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I’d been meaning to check out the Little River mudslide all summer, but when I read this article online I was finally inspired – Girls who play in dirt grow up healthier.

And with Earth Day coming up soon, it seemed appropriate to start celebrating by covering ourselves in it! All you need is a slope, water and dirt and lots of bottoms!


No brakes - gravity has hold of us!

Standing up at the end is not so easy!

Josie and Mum - who says girls don't like dirt!

PS – next post will be top tips for throwing an Earth Day party … mud-pies might have to be on the menu!


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A great way to get your children excited about reading is to make them the star of their own story. It’s also a great way to record all the many adventures you have together!  These days anyone who has access to a digital camera can make a book; either online or at your local photo shop or chemist that has one of those photo printing booths.  You can either rewrite the familiar classics with your own unique twist as I have done here , or choose to tell your own unique story.

We’re going on a tramping trip
(with William and Josie)
Concept stolen from ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ by Michael Rosen

Josie and the red door.

Josie and the red door (2010)

We’re going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park.

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park (2008)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

William @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve (2011)

Oh no!

We’ve reached the green and shady forest
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it,
we’ll have walk through it

Trip trot trip trot trip trot hop

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

Josie @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve 2011.

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ngatuhoa Stream.

William and Dad crossing Ngatuhoa Stream (2007)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Temple valley.

William and Mum @ Temple valley (2007).

Oh no!

Here’s a rushing braided river
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have wade through it

Link arms and wade wade wade wade

St James CA.

William and Josie St James CA (2011)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Hanmer Forest Park.

Hanmer Forest Park (2011).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

St James.

St James CA 2011).

Oh no!

We have reached the wavy tussock grasslands
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Swish, swish, swish, swish

Ben Ohau.

Ben Ohau (2007).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ben Ohau (2007).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day


William @ Otukaikino with friends (2012).

Oh no!

Here’s an oozy, peaty wetland
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to go around it

Squelch squelch squelch squelch

Swing bridge

Swing bridge Aoraki/MT Cook (2009)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook (2009).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (2009)

Oh no!

Here’s a big snowy mountain
We can’t go under it, we can’t go around it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to climb over it

Climb climb climb climb

Arthur's Pass (2011).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Kura Tawhiti.

Josie & Ben Kura Tawhiti (2012).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Kura Tawhiti.

William @ Kura Tawhiti 2012

Oh oh

We’ve found a scary limestone cave
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Tip toe tip toe tip toe

Cave Stream.

William and Dad @ Cave Stream (2008).

What’s that sound?


It’s the taniwha!

Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry.

William, Josie and cousin Taylor on the Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry (2010).

Quick, run home

Over the big snowy mountain—climb climb climb
Around the oozy peaty wetland—squelch squelch squelch
Through the wavy tussock grasslands—swish swish swish
Through the rushing river—wade wade wade
Through the drippy rainforest—trip trot trip trot hop
Back home, in our front door, up the stairs and into bed.


Josie reading her book.

Josie reading "going on a tramping trip" (2012)

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Our lives are so busy these days. As working parents in a commercially-driven world where success is the measure of worth, we are constantly rushing from one appointment to the next. Get up, go the gym, take the kids to school, go to work, pick up the kids from school, go to swimming lessons, violin lessons, ballet lessons, art, karate, play dates, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, go to the gym, night classes, choir, committee meetings, PTA…

Sometimes we just need to stop, listen, be still and take time to be in the moment.

Daisy's Flat.

Quiet times at Daisy Flat.

Sunday 4 March 2012 was Children’s Day. And I was too busy to publishing this blog on the day! (shame) The theme of children’s day for 2012  was ‘treasure our children’. We shouldn’t need a day to tell us that our children are a gift and that we should spend time with them. But with all this constant drive to improve ourselves and be successful, we sometimes forget to just be together. As a family. All of us. Not Mum and Josie while the boys go to swimming. Not Dad and William while Josie goes to ballet. All of us. Spending some time together marvelling at the world we find ourselves in. It only needs to be ten minutes. Ten minutes of being in the moment.

Here are six simple experiences to just be “in the moment” with your children. These can be done by children of any age, even (especially) infants.

1)     Lie under a tree and look up at the branches together. Watch the leaves blowing in the wind, and the way the sun sparkles as it flicks between the spaces. Close your eyes and listen.

2)     Find a warm rock and lie like lizards. Worship the sun by feeling how it warms the rock – or your driveway if you can’t find a suitable stone. Put your cheek or hands flat against the stone and feel its warmth.

3)     Go for a walk at the quiet end of the beach – no spades, no boogie boards, just you. Take off your shoes and find a spot where the sand is really wet. Scrunch your toes in the sand. Wiggle side to side and watch your feet. Close your eyes and listen to the waves.

