Spotted scrambling through the bushscape of central Victoria this summer was the infamous local species screechus juvenilus – common name: Arlo (my son).
Feeding mostly on dirt and bananas, this short-tempered bi-ped produces a dazzling screech when it feels provoked. As a three-year old, that’s often.
When simply getting out of the house with kids can be a challenge, the idea of getting out into nature can be overwhelming.
But just like big kids, little ones gain so much from spending time outdoors. So, following successful trips to locations in the wonderful Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park this summer, here are my personal tips (and tricks) for a fun day in nature with toddlers.
Pick the right park
Tall forests, beaches and coasts, urban parks, rugged bushlands – we’re lucky to have hundreds of parks to explore. For tiny legs, though, some parks are better than others. Those with flatter terrain mean more independence for little ones (and less carrying for mums and dads). Jump on the Parks Victoria website to find a park that may be easier for a toddler to totter around.
A little research will also tell you about any changes to access, and useful information like travel times, car parking, toilets and even playscapes (if the natural environment isn’t enough).
At the historic Garfield Water Wheel, we enjoyed a gentle wander on easy dirt tracks under the shade of gum trees, followed by a snack and sit at newly installed picnic tables.
Getting into nature is great for our health and wellbeing.
Plan some hunts
It’s amazing to watch kids marvel at things we adults take for granted: a bird in a tree, the rough of bark, heck, even a plain old rock.
But as we know, kids have the attention span of… kids. To keep things interesting add some simple challenges to your park visit.
After the brilliant slide at Vaughan Springs had finally lost its appeal we ran through a series of nature hunts: collect five different leaves; spot three different birds; find a smooth white stone and a rough black stone.
Kids will enjoy the thrill of the hunt – and learn a little about the natural environment while they’re at it. You just might too!
The locally famous slide at Vaughan Springs.
Who am I telling parents about packing smart? These are people laden like pack animals anytime they leave the house, hauling innumerable items for their children.
But there are some extra considerations for kids when your destination is nature.
Inspect spray and long-sleeved shirts/trousers are a good idea to avoid potential stings and scratches as your little one explores a new landscape. Though a staple item for parents, it’s still worth a reminder about hats, sunscreen and clothing for changeable weather conditions as there’s often no shelter from the elements. Similarly, water – and lots of it.
Remember that we want to leave nature as we found it – throw in a rubbish bag for gathering up food scraps, wipes, nappies and any other disposables.
Find a full list of things to consider on the Parks Victoria website.
Keep it short, keep it real
Little kids can crash quicker than a tower of blocks. So, while you do all that good planning and preparation, keep energy levels in mind.
Nobody wants to be far down a dirt track when their little one decides they’re done with shoes, and pants, and walking, and life, and “I WANT MY UNICORN!”. Keep walks and adventures short, consider loop tracks, and think about how far it is back to the car should you need to hit the ejector button.
Similarly, be prepared to be unprepared. While you may have had excellent ideas, on arrival your kid may decide they’d rather spend 30 minutes tossing stones into a creek. Don’t fight it, go with the flow (figuratively speaking).
During our visit to Vaughan Springs, we barely left the main arrival area – but Arlo was very happy just exploring that little world.
Become a Junior Ranger!
If you’re after a bit more help planning an adventure, check out Parks Victoria’s Junior Ranger program.
Held mostly during school holidays, and on some weekends, this free program offers kids the chance to explore nature under the guidance of a real-life Park Ranger.
From rockpool discoveries and cave explorations through to wetland walks and learning about Aboriginal cultural heritage, the program is a great way for young ones to understand more about the natural world around them.
Subscribe to get updates on the latest Junior Rangers program via the Junior Rangers website.
The Junior Rangers program allows kids to delve deeper into the mysteries of nature!
Heading out into nature is a great way for kids to get active. And with cooler Autumn weather on the way, there’s never been a better time to explore Victoria’s stunning array of parks and reserves.
So, don’t feel overwhelmed, feel excited! All you need for a successful trip is a bit of planning and preparation – and if all else fails, promise ice-cream!
By Josh from the Communications team at Parks Victoria
Arlo enjoying a post-walk ice-cream!