put our talent for reciting children’s favourite stories to good use.
A few of the stories referenced above: