Before I went on 'maternity leave' four-and-a-half years ago I was a landscape architect, and I spent quite a lot of time thinking about space. Not astronomical space but physical space - the space we occupy, move through and experience in our daily lives.
I've thought about the ideal dimensions of an outdoor step, and that the dimensions of a step outside are different to that for a step inside. When people move about outdoors, they stroll, stride, so the risers need to be lower and the treads longer than for indoors.
Light, temperature, privacy, density, colour, form, views, texture, scent, access, acoustics, safety, function, history and culture will all contribute to the quality of a space. Often, the design of places for children revolves around brightly coloured play equipment, which absolutely has its place, but it is limited.
Doots is not as wildly enthusiastic about playgrounds as you might imagine a four year old to be. She doesn't like slides and she has never really been the physically confident type, but she's captivated by the scale of big old trees, she quizzes me about the names of flowers, adores jumping in puddles, clamboring over rocks, crunching leaves underfoot, blowing dandelion clocks, picking raspberries, digging in soil, chasing waves, making structures out of prunings. She's a garden girl, an outdoors kid.
And while Oesch does love a good playground, he also takes delight in more natural places. I've recently noticed him playing with real imagination. Not yet 2, he surprised me the other day when we were playing in this 'tree cave' - a big old tea tree with multiple trunks that has formed a cave-like structure surrounded with foliage. He ran around inside with his arms flapping, looking up from within the canopy and calling 'sea, sea'. He was pretending to swim and imagining he was underwater (well, I think that's what he was getting at). He then found a little corner and squatted down and said 'cook' and started to pretend to cook on the 'stove'. He examined the bark and climbed over limbs. He didn't want to leave.
I love watching the change in my children when they play outside. Their movements slow down and become more thoughtful - as they play with sand, feed the chooks, observe ants or snails or collect sticks. It might be my imagination, but they seem to breathe more deeply. I've observed them at play and tried to identify the source of the magic. It's obviously to do with the senses being stimulated differently to when we're inside. Outside there's more physical variation in ground surface, in the movement of air around us, in the strong natural light of the sun and deep shade of trees.
When I recall my favourite childhood places - rock pools at a local beach, the weathered jetty at Balnarring Beach and all the water beneath it, the space underneath my grandparents' enormous lemon tree, the coastal dunes of a summer camping ground, a big hedge in a nearby aerodrome we were not supposed to climb in (but did) - there is not a swing or slide in sight. These places resonated with me because they allowed me to escape - and to dream, hide, pretend, explore, learn and grow. I remember them, and the way I felt when I was there, in exquisite detail. Doots' interactions with places she is drawn to reminds me of this...
If you're interested in children's interactions with amazing landscapes, two really beautiful posts come to mind...
Janey at Sweetest Jane has some gorgeous photos of her boys exploring their wild Las Vegas landscape
Emma at The Adventures of Baby Pirate and Captain Nicholas shares her amazing secret wonderland - imagine having this place at the end of your street!