Josie aged 9 months.

Josie at nine months explored the sand using multiple senses!

4)     Find a wild space (they are getting rare) where the grass is growing long. Get down low and look through the grass. Play hide and seek, or crawl pretending to be tigers. Look for butterflies and insects flitting from flower to flower. Lie down and close your eyes.

5)     When it rains sit in the window and watch the raindrops travel down the glass. Follow them with your finger. Pick on each and have a race. When it stops – or even if it doesn’t put on your coats and boots and go stomp in some puddles. Raise your face up towards the rain and you guessed it – close your eyes. Take a deep breath and smell the rain.

Down in the forest. Down in the forest

6)     Read a book together. Snuggle into a beanbag and cuddle. Down in the Forest, retold by Yvonne Morrison and illustrated by Jenny Cooper is great for really small kids as it’s a remake of an old rhyme “Over in the meadow” so it has wonderful rhythm and repetition as well as being familiar. It also features different families with each verse – a kiwi family, weta family, tui family and more, so it’s a wonderful choice to celebrate and read as a family.

in an old kowhai tree
lived a sweet mother tui
and her little tuis three.

“Sing!” said the mother
“We sing!” said the three
so they sang so sweetly
in that old kowhai tree.

P.S. This week is Seaweek, an annual celebration to reconnect with the sea and what it can teach us. It is being officially launched at an event from Auckland Zoo tonight. Stay tuned for sea-themed reads and maybe some other fun stuff to do! The website has lots of competitions and resources too so check it out.

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My favourite books.  I love books. I was one of those children that consumed books ferociously. I would read under the cover by torchlight until my mother confiscated the torch, then I would read by the moonlight, my book propped up on the windowsill. Once I started a book, I found it hard to escape from it.

I’m still like that – which is why I hardly ever read anymore or I’d never get anything done! But then I go on holiday and I’m like an addict, trying to cram another chapter into every moment of the day.

Instilling that same love of books into my children is important to me. Even before I had kids I started collecting picture books. I was drawn to those that told wonderful stories with wonderful images, usually with a moral or theme that appealed to the conservationist in me. The Whale’s Song was one of the first in my collection. It was usually the paintings or illustrations that would first draw me in – one wonderful book called Flotsam tells an amazing story entirely with images.

Once the children finally arrived in my life, books that were easy to read out loud became more important, with words that flowed or rhymed well, had great rhythm and beat. Humour and fun came to fore as little people love to laugh and I moved from more serious tomes to ‘Rumble in the Jungle’  or  ‘Monkey Puzzle‘.  My admiration for these authors grew when the children would ask to read the same books over and over, but I would never (well almost never) get bored repeating them.

Good quality children’s books are an important way to install values and ideas in small children. There’s a lot of research that tells us that values and character are fully formed in the first few years of life. Humans are hard wired to narrative apparently. Story-telling features in many cultures as the way knowledge was passed down generation to generation. And there are some amazing books out there. There are also plenty of terrible ones too but we don’t need to talk about those!

March 2012 is NZ Book Month.  New Zealand Book Month is a non-profit initiative promoting books and reading. To start you on your journey as a reader they are giving away $5 book vouchers to go towards your next book purchase from participating bookstores.

To help celebrate, I’m going to introduce you to some of our family’s favourite New Zealand children’s books.  Every blog published this March will also feature one recommended read. Now none of the ones I mention above are kiwi writers. But there’s a wealth of literary treasures out among our home-grown authors. I hope to one day join their ranks but for now, I’ll just share my favourites. Starting tomorrow.

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It’s difficult to sum up how life has changed since the earthquakes of 22 February 2011.  Its the little things really. Like having to drive to buy milk as there is no corner dairy-or supermarket-nearby.

It’s driving down the road and missing your turn because the historic old post office that used to stand on the corner had finally completely been demolished. Landmarks are disappearing and all street corners look the same.

It’s in things like taking the children to the movies in the summer holidays.  It was our first time back in a big movie complex and I was a little nervous. So I got the kids to practice their ‘turtles’ on the floor before the movie started.  That’s just the realities of living in Christchurch with constant aftershocks.

Turtles; Sarah mankelow

Josie and William practice their turtles

But it’s also in the solidarity of shared experiences that have turned suburbs into strong communities.  The outpouring of expression and creativity that has been inspired by these events and shared, exhibited and admired. The Butterfly and the Earthquake book is only one example.  The ingenuity and innovation of the people of Christchurch as they adapt to a new city, new ways of working and new ways of living.

Life goes on here. So does the shaking but that’s the new normal.

Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust released 185 butterflies into the wild on 22 February 2012 in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the earthquake a year ago.

In many countries and traditions the butterfly is a symbol of transformation-for obvious reasons.

