Part 1: Why Foraging with Kids is Awesome!
Hello all you amazing Outdoor Mums!
I'm John, proud daddy to a little boy called Arthur-Felix and a little girl called Sybbie-Nimue, and the creator of The Grizzly Forager, a free education resource site all about foraging with kids. I'm so thrilled to have been asked to team-up with the amazing peeps at Outdoor Mums UK to write a number of blogs all about foraging, which will hopefully inspire you to get outdoors and explore some amazing wild foods with your kids! In these blogs, I'll be addressing some commonly-asked parent questions, such as "where do I start!?", "Is it safe!?", and "I don't have any foraging knowledge - how can I forage with my kids!?". We'll also explore some of the fantastic benefits of foraging with kids (for them and us), look at some of the basic (and safe) wild foods that we can forage straight away, and explore some fun foraging-related activities that you and your kids can enjoy whilst out and about in the wilds.
Foraging With Kids
I've found that many parents would love to forage with their kids, but are reluctant to do so because they feel that it's simply too dangerous. Whilst there are some risks, they are easily managed with just a few simple precautions that will be covered in detail in this blog series. In contrast to what you may think, you also really don't have to be an expert to start foraging, either. With just a few basic and easy to identify wild edibles in your knowledge base (which you probably already have - blackberries, apples, elderflowers, etc.), you can get out and enjoy the outdoors with your kids, and bring home some amazing wild ingredients to make something magical for dinner. But it isn't all about the food! Spending time out in nature has an amazing effect on your physical and mental wellbeing, creates dedicated and meaningful family time, and gives your children one of the best natural educations they could ever hope for - one filled with adventure, fun, and wonderful childhood memories.
I'll kick-off this blog with a little bit about us, then look at some of the benefits of foraging. In future blogs, we'll explore, among other things:
Foraging Essentials - What you'll need to forage; Where to Forage; and When to Forage.
Foraging Safety - the Golden Rules of foraging with kids, and other risks to be aware of.
Easy Wild Foods - A look at some of the more common and easy to ID wild food finds.
Fun Foraging-Related Activities - Learn how to use wild mushrooms to make art.
Foraging as a Tool for Child Learning & Development
Foraging & Mental Wellbeing
Meet The Wildlings
Almost every photograph on our website and Instagram feed (@thegrizzlyforager) features our little wildlings, and you'll also be seeing quite a lot of them here, too - best to put some names to the faces!
Our family foraging adventures all started because of one special little kid called Arthur-Felix, whom I am very proud to call my Son. Arthur is an inquisitive, thoughtful and energetic little boy, and like many little boys his age, he's utterly obsessed with dinosaurs. He occasionally introduces himself as "T-Rex" and can often be found stomping around the house and garden, roaring, growling and picking things up with just two fingers, including his knife and fork. Arthur is five years old.
Sybbie was born at home during 2020's first Lockdown. She was a little earlier than expected, and surprised us all by arriving, of all places, in the shower. Like her big brother, she's inquisitive and has an uncanny ability to melt her daddy's heart with just a glance and a smile. Sybbie has only just started her foraging adventures, but has already managed to find Ceps, Chanterelles, Winter Chanterelles and Cauliflower Mushrooms. A whole world of adventure awaits her.
My wife, Christina, and I moved to Catcleugh, a small and very remote hamlet in Northumberland, in 2017, three weeks before Arthur was born. We moved into the middle of nowhere from a town house in the city so we could give Arthur a childhood like no other, surrounded by nature, the forest, and the wild moorlands of Whitelee Moor Nature Reserve and Northumberland National Park.
Arthur has been coming out with us every day since he was just a baby, and after his first foraging experience of Bilberries at eighteen months old, he can now identify lots of edible plants and fungi, like sorrel, wood sorrel, red clover, heal-all, water mint, thyme, rosebay willowherb, elderflower, bilberry, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, wood hedgehogs, ceps, chanterelles, stinkhorn (which he calls "big stinky willies!") and cauliflower fungus. We often bring home our finds and cook and eat them together as a meal, make desserts, syrups or teas, or do other activities, such as create art with mushroom spore prints. This really does make the whole experience really engaging and family orientated. We also teach him about toxic plants, such as foxglove, yew, and nightshade, and have a strong emphasis on safety, always iterating to him that he's not to put anything into his mouth unless we say it's okay, and we've been doing exactly the same with his little sister, Sybbie-Nimuë, who's two.
Foraging is such a wonderful and valuable pastime, with strong links to folklore, tradition and sustainable living. We love that Arthur is learning about the bounty of nature, the lifecycles of plants and animals (including death) and the changing seasons, but also having so much fun out in the wilds, as well. My wife (who's a clinical psychologist) and I are firm believers that having a hands-on connection to nature and the outdoors creates good health and positive mental well-being in people of all ages, and foraging with kids is a magical way of connecting with the land as well as with each other, learning and experiencing new things together.
If you've got this far, you're obviously intruiged by the idea of foraging. But why is that? Well, the simple answer is: Because foraging is awesome! Whether what interests you is the free, sustainable food, the family fun and adventure, or the many opportunities for learning and development that it brings, foraging with your kids is one of the most amazing things you can do. It promotes good health and wellbeing, produces dedicated family time, and creates a natural and stimulating learning environment for kids that is sustainable, informative and most of all, fun! When you forage with your kids you actually do far more than just collect free food, you stimulate their enjoyment of nature and the outdoors and create happy memories of a wonderful childhood. Here are just a few reasons why foraging is simply brilliant, and how it can have a positive impact on you and your children's wellbeing.
