"Look, OMG, What is it????!!!" Shrieks echoed across the wood as the first tiny frog was spotted...
Outdoor Family Camping is so much more than three nights away from the hustle and bustle of East London. For most of the children that join us - and lots of the parents too - it's a chance to connect to the outdoors world, to learn the names of the common plants, trees and creatures of the South East of England. Along the way they learn to pitch a tent, feed chickens, make a cup of tea outdoors and live without permanent connection to a mobile phone...
Three days and two nights under canvas at Green Farm Kent, blue skies, sunny days, moonlit nights, a couple of unscheduled games of rounders (with a football, anyone?), kite-flying, muddy play, exploring hidden trails, feeding the animals, resting in hammocks. Welcome to Family Camping 2019!
Feeding the pigs. Way more fun than Fortnite!
We’ve been running Family Camping at Green Farm Kent for four years now, an organic mixed farm in Kent run by the amazing husband and wife team, Martin and Maryann.
The camping ground itself sits in a fenced 5 acre site of ancient woodland, where we can spread the tents through the glades. No mobile connection here - and so no internet. The noise of traffic, ever-present in the city, is dialled down to a far-off hum; a hardly-present reminder of the outside world. You begin to connect instead to your surroundings: birdsong, bees, the breeze rustling the canopy.
When the dusk gathers, we reset our senses again. The Night Walk this year was given new life by volunteer Sarah - our resident Gongmaster – who took us on a route through the darkness, listening to, experiencing, and joining in with the sounds of the woodland.
On a woodland walk on the second day we learnt how to identify some common woodland species such as oak, beech, blackthorn as well as less common native species such as the service tree.
We also learnt about the relationship between oak and brambles. Brambles. They may be the foe of many a woodland walker, with their propensity to snag on clothing and scratch bare arms, but the thorns also keep deer at bay. A stand of brambles will afford enough protection for oak saplings to grow. Once the oak trees have reached maturity, the canopy will block out the sunlight, and the brambles immediately below them will die off, but not before they have taken root around other nearby oak saplings.
One of Outdoor People’s aims is to increase opportunities for independent outdoor play, so we love the fact that, at Green Farm, children can play safely out of sight while their parents relax. One four year old said their favourite thing about the experience was "mum not watching me all the time."
This year’s play highlight: the 100% organic see-saw. We all agreed the benefits outweighed the risks on this!
For first-time campers there's a little bit of adjusting - you have to learn which plants need to be avoided, if you don't want to be scratched or stung. Also how to blow up your roll mat so you get comfy night's sleep. But you get the hang of it; at the end of the three days, one inexperienced camper said "the outdoors feels safer".
You also have to get used to the fact you're staying on a working farm, but everyone was happy to pitch in with the farm’s daily routine – feeding the ducks and the hens, herding sheep and feeding the pigs. Pigs are natural dustbins – pretty much anything we think of as stinky food waste, they regard as cordon bleu cuisine (with the exception of lemons, limes and oranges – who knew?).
Green Farm Kent is a working farm – so families are given a chance to feed the animals and learn about the community garden.
The fireside was a natural focus for people to relax and share their experiences over the course of the day. One mum said she found the sense of community that developed over the three days one of the most rewarding things about the experience: 'Connecting with other people and sharing experiences is good for my whole family and makes me feel less isolated.’
Marshmallows round the fire – isn’t this the best bit of camping?
Outdoor Family Camping is part of Outdoor People's year-round programme, which aims to connect families with nature and to get more people outside. As well as running monthly Wild Walks across East London, we're also hoping to increase the number of camping trips we make over the year.
This would not be possible without our fantastic volunteers. We will be launching a new volunteers programme in the coming weeks – if you’re interested in becoming a Wild Walk leader in your community, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
This year, Outdoor Family Camping was supported through a grant from the Arc’teryx Foundation, profits from our shop in Netil Market, and the many generous donations made through our GoFundMe appeal. Every donation, large or small, was invaluable, allowing eight families to enjoy an August break away from the clamour of the city.