Written by Isobel Jacobs
Silly songs and marshmallows on an open fire, under an arc of ancient trees; a small brown frog passed gently from hand to small hand; wheelbarrow races through leaves. These are moments that many city parents yearn for their children. I certainly have for my curious, happy six-year-old daughter, Aphra.
Kids in the Woods at Hazel Hill has made them a reality for her. Conceived and loosely guided by Jake Farr and Jon Hall as a way for city kids and their parents to spend time in nature, via regular seasonal weekends in the woods, the project has become a soft pulse in our diaries, something to look forward to that’s completely different from anything else we do.
Kids in the Woods gives children the chance to saunter, stumble, climb, explore, trip and get dirty in a natural but safe environment within a watchful, loving community of like-minded people; to allow them to understand the rhythms of nature and how they fit into it.
We’ve had many wonderful times in the wood. Den building was a highlight for the little ones – from searching for raw materials to the final delight of sitting inside a structure that, two hours before, hadn’t existed. There have been rambly walks, discovering the wood’s secret spaces, its hides and clearings, with a sturdy stick in one hand and blackberries in the other. Eagerly awaited meals of bread dunked in freshly made soup and spicy curries take place around communal tables .
If Aphra was nervous to begin with, it was quickly dispelled by sheer fun. Following simple trails through the woods set up by a rival team of adults and children has been brilliant and will be enjoyed again and again – but they weren’t as hilarious as when one of the dads covered himself with leaves and chased the little ones, screaming, all the way back to the Oakhouse.
Have there been tough moments? Yes, when Aphra discovered a tick had burrowed its way under her skin; when she felt a bit ‘left out’; when she got up too early (with excitement) and was, frankly, hysterical with exhaustion by mid-afternoon. But, at the same time, these are moments common to childhood, to be negotiated and worked out, again in the company of those who care about her.
Watching my little girl march confidently back and forth in the dark to the campfire, reach out – a bit wary at first, then nurturing – for that frog, concentrate in a way I’d not known she was capable of on making a bow: all these moments have brought me a satisfaction as a parent that can never be met by games on the iPad or watching Despicable Me for the fourth time.
Kids in the Woods feels like a beautiful, necessary counterpoint to a life of digital amusements. Children often have an intrinsic interest in, even passion for, nature and its moods and forces (this from a mother of a little girl who goes into a trance of happiness when her bare toes touch grass and still squeaks with excitement when a rainbow appears) but it can be nudged out by the easy attractions of the city.
And the point, it seems to me, is even greater than regaining this interest: it is about learning to value nature from a personal perspective, founded in joy, so that – when and if she is called upon to do so – she will work to protect and safeguard it with a very real sense of connection.