Catching the Children's Stories

I’m being pulled rather than walking up the path to the bluff, care of the stronghold on my palm that an excited five year old in plaits has commanded.

“Come on,” she urges. Anyone would think we’re on our way to a playground or ice creamery but no, her eagerness is to get to the top of the hill and sit still. The same is true of her two older siblings. The pilgrimage is clearly a regular family ritual. A few times a week, I am informed, the family fans out atop the headland near their home in Iluka, to a special spot of their own, where they sit in observation of all that moves - birds, whales, echidnas, weather.

Finding my own lookout, the midmorning sun has almost lulled me to sleep when I’m alerted awake by a blowhole of a humpback.

I’m not the only one who saw it, I learn, when we gather together at the sound of a cooooo-eeeee to share what happened. There’s much more that I missed. It’s like listening to a chapter of a story the family are telling together – the return of the wedge-tailed eagle, today’s honey Easter drama – the ongoing tale of the private wild world of the headland, with them as the charismatic narrators.

It was heartening to see such nature literate kids, and one of a string of similar recent meetings.

At a recent workshop, I would rise early to catch a quiet swim in the dam before breakfast. On my way back to camp I’d pass a family headed up by an intent looking pre-school aged boy with wild blonde hair. ‘We’re looking for dingo tracks’ he’d announce with a child’s endearing way of bypassing any need for a greeting. Returning to the main group, the boy’s words would tumble over each other in their enthusiasm to report back the family’s findings.

My friend’s seven year old stepson Floyd is hooked on his morning sit spot routine, so excited that he’ll burst in to the bedroom before dawn spilling over with the breaking birdnews.

Then there’s the nine year old who can take you on a tour of his farm and give you botanical names of all the orchids.

What is it that sustains these kids’ interest, when many of their peers would rather play the ipod?

Catching their stories, I realised, is key. Not just passively heard, but encouraged by questions which incite further curiosity.

When they run in the door exclaiming about the fallen nest on the path, equal them in wonder and awe, toss them a question that will hurtle them out the door again on the case.

And who knows, you might just find yourself out with them with knees on the dirt and eyes open wide for the next clue.