Setting a Solid Foundation in the Outdoors for Kids

Outside Online recently published a feature titled, “Rewilding the American Child”, a collection of articles centred around embedding the outdoors into the way children are raised.

Our childhood experiences can definitely shape us and stick with us, for better of worse. At She Went Wild, we couldn’t agree more on what a positive impact the outdoors can have on children’s cognitive, physical and character development.

We’re stoked to have community member, Shinae Lee Walker, relive a significant child memory of Bundjalung National Park in Australia’s Northern New South Wales on the blog.

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Our world through the eyes of a child is almost another planet entirely. When you are small everything is big, bold and new. Each memory is magnified, twisted from reality and then grows and morphs over time in our mind.

Setting a solid foundation in the outdoors from a young age is so important for our kids; to let them explore in the wild, to feel comfortable in the unknown, to open their minds and imagination and to find a place to come home to when everything else seems to be moving too fast.

I have many memories of my childhood but the ones that seem the most vivid and the most magical are those in the outdoors. They stick with me like nothing else. I remember these camping trips in such an astounding way, like the places we visited were Mars or Venus and each expedition was life or death.

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Recently, I have revisited a few of the places I went to as a child; these places that I was remember as being lucky enough to survive through, most of which are simple two-hour, round trip hikes with leeches probably being the biggest threat! I can definitely imagine that as a bunch of kids, they may have been full-day activities but the beauty of being a child is you have no concept of time or worry about what is next; you just do what you are doing and are in awe of what is right in front of your face.

I have very fond memories of a camping trip to a place called Jerusalem Creek Campground, in the Bundjalung National Park in Northern New South Wales. Thiis happens to be less than an hour’s drive from where I now call home. I had been itching to get out here for some time to revisit the magic in my memories…

The weather wasn’t good when we had camped here; we were a large group of kids and yet our parents still decided that we were going on a walk…I realise now that they wanted to exhaust us, rain, hail or shine!

The weather was on our tail but we were wild explorers, braving the storm and the wind so this was little bother to us. Within metres of leaving our campsite, we had knee-high boots of mud - it suited our image well!

Coming back here I could definitely see how this was possible. The land changes a lot in a short space on this walk and you really do start out on mud flats and marsh land. It was slippery and dark and I felt an urge to take my boots off and roll my toes into its soft and gooey surface, just like I was six again…

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Back then, we spent hours making our way through thick mud and long grass with the wind picking up behind us. We passed through scrub and low-lying trees as the ground below us began to turn to sand. Suddenly, they became unpassable mountain-like sand dunes. We would race up each path to the top of the dunes, soft sand whipping us hard in the face and beating us down again until we found an opening at the end of the blackened tea tree creek where we could make our way back along the beach.

The beach was harsher and less protected than the sand dunes. As we moved further along the beach, the wind roared against us and the storm was settling in above us. It felt like it was us against nature and we weren’t giving in!

As we walked, we spotted light bulbs half exposed in the sand, some bobbing along the water line; we started collecting them in our hats, comparing size, shape and barnacle growth.

By now, the heavens had truly opened up and we had to take cover; the front side of the sand dunes were steep, black cliff faces that were full of caves for us to take shelter in. I chose a particularly deep cave and went to the end to find a birds nest filled with skeletons of a family that once was. Some of us found snake skins and shells and more things that made us wish for this rain to pass so we could safely find our way back to camp.

As the rain eased, we made our way back along the beach, for what seemed like hours just looking for some sign of civilisation. I remember running up the sand dunes peering out into the distance, checking on our location. I remember the exact moment when a friend spotted the camp and yelled to the rest of us ‘We made it!’ like there was ever potential that we wouldn’t.

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On returning as an adult, we walked for less than two hours, with a solid picnic break, some cliff climbing and a swim. The hike was a breeze and the weather was perfect…but something still felt wild and raw about this place; there was still magic here.

Coming back to this place with these memories was the most wonderful experience; to walk those same steps as an adult, to see how my imagination had changed the reality, to share those stories with new friends and make new memories that were just as beautiful as the past ones.

It taught me that these moments in the outdoors are so important for our kids, to let their imagination run wild and free and to have to hold and to cherish forever.

I’ll forever see this trip as a gift from my Mother.

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Looking for family-friendly hikes around Northern New South Wales?

Here are Shinae’s favourites:

Jerusalem Creek Walk, Bundjalung National Park

Mara Creek to Shelly Beach, Yuraygir National Park

Iluka Rainforest Walking Track, Iluka Rainforest Reserve

Brooms Head to Illaroo, Yuraygir National Park

The Gorge, Via Copmanhurst - this walk is on private property that is open for use. The owner Neil takes you on his boat up through the Gorge to hike to a waterfall before returning back to their home