Making the ‘Tree Change’ … with or without having to escape to the country!

I’ve just come back home to the country after a weekend in the big city … a child free weekend at that … for a bit of ‘me time’. That RARELY happens!

My good friend Emma was out of town, so I had the luxury of having her apartment in one of my favourite parts of town all to myself.

So, what did I do? Four loads of catch up laundry, worked most of the time on planning my next outdoor family nature retreat – ironically I was inside doing it – and was in bed by 9pm both nights.

When I put friends’ my ‘wheelie bin’ out on Sunday evening, I had a giggle recalling a joke I had seen earlier in the week on Facebook that said, “You know you’re life is sad when you realise your wheelie bin goes out more than you do”!

Oh, I did venture outside for lunch on both days … both work related, but fun and inspiring nonetheless, and also for an early morning coffee at Fairfield Boathouse – to get my fix of caffeine and nature.fairfield boathouse

As I sat by the banks of the Yarra River, surrounded by nature and having my HOT coffee (another luxury when you’ve got 5 kids is having anything HOT), I reflected on how lucky I was to have the opportunity three years ago to move my family out of the city and back to live in the rural area where I grew up.

I still love going to the big city to visit, but when I head out of town and back home to the country it’s literally like a breath of fresh air – for me and for my kids.

When we first moved, I became really aware that in the city we had lived most of our lives inside. And the majority of my friends were the same, particularly those with very little kids like I had at the time.

Sometimes, regardless of if you live in the city or the country, when kids are involved, simply getting out the door is a mega-mission in itself.

The alluring choice to stay inside where the temperature is regulated and where you’re less likely to need at least one change of clothes for each kid far too often wins out over getting the family outside for a bit of nature play.

Know the feeling?

But what I had also become much more aware of when we moved back to our home among the gum trees was how much my kids LOVE spending time outdoors … and how much I do too.

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My kids were thriving and nature had started to make its way back under my own skin again. Our ‘tree change’ move had reawakened my childhood passion for the great outdoors and cherished memories of being outside once again resurfaced.

Growing up, we always had our city cousins and friends come and visit the farm on school holidays. We’d constantly be out and about, roaming free-range, catching yabbies, climbing trees, building cubbies and playing in the haystacks. Oh, and drinking milk straight from the cow!

In immersing ourselves in our outdoor adventures, in the wonder, awe, curiosity and messiness of the natural world, we reveled in getting under the skin of nature … and in turn, nature really got under our skin too … and often all over our hands, faces and clothes!

Now we’re in our 30’s and 40’s, and my city friends and family still often comment that some of the best times they can remember from their childhood were spent with us on the farm.

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I want my kids to have the chance to have those same sorts of fun, messy, nurturing, learning, nature based experiences and memories that I had growing up. And I want to join in the fun again too!

When I’m talking with people about the benefits for children (and adults) of time spent in nature and getting outside more, I often hear comments such as “Yes, but you live out in the country and it’s easy for you to get outside more”.

I know we are really very lucky to be surrounded by nature, and I’m so very grateful for that every day – especially on occasions like on Monday when I was stuck in Melbourne traffic trying to make it to a meeting on time!

But even for those of us living in the country, it can be all too easy to get into the habit of closing the door behind us and choosing to spend a lot of our time inside. It makes for less loads of laundry for a start, right?

Below is a link to some great research collated by Children & Nature Network highlighting the growing body of evidence which suggests that significant changes in childhood have occurred over the past several decades relating to children’s experiences in nature.

One study highlights findings that “Children spend less time playing outdoors than their mothers did when they were young—even in rural areas” and found that farmlands, with their restricted use and lack of local supervision for children’s activities, did not offer the rural child more opportunities for outdoor experiences.” (Clements, R. “An Investigation of the State of Outdoor Play.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol. 5(1):68-80, 2004)

I think that every kid should be lucky enough have a farm to visit. But you don’t have to live on a farm like our family or even visit one to get connected to nature.