Josie and caterpillar.

Josie checks on the caterpillar

From egg, to caterpillar, to cocoon and finally emerging with wings unfurled, the butterfly is the master of metamorphosis.

Imagine the whole of your life changing to such extreme ways you are unrecognizable at the end of the transformation.  Here in Christchurch we don’t have to imagine it, it’s happened to us all.

Josie and butterfly.

Josie and butterfly

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When I was fourteen I wanted to be like Don Merton. He’d gone to offshore islands and saved a black robin from the brink of extinction. He was my eco-hero and I wanted to grow up just like him.

Well these days I’m more likely to write about eco-heroes than be one, but I can see the same love of nature growing in my son; (most likely because that’s what he’s been exposed to!)

Darwin aged 7; source www.darwinday.org

Charles Darwin

Today is World Darwin Day – a global celebration of science and reason on the birthday of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin was one of the first eco-heroes. He travelled the world documenting life and coming up with all sorts of wonderful ideas like ‘evolution’ and the ‘origin of the species’. He visited New Zealand in December 1835 – apparently he didn’t think much of it!

Both Don Merton and Charles Darwin did great things. But they were also both kids once. Even famous people wanted to grow up to be someone someday. And if your son or daughter would like to grow up to be a famous naturalist, here are my ten top tips on how to help them get there!

1. Go on an adventure travelling on a Beagle. 

Not the dog! Charles Darwin visited New Zealand in 1835 travelling on a ship called “The Beagle”. Your Beagle could be your child’s bike or scooter, or the family car if you are going on a big adventure with the whole family. The point is – go somewhere and see something new!

2. Observe the natural world around you

Go into the bush or the beach with a camera and notebook and record things you see: animal life, plants, stones and dirt, traces left behind by people. If your child is old enough, let them have the camera to record the things that most interest them.

Robin spotting; photo S Mankelow.

Making friends with a South Island robin

3. Teach them to respect the natural world

Encourage them to stop, sit quietly and let birds come to you. Teach them to recognise the things birds and other animals do if they don’t like how close you are getting. It can be dangerous for both of you so make sure your visit doesn’t cause them distress. A good rule of thumb for marine animals is ten metres.

4. Study living things; noticing the little details.

Does this leaf have a jagged edge or a smooth one? Does that bird have a sharp beak? Encourage your children to draw them and name the parts.

5. Start a nature journal

Put all the photos you’ve taken, their drawings, stories and notes all in one book. It becomes a great record of your experiences together and something to refer to later.

William writing in his journal; photo S Mankelow.

William records his experience with the robin in his journal

6. Encourage them to ask lots of questions

Why does that tree grow like that? Why is this leaf furry? Why does that bird’s beak bend? Tell them it’s OK to drive their parents and teachers mad with questions! But then, help them find the answers …

7. Read lots of books about nature

Use what you learn when you go outside to understand what’s around you. Take books with you into the wild so you can identify things you see. Andrew Crowe’s life-size guide books are great for this.

8. Get familiar with some new big words and ideas like ‘evolution’, ‘adaption’, ‘habitat’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. Find out what they mean and then look around you to find examples in the natural world.

9. Discover or invent something new

Why not draw a magical creature that lives in a special place? Think about its habitat (where it lives) – what would it need to survive?

10. Finally, the best way to become famous as a naturalist is to share your knowledge with others!

If you see rare birds like whio/blue duck encourage your child to write to DOC and explain that it helps their research. Maybe encourage them to start up their own research project at school. Join a club or support a trust like Kea Conservation Trust.

Robin; Photo S Mankelow.

South Island Robin

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We went to Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill) and we found:

1 – A rock bridge, a rock tunnel and a smiley face rock

Kura Tawhiti; photo S Mankelow

A smiley face

2 – A rock that looked like a dog

photo S Mankelow

Jamie spots a rock hound

3 – A rock that looked like a table and a rock that looked like a giant tooth

Kura Tawhiti; photo S Mankelow.

A giant's tooth

4 – A dinosaur’s footprint and a fern pattern

photo S Mankelow.

Fern patterns in stone

5 – Grasshoppers, spiders and rabbits; plants growing in stones, on stones and under stones and plants with fluffy seeds

photo S Mankelow.

Fluffy seeds

6 – Caves where people used to camp

photo Stuart Webb.


7 – Places where grown-ups couldn’t go

photo S Mankelow.

A place only fit for five-year-olds

8 – A giant’s bathtub and a giant’s armchair!

photo S Mankelow.

Three little people in a giant's armchair

9 – Lichen like splodges of white paint on the speckled rock

photo Stu Webb.

Lichen like paint splodges

10 – And … lots of fun places to climb, run and explore!

photo S Mankelow.

Running through the rocks at Kura Tawhiti

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