1. Delicious, Free Wild Food!
The thing that probably tickles the most people's pickle about foraging is the diverse range of wild edible foods that are available to those that know when and where to look. Although some wild plants may be considered inferior to supermaket varieties, the fact that you had a hand in finding them on your own often makes them taste better! There are some wildfoods, however, that simply blow the socks off anything you can find in a supermarket. These are called "choice" wild edibles and are the kinds of items that command very high prices at continental food markets, and are often found on the menus of exclusive restaurants, such as Ceps, Chanterelles, Samphire and Wild Garlic. Once you start finding these, you'll really start to appreciate how special, unique, and utterley delicious wildfood can be.
2. It's FUN!
What could be more fun for the whole family than going on a wild adventure to an untamed forest, or a stunning autumnal woodland by a lake? If you like stunning scenery or the great outdoors, then you'll absolutely love foraging. Kids especially, will love taking a break from foraging to experience the thrill of climbing trees, splashing in lakes and rivers, finding wildlife, or just generally running wild through the grass, moss or sand. Time in Nature is always time well spent, and when your kids think back to the foraging adventures they had with you, they will cherish those memories forever.
3. It's Good for your Mind!
You may not think it, but foraging is an amazing wellbeing activity that combines a multitude of psychological and mental wellness principles that can really help you find head space, inner-peace, self-assurance, tranquility, comfort and true, genuine happiness. From spending quality time with those you love and connecting with nature, to being mindful in the present moment and growing your confidence by increasing your knowledge and skills; foraging is an activity that just keeps on giving, expanding and growing with you the more you learn. If you have an interest in how foraging can improve your mental wellbeing, I'll be doing a blog dedicated to this at a later date.
4. It's Good for Your Body!
Obviously, getting out and about is also good for your physical health, but a forage can also supply a young child with all of their recommended daily exercise. When foraging with children under five, it's recommended to alternate short-duration foraging activities with play to make sure they don't become bored due to their relatively short attention spans. All that intermittent running, jumping, splashing and climbing that they do is ample exercise for them to remain healthy and happy. Children over five will also benefit from the physical activity provided by a forage, but will also have to supplement this with other, higher intensity activities as part of a healthy lifestyle. For more information about foraging and exercise, click here.
5. It's Educational for Kids
The natural world is the most amazing classroom, allowing kids to learn in unique ways at their own pace, in-line with their own interests. Foraging in this environment also allows them to explore hazards and understand risk, which aids their self-confidence and decision-making processes. It also fosters learning in a number of key developmental stages and improves their language, social interactions, and personal development skills. Due to there being no defined syllabus, they are free to explore any learning experience they wish, from botany, mycology and ecology, to life and death cycles, weather systems, art and creativity, and even spritualism. The opportunities for learning are quite literally, endless! I'll be doing a blog post dedicated to this in future.
6. It Opens-up Possibilities
Foraging draws upon a huge array of hobbies, interests, skills and abilities from a wide variety of different disciplines. Due to this diversity, it is often very easy to find related fields of study and enquiry that can really engage individual family members, or the family as a whole. These can include using foraging to develop an understanding of natural and alternative medicine; life sciences, such as botany and mycology; creativity, poetry and art; anthropology, folklore and storytelling; or developing culinary abilities or bushcraft and survival skills. This creates an ever-expanding set of skills that can stay with, and enrich a forager for their whole life. If you'd like to see some of the additional skills you and your kids could develop through foraging, click here.
Next Blog Post
In the next blog post, we'll be looking at some Foraging Essentials - what items and equipment you'll need to take with you; the best times of the year to forage; and the best locations (both rural and urban) for success.
The Grizzly Forager Website
The Grizzly Forager is a free education resource site designed to encourage and teach parents how to confidently and safely forage with their kids. It's filled with step-by-step instructions, safety notes, activities, and useful hints and tips for engaging children with nature and wild food, accompanied by beautiful and inspirational real-world photographs of the Author's children in nature.
Created by experienced forager-dad, safety expert, and professional photographer, John, the site contains detailed information for over 85 wild foods that are safe, child-friendly, and easy to identify, with separate sections for edible Plants and Flowers, Mushrooms, Fruits, Berries and Nuts, and Tree Sap. There's also an extensive Recipe section, that contains a range of simple dishes, from condiments, pickles and sauces, to starters, mains and desserts, all made with the wild-food finds on the site.
If you want to learn how to safely forage with your kids, immerse them in the beauty of the natural world, help them develop essential transferable skills, and watch them learn and grow into happy, conscientious, nature-loving wildlings, then this is certainly the website for you - a definitive guide to foraging with children unlike any other freely available resource.
📖 A Definitive Guide to Foraging with Children
🆔 Detailed ID Notes for over 85 Wild Foods
🚸 Easy to Follow Child Safety Section
📅 A Foraging Calendar
🍲 Extensive Recipe Section
🎨 Wild Nature Activities for Kids
📷 Beautiful, Real-World Photographs
💸 Completely Free to Access and Use!