While parents all over the country are battling requests for more screen time, a small group of kids are entertaining themselves the old-fashioned way in Cockle Bay.
Sitting under a huge Pohutukawa at the southern end of the beach, the Conscious Kids holiday programme is in full swing.
Surrounded by eager children, leader Domini Calder guards a brazier in which potatoes wrapped in tinfoil are cooking. Several dash off to forage for nasturtiums (which are edible) and, as the kids have discovered, make great plates. While they wait for the potatoes to cook, one six-year-old declares, “Let’s go to the tree house!” A small posse of others join her to scramble up the bank to their `tree house’– a natural cavern beneath tree roots.
Other children swing in hammocks, climb trees and try out the bamboo raft they made earlier in the day.
Sitting on the groyne that juts into the water at full tide, one little girl fishes with a homemade rod. Beside her, a boy tells his friend earnestly about the algae that will grow on the seaweed he is using for bait on his rod.
Co-founder Maria Mariotti explains that the main concept behind the programme is to give space and time to children. “A lot of the time these days kids are doing super-structured activities and don’t have time to relax or create,” she explains. “This gives them that time to really connect with the environment.”
There’s no structure to the day, which looks different each time according to what piques the children’s interest – a full tide is likely to lead to swimming and a low tide to crab hunting – but leaders provide basic tools such as ropes, tarpaulins and art equipment. Other than that, the trees, bush, sand, driftwood, shells and water form the basis for the day’s play.
Hut-building will be big one day, abseiling the next. Nature guides and writing utensils are available for those who want to learn more about what they see.
Domini says, “These guys have learnt so much in the last three days because of their natural inquisitiveness. There’s a lot of collaboration and problem solving. Three of them were fishing with bungee cords yesterday and one of the cords fell in. They talked about some different ideas and ended up using another cord to fish it out.”