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Kids building a dam

Giving our kids the childhood we had

It’s a thing we hear so often – I wish my kids could have the kind of childhood we had. We look back on our childhood with not only nostalgia but regret that our children can’t experience the same freedom that we had as children.

When we were young we stayed out from breakfast until dinner, building dams, climbing into scantily built tree houses and fearlessly racing our bikes everywhere. There were no cell phones to track us down, just the neighbourhood grapevine and an innate sense of when it was dinner time. We played where ever looked good – in cars, in caravans, under houses (the best kind of huts) and in creeks and streams.

But the world has changed. There are more cars, there are more unspeakable violences to children, we have health and safety laws drummed into us everywhere we go and we declare that while we would love to have our children live the lives we did when we were young – it’s just not how the world is now.

I was very much in this camp before James and I got together. James on the other hand is very much on the side of “why can’t they have the childhood we had?” And so while I have to close my eyes with half of the things that they do I do agree with him and I see the girls blossom because of it. I’m not so brave as to let them out from dawn to dusk but here are a few things that we are doing with our girls so they have a little bit of what we had growing up in this beautiful country of ours…

Jumping into waterholes

One of my most vivid memories as a child was jumping into Hoffmans Pool – a waterhole in the Kauaeranga Valley with what seemed like then an impossibly tall, sheer rock face for jumping. My Dad dared me to jump – and as every child of the 80’s knows, you can’t resist a dare.

Now I read all the articles about people dying jumping into waterholes so it’s a scary thought when it comes to my kids jumping in water holes. There is no way I’m getting away with that excuse though – James is a strong swimmer and diver and is a certified dive instructor (with all the first aid training that goes along with that). He is also very careful about the water so before the kids went in and certainly before they jumped he checked it all out, made sure the kids weren’t over their heads and there were no dangers in the water we stayed very close by and within minutes they were all jumping into waterholes.

Jumping off bridges

I cut my foot jumping of a bridge in Mangawhai as a kid. I don’t remember it hurting but I do remember it being so much fun!!

So when we headed to Patea and there was an awesome bridge we let the kids jump off that.

Pataua bridge

Swimming with eels

OK so this is something that none of us set out to do but we have all done it right. Jumped in that waterhole and had an amazing time until someone felt that eel brush against them.

And then its the predicament – do you keep swimming knowing they are there or get out. This is exactly the predicament that our eldest had when after an hour of jumping into a waterhole she spied an eel. She did a few more jumps but boy did she swim quick! It’s these life lessons we need more off….

Playing in cars

There is pretty much no way to say that this is safe but I remember so much of my childhood playing in cars and pretending to be going somewhere amazing.

I trust, just like my parents did, that I have bought my kids up to know not to touch the handbrake or gear stick when playing in a car so when I found our girls imagining their road trip in James ute I left them to it. They were in there for literally hours.

It also helped that they were parked on the flat on grass.

The Coromandel Express

The Coromandel Express

Swimming till your lungs hurt

There is a pontoon out in Waitete Bay. It’s something for the bigger kids but the little kids always want to go out there.

Remember how it felt to be bullet proof – to know that you could do something but your parents wouldn’t let you? That’s how they felt. They KNEW they could swim to that pontoon and jump off it. We knew different of course but you don’t learn much by your parents telling you that (or by trying it and drowning) so on our last day of holiday we put the kids in their life jackets and took them out to the pontoon by boat and dropped them off with James.

They had so much fun jumping and then it was time to swim back in. It’s cold in the deeper water and it really was a long way so by the time they got back in the youngest in particular was saying it hurt to breathe.

How else can you show a child that they have limits if you never let them push them.

Climbing walls

We did this relentlessly when I was young and our girls do it now. I don’t care about the footprints on the walls – this is something that should never go away.

Catching dinner

One of my fondest childhood memories is walking down the road to Cockle Bay with my Dad, wading out and then filling our little bucket (or if I forgot my skirt tied up always sufficed) with cockles. Then me and Dad would walk back up the hill to boil them up and have cockle and vinegar sandwiches for lunch.

There is something so satisfying as a child to be able to provide food for your family.

girl kissing fish

Rock climbing

My grandma still talks about climbing around the rocks from bay to bay after my little sister when she was in her 60s – we all used to do it relentlessly. It’s a timeless thing that kids love and it’s actually quite fun as a grown up too. My only tip – take good shoes!!

Rope swings

Anywhere and everywhere that you find these swings you should jump right on them. Swinging is one of the very few things in life its almost impossible not to smile while doing. The oxygen rushes into your lungs and the wind pushes your face back in a smile.

There are so many rope swings to be found it you look around for them…


Sliding down hills on cardboard boxes

When we were kids you could do this at One Tree Hill but not anymore. Regardless, there are still tons of hills around. Just grab a cardboard box and go – it’s so much fun!!

Make nature a playground

Remember how we used to be able to turn anything we found in nature into something cool to play with. Kids still know how to do this – we just need to give them a bit of space to do it. We were at a beach and the girls discovered this tree was particularly elastic and if two of them held it down when they let go the third would go flying up into the sky. Scary but so much fun!!!

Making holiday friends

One of the best things about camping is meeting new friends. I met James when I was 12 and our family were camping at Stillwater (this is a photo i took of James when he was 13 at Stillwater)!

Every holiday we go on the girls come back with a new set of friends. They perform on stages, they run through long grass, spend hours playing at other tent sites or meeting in the playground. It is scary to let them go and do this. A lot depends on finding the right campground that isn’t too busy and has an environment where everyone looks out for everyone’s kids (and there are loads of them around NZ).


We also got given a set of Walkie Talkies which are awesome! When the girls want to go and see their friends or go exploring they take one with them. They are only allowed to go as far as the range will let them and have to come home when they are asked (they don’t have the inbuilt dinner timer yet). We even have other parents jump on them and let us know they are taking the kids for a swim etc – it’s awesome!

Climbing trees

Trees are scary for parents! They are high! Our youngest loves to climb trees (well anything in fact – a fence or pole will also do). She gets up there and just sits up there – above everything else – and will do it for hours. It reminds me of a friend James and I have who as a teenager used to climb a tree and tie himself on and wave with the wind! She’s fallen out of a few trees but that’s all part of growing up isn’t it…

Get Lost

It’s hard to recapture that feeling we had as kids, so much has changed and sometimes we forget. So we made a game to help you do it. It’s called the Getting Lost Game and in it you’ll find directions – like turn right, left, follow a blue car or build a dam, climb a tree, jump in some water to remind you to do all of this with your kids. They’ll love it. And you will too. It’s probably just like the car games you used to play when you were young. It’s totally offline, able to be used anywhere and guaranteed to get you exploring just like the old days. You can buy yours here.

So there you go – how to get a little bit of our childhood in New Zealand for our kids. It’s all free and able to be done pretty much anywhere you are lucky enough to live in New Zealand.

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