Nana’s Nature Play
Calling all Nanas, Lolas, Nonnas, Kuais and Grandma’s – it’s time to go wild. Can you mess up your back or front yard for the sake of your grandchildren? I did and I’m going to tell you why and what I did.
Pictured: Sophia’s mud kitchen space
Before Sophia was born in 2020, she had her own nature play spaces in our yard – front and back. The rewilding of our yard started during the great millennium drought of the 2000s. Needless to say, the garden did not take off and nearly 20 years later it is just starting to feel wild.
Why make a wild garden in the suburbs? Why not? It’s good for the planet, local biodiversity, slowing storm water down and allowing it to soak into the yard instead of filling up the drain, providing shade, cleaning the air, nourishing the soil, growing worms, recycling waste, providing habitat and food for all things big and small, and so on. However – I originally bought my home for its backyard play value and now a second generation is going to enjoy getting dirty and nature playing. I can hardly wait.
The benefits of unstructured outside play, particularly in nature are now well known, for example a reduced risk of myopia, or nearsightedness, increased activity levels, and greater freedom to run, jump, lift and climb, opportunities for hands-on learning about physical forces and the environment, reduced stress levels, better moods, and improved concentration, more naturally-attuned sleep rhythms, enhanced opportunities to learn social skills, overcome fears, and develop a lifelong connection with nature.
Pictured: Mud play with next door grandchildren
My son benefitted from huge amounts of outside play – some structured much unstructured. He played soccer, basketball, cycled, kicked a ball around the yard, played in the lake, free ranged around our little holiday village, swam, climbed up to his treehouse (long gone due to rot), frolicked with the dog – you get the picture. Now we want to provide this for Sophia and future grand -children, nieces and nephews. And so, the rewilding of our yard continues.
It started with a drainage problem – yes – after the millennium drought broke, storm water flowed across our yard from all directions. My parents live on the Granite Belt and we have a beaten up old trailer. Six trips later we had enough large and small rock to make a dry creek bed that flows down the back across one third of the yard. It works perfectly during a storm and one day soon Sophia will love playing in it. It’s pretty wild now and a bit overgrown which is just perfect.
Next came more plants – many more plants. The back third of our yard is the wild place and planted in sections to provide hiding places, cubby building spaces and trails. Even though the soil is ordinary, the plants are doing well and the soil is healing. We also have a borrowed landscape which includes several very tall trees in our neighbour’s yards. Between these and our own trees, we have huge amounts of natural loose parts and a big stick pile for habitat and play. I rescued several perfectly cut jacaranda tree branches from next door and Sophia now has the makings of a yarning circle, fairy ring – or whatever she wants it to be.
I had always wanted native bees but was too apprehensive to start the process. Fortunately, we came across Giorgio Venturieri as he was starting out his Australian business. Giorigio has three native beehives in our yard, and all are doing well. Once a year he visits and splits them to make new hives to sell. It’s a great honour to know Giorigo and be part of his bee family. They are a great addition to the rewilding process. Nativo Bees – www.venturieri.com
Too help feed the bees we started planting native bee friendly flowers. For a while now my philosophy is that if it isn’t going to provide food for the bees then it doesn’t go in the garden. This is mostly working, the upside being lots of flowers – mostly saliva which seem to flower all year round. Sophia will make great potions with these one day.
Another fortuitous thing happened – I took responsibility for cleaning out the Nature Play QLD shed! What was inside you ask? All the Mud World bits and pieces of course. Once all the stuff was sorted, moved to our new shed or gifted to Camp Hill OSHC or the tip, there were a few bits and pieces left over. Yep – you guessed it – it was the start of mud play at our place.
The mud play area is very basic – it started with a few the baby and toddler mud world “toys” and some left-over soil from Sophia’s parents returfing project. The mud play area has been tried and tested now by my neighbours grandchildren and it’s a great success. You certainly do not need to buy anything – just raid your old pots, pans, plastic cupboard and garden shed. I have an old hose attached to our water tank that provides the water to the space.
Pictured: Mud play setup
Then I got really carried away – I had a mud kitchen made. Having already collected an old kitchen sink from a tip shop a couple of years ago, I then had to figure out how to turn it into an outdoor toddler sized kitchen. We live down the road from the World’s Biggest Garage Sale. This social enterprise recycles and upcycles just about anything through training programs for unemployed people and volunteers. Last year I bought a Christmas tree made from a pallet. Light bulb moment. Within weeks they had my old sink and they set about making Sophia’s bespoke mud kitchen. Pete even attached a tap and hose fitting so water can be run into the sink. Play has commenced in the mud kitchen but it will come into its own when Sophia can walk and stand up for longer. www.worldsbiggestgaragesale.com.au
Pictured: Sophia’s mud kitchen
So, I encourage all grand – parents, uncles and aunties to take a look at your yard and see if you can rewild it not only for the children in your life but also the all the plants and animals that benefit from improved natural spaces and places, no matter how large or small.
There’s still time to get your space ready in time for the school holidays!
Angela Wright is currently Outdoors Queensland Programs Manager.