There are so many opportunities to experience nature more often and more deeply … even if you’ve only got a small backyard or none at all, and to take advantage of nearby nature experiences that are often right under your noses.

Often, it’s simply a matter of choice.

Do you choose to meet some friends for a play date the indoor play centre or at the nature reserve just down the road? Rainy day puddle jumping or watching Peppa Pig do it on TV? Playing Mine Craft or real life Cubby/Fort building? Watching Hunger Games on DVD or a fun game of hide and seek in the bush? A run on the treadmill or outside in the park? A family camping holiday or a trip to Dreamworld?

Connecting with nature can even be as simple as growing your own herbs in icecream containers on the window sill instead of buying them from the supermarket.

That opportunity three years ago for a ‘tree change’ for my family sparked in me the reawakening of what I’d always known but had somehow forgotten in the hustle and bustle of my city lifestyle … the realisation of what powerful positive influences the natural world can have on children, parents, families … on all of us.

That’s when I made the choice to make our ‘tree change’ to be not just about WHERE we lived, but also HOW we lived.

As a family we now make more conscious decisions to look for and choose opportunities to have more nature in our lives, and it has had a profound positive impact on so many aspects of our lives … most notably on our health and in our relationships.

Even during my weekend Melbourne ‘getaway’ I could have made the choice to enjoy my coffee in one of the warm and cosy indoor cafes much closer to where I was staying. Instead I put on my jacket and scarf and travelled a little further to sit a picnic table on the lawn at the Boathouse for my coffee break … honouring my commitment to my ‘tree change’ choice to spend more time surrounded by nature.

As I sat enjoying the tranquility of the Boathouse and its beautiful surrounds and ordered my second hot coffee, (oh how I love Melbourne coffee) I will admit however for a split second that I did find myself thinking, “NATURE – that’s why I had four loads of laundry to catch up on during my ‘me time’ this weekend …”.

My mindset quickly changed when I focused on the fact that every second of the time spent outside we spent as a family getting those clothes dirty was priceless. My kids will never forget the moment earlier this week when Grandma landed bottom first in cow poo!

It’s still a mission to get out the door sometimes, and there are days where we spend far too much time behind closed doors, but when we do make the choice to get outdoors and under the skin of nature, our lives and our relationships are so much richer for it.

And when it comes down to it, what’s the price of having to do a few loads of laundry in the big scheme of things compared to having some fun outside making some priceless family memories?

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P.S.  Despite REALLY enjoying my hot coffee, I did miss having my kids with me so next weekend we’re headed to Melbourne again for some family fun time at zoo and an explore and a milkshake at Fairfield Boathouse together! Here’s to making some fun family memories!

How do you choose ‘nature’ in your family? Please share, we’d love to hear!

What is your greatest takeaway from these interviews?


  • Tim Gill

    Reply Reply June 19, 2014

    Thanks for this post Tania, and keep up the good work. It’s easy to think that ‘city = bad’ when it comes to children’s contact with nature. But it is more complicated than that. Families in suburban and rural areas may spend more time indoors and in cars, because their lives are more car-dependent (no nice parks on the doorstep, friends live further away, housing areas have no pavements, the only shops are a drive away). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds here in the UK has developed perhaps the first tool for measuring children’s connectedness to nature. They found surprisingly that urban children actually enjoy more contact with nature than rural children. That report is here:

  • Andrea Robinson

    Reply Reply August 19, 2014

    My gosh, this is terrific! What a way to live life — in a state of appreciation!

    We’re re-awakening to our roots in nature. (Why not make them tree roots?) It’s a wonderful thing for us as individuals and also has ramifications for the world. As they say in psychology, “Peace on earth begins at birth.” People who know how to get back into nature and a state of relaxation are more likely to be peaceful and uplifting to others. People who stay in a state of frustration and anger and never take the time to smell the roses are more likely to spread that anger.

    Kudos for reminding us of the feelings that we long for the most, and for showing the path to find them.


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