If the idea of your child spending more time exploring nature – building dens, foraging for fresh food, learning about wildlife – isn’t appealing enough, research shows that time in the great outdoors can supercharge memory and creativity, reduce anxiety and boost mood and self-esteem. Green spaces are packed with play and learning potential – and make pretty good spots for running, climbing, cartwheeling, and spinning too.
First Hand Experiences has put the emphasis on tech-free fun since its launch in London four years ago, and as the family-run camp expands, there’s even more wild adventure on the horizons.
Junior shares 10 reasons to try First Hand Experiences:
Celebrate the Natural World
The ethos behind the First Hand Experience camps is all about tackling the 21st century nature deficit, so expect most activities to take place in the great outdoors – come rain or shine!
Founders Justin and Louisa Baker – former teachers and a husband and wife team – set up the camp to help encourage positive behaviour and a love for the outdoors. Woodland exploration, bug hunting, foraging for leaves and sticks and, yes, getting a bit muddy are all in a day’s work for little visitors.
Grow, Cook and Eat
Little campers can get green-fingered planting their own herbs and veggies, before using some of the fresh produce to prepare their own vegetarian meals.
Think courgetti with homemade pesto and cherry tomatoes, followed by sweet potato chocolate mousse (yes, really!) that even the fussiest of eaters will demolish.
I may have been dubious about my six-year-old son eating such a healthy menu, but turns out that spiralising the courgettes and grinding up his own pesto makes all the difference to deliciousness.
As the outdoors is such a boon for creativity, it’s no surprise that First Hand Experiences incorporates the artistic into its camps.Collecting fruits and berries for turning into dyes is just the start of a process that includes dyeing fabrics for transforming into flags and other crafts.
Painting flower pots for filling with sunflower seeds or plants was a favourite activity for my son, while his handmade bug hotel has pride of place in our garden.
Age is no Barrier
At First Hand Experiences day camps, which are held at Fulham Palace, in west London, the camps are split into two distinct groups: Palace Pioneers for 3-5 year olds, and Wild Explorers for those aged 6-11.
The tiniest campers have more child-led exploration and play, while older children have chance for more structured activities to stimulate and engage their interest. Think survival games and even hunting for water.
Themed Activity Weeks
Unlike most other children’s camps, each week of the holidays has its own theme, bringing lots of variety.
The very aptly named Oh Taste and See; Catch it if You Can; Tiny Houses and Living Colour are the themes planned for this summer. While the younger children have fun exploring the week’s theme in the grounds of Fulham Palace, the older group’s activities include day trips farther afield.
Picking fruit and vegetables in Surrey and delving the undergrowth at Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common are just some of the adventures on the cards.
Drama, singing and performing are a regular part of the First Hand Experiences day, with children learning original songs dreamed up by founder Louisa to describe their activities.
The week-long day camps at Fulham Palace culminate in a joyous performance of song, as well as a market for the children to share their produce and crafts with family and friends.
Make New Friends and Learn Skills
With super friendly staff, small ratios and a daily circle time to greet new campers, even the most reserved child soon feels at home.
“Sometimes on the first day the children don’t know how to just come and play in woods, but by the second day they will be making up their own games,” explains Justin, who is dad to Baxter, 3, and Florabelle, 18 months.
“We want it to be a real learning experience for them, but it is as much about making friends, being happy and together.”
Forget preparing a packed lunch each day – First Hand Experiences has its own chef creating all the meals and snacks (sometimes with help from the campers!).Healthy, nutritious foods include the likes of veggie sushi, lentil Bolognese, raw falafel, homemade coconut ice cream and fresh, delicious smoothies. And of course, dietary requirements are catered for.
Overnight camps in Kent have been part of First Hand Experiences offering since last year, but Justin and Louisa now have a permanent site – named Gather Green – for sharing the full sleepaway experience with older children aged 7-14.
The wildflower-filled site at Selling, Kent, is set to be home to holiday camps and a community creative hub, and offers 3-night or 6-night trips.
Sustainable and Community-focused
Having recently become a Community Interest Company (CIC), First Hand Experiences plans to expand its approach of reconnecting children with nature to those from less privileged backgrounds.
A crowdfunding campaign is currently underway to raise extra cash for creating sustainable infrastructure at the Gather Green site, including giant tipis, solar showers and compost toilets. www.crowdfunder.co.uk/first-hand-experiences