You don’t get much more of an outdoor-type than the adventurer Steve Backshall – although his wife, Olympic rower Helen Glover, isn’t far behind.
But even the strongest outdoors advocates can get stuck for ideas on how to entertain children there, which is why their new book, Wildlings, was born.
“I love being outdoors, and I vividly remember racking my brain thinking of ideas for what we could do with the kids one day, and I started to jot down little ideas on my phone,” says mother-of-three Glover.
“This grew and grew and grew, and I thought if I was finding motivation hard and having trouble getting ideas, then there must be lots of other people out there in the same boat, and Steve and I got talking and we thought these ideas could be useful for other families.
“It’s something that’s really close to our hearts and important to us, especially having children and seeing how they revel in the outdoors, and we can give that back to other families.”
The couple, who are parents to Logan, aged four, and twins Kit and Bo, two-and-a-half, drew on many of their celebrity friends, including Sir Chris Hoy, Judy Murray, Michaela Strachan, Caroline Lucas, Sir Brian May, Wayne Bridge and Tim Peake, to contribute ideas to the book, which includes activities like creating a home aquarium, woodland gymnastics, building a hedgehog home, bush bashing, and spider web frame art.
“A lot of the ideas in the book are from our childhood,” explains Glover, 36, a two-time Olympic champion and triple world champion rower. “Our children are quite young for some of the ideas at the moment, so there are things we look forward to doing with them, and some we do with them now.”
Clearly enjoying sharing all their fun ideas with other families, Backshall, 49, enthuses: “My favourite is something we’re doing for the third year running with our kids – we’ve set up a pond life aquarium. We’ve got a fish tank and we’ve been out pond dipping every day and finding tadpoles, pond skaters, water stick insects, little fish, dragonfly larvae, and we put it all together in a tank which is sat in the middle of our living room.”
And the explorer, who presents the BBC’s Deadly 60, says of the aquarium: “It changes day by day and it’s absolutely riveting to look at – you can just stare at it for so long! It’s a non-stop project that keeps them interested all the time. There are things you might never have seen before – alien-looking creatures that are actually comparatively common in the bottom of a British pond. It’s just such a fantastic project to keep going for as long or as short a time as you want.”
Glover’s favourite activity takes the family a little further afield, but is an obvious winner for an Olympic rower. “I grew up in Cornwall and I loved writing about the beach Olympics – that was really fun and close to my heart,” she says.
But parents are busy, so why shouldn’t they just hand kids an iPad and leave them to it, instead of getting involved with action-packed outdoor adventures?
“It’s really well-documented how much people, and particularly young people, get from the outdoors, and how much they can lose from a disconnect with it,” stresses Backshall. “We’re becoming more and more aware that things like oxygen and vitamin D, and the constant flood of hormones you have when you’re outside and active are benefits you can bring for your physical health and your emotional wellbeing, and they’re absolutely countless.
“You can see the change in kids the second they get outside and are doing something fun and active and different, and something that challenges them in a variety of ways. But not everybody has an endless supply of ideas on how to do that and how to make it work, and that’s why we’re here.
“There’s absolutely no doubt about it, we get our best, happiest, easiest to deal with kids when they’ve been outside all day long and they’re naturally tired, windblown, exhausted and covered in mud with great big grins on their faces. You take them inside, they start to glaze over and they fall asleep. Perfect – job done!”
The pair acknowledge that the hardest part of outdoor activities is getting kids out there in the first place. “Getting started and making it happen is the hardest bit, but once you’re out there it’s actually really easy, particularly with youngsters,” promises Backshall.
“Hopefully this book will be empowering for those parents who don’t want to go outside themselves,” says Glover. “It’s the same as with a workout – if you get a little bit of knowledge and vision – essentially a helping hand that can make you feel empowered and confident to go into that situation – then you’re more likely to do it.
“If you have a bit of information about what’s best to wear, what’s good in these conditions, you go out and say, ‘I know what I’m going to do and bring, let’s go do it’, rather than sitting inside in your nice cosy house thinking ‘Actually, yeah, let’s stay in again’. It’s so easy to do that!”
But it’s not always easy to do things outside, even for the Backshall-Glover family. “As people who love the outdoors, we don’t want anyone to think we find it easy – it’s hard sometimes,” admits Glover. “But I do hope this book bridges the gap and makes it a bit easier.”
Backshall adds: “The workout analogy is a really good one – anyone who’s ever done any kind of physical exercise will know that if you’re sat inside and it’s hammering down with rain outside, going for a run or a bike ride is really, really tough, and every ounce of your being is telling you not to do it. But the second you’re underway with it, you feel like a billion dollars, and afterwards it’s the best feeling on earth. It’s the same feeling with getting your kids outside.”
Of course, there’s much more to parenting than just getting your kids outdoors – so what do the all-action duo think of being a mum and dad?
“They’re a handful, but we really love it,” says Glover. “Honestly, I’ve felt lucky every single day.”
And Backshall declares: “I think it’s world-changing – it’s changed everything about my perspective on what life is all about. I’ve spent a lot of my life crawling around trying to find a purpose for what I’m doing here, and suddenly I became a dad and thought, ‘There it is, right there!’
“It’s fantastic – you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, there are tantrums, there are moments when you mess up completely, there are times when you get it so, so wrong and you feel like the world’s about to implode, but there’s always a rainbow at the end of that. A shining light of a little smile on someone’s face when they’ve done something really cool outside and you came up with that plan – it makes it all worthwhile.”
Wildlings by Steve Backshall and Helen Glover is published by Two Roads, priced £20. Available now.
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