If you are looking for a practical book that can teach your children about nature in an engaging, hands-on way, then you should get a copy of “Wild Days: Outdoor Play for Young Adventurers” by Richard Irvine (GMC Publications, 2021). This delightful book is packed full of 50+ activities, games, projects, and lessons on how to understand and interact more with nature.
The book is divided into three main sections: (1) making, (2) games and stories, and (3) exploring. The first is the largest section and it presents an impressive list of activities for children of all ages. These range from highly useful (like building a campfire and cooking over it, tasty recipes included), to playful (making reed boats and fairy houses), to artistic (DIY charcoal for drawing and carving woodblock stamps).
The games section opens with an excellent list of treasure hunt ideas that will keep any child occupied for hours. It suggests group games and solo games, old-fashioned games and new ones. The exploring section focuses on nature-based skills like bird-watching, plant identifying, cloud spotting, bug hunting, and more.
The impressive thing about this book is just how appealing every single one of the activities is. So many nature-based play books are hit or miss, with a few great ideas interspersed among a bunch of less-interesting ones, but “Wild Days” held my attention and curiosity the whole way through.
Just when I thought Irvine couldn’t come up with another brilliant suggestion, he did. Whether it’s baking edible “ash cakes” or clay beads in hot coals, cooking on a homemade rocket stove, carving a cute little hedgehog pencil holder, fashioning a bow and arrow, learning about night vision and tracking nocturnal animals, he knows exactly what kids find fun. Perhaps that’s not surprising: He does have more than 20 years of experience as an outdoor educator and is the author of a bestselling book, “Forest Craft.”
At a time when children are spending far too many hours indoors and in front of screens, it should be a top priority of parents and educators alike to maximize children’s outdoor playtime. But sending them outside to play isn’t always enough; sometimes their exploration can benefit from a bit more guidance and structure, and that’s where this book comes in handy.
You can think of this book as a natural science textbook of sorts, something to which you could turn to supplement your child’s current homeschooled or online education. Work your way through the activities, pick a few to do on a weekend as a family, or assign one each day to your child if possible. If you were to do everything in this book, without a doubt your child would come away with tremendous confidence and knowledge of the outdoors.
I appreciated Irvine’s emphasis on assembling proper tools to enhance one’s experience of nature—items like a whittling knife, a palm drill, a pruning saw, natural fiber string, and matches. He acknowledges parental fears about giving these items to kids, but points out how it benefits them:
“To be safe in the world, young people need to be allowed to take risks. If they grow up insulated from potential harm, they may find it difficult to assess what is safe or dangerous for themselves and not learn to ask the important ‘What if…’ questions that help us to consider the consequences of our actions and to make good decisions. Some of the projects and ideas in this book involve hazards, such as fire, tools, and getting lost, but all can be undertaken without harm if safety advice is followed and common sense used.”
These hazards are some of the risky play elements that children need in order to develop optimally, and when presented to the children in the form of these activities, it may be easier for parents to grasp than if it were to happen in an unstructured way.
Irvine acknowledges the children live in diverse settings around the world and not all may have access to state parks, wilderness regions, or bodies of water. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy nature. “Every day can be a wild day,” he writes. “Little bits of wild nature can be found everywhere—whether you live in a bustling city or its suburbs, or close to farms, forests, or the coast. There are adventures to be had in parks, on city streets, canal tow-paths, riverbanks, beaches, woods, moorland and country walks. All that is needed is a bit of curiosity and maybe a guide like this book.”
As a parent who’s homeschooling three kids right now in Ontario, Canada, I plan to incorporate these activities into my children’s lesson plans each day, starting immediately. Already they’ve seen me reading it and have peered curiously over my shoulder, attracted by the lovely photographs and asking what the various things are. We all need more wild days in our lives, and this book can help them become a reality.