JJ is a bit of an electronics fiend. Anything with a screen and a controller (or a keyboard and mouse) instantly attracts his attention, as it does for so many children his age. We allow him to enjoy his screentime hobby while encouraging him to explore the outdoor interests that he sometimes forgets when caught by blinking distractions. We have a routine of one day on (meaning he can play electronic games on that day), two days off (no screen time), which has proven to be successful in the past, but could be potentially difficult moving into the future as he becomes older and more independent. We’ve done our best to encourage a love of the outdoors, nature and sports, but it’s been a bit of a challenge as we’ve long been an apartment/unit dwelling family without a backyard to explore. Parks are awesome, but it’s just not the same as exploring your own back yard. The thing is, once he’s outside in an environment conducive to play, he becomes a little boy again, saving snails, hunting mushrooms with David, and collecting feathers.
David says “Frogs have feathers and can fly”, though I’m not entirely sure what that’s about.
I remember when I was a little girl, we had a huge backyard and I imagined myself its princess-ranger. Seriously. I knew every inch of the place – the names of all the plants, which bushes housed bitey insects, and where the worst prickles lived. I built houses for my toy horses and dolls in the roots of the trees on our property. I learnt to cycle by riding in circles around the huge eucalypt in our front yard that my father would adorn with fairy lights every year. I named the plants and the palm tree outside our front door that grew alongside me. Loving my back yard instilled a life long love of nature and a bit of an obsession with digging my toes into the earth; something I wanted for my own children.
Although I do love city life, sacrificing a garden for the convenience of having the very best schools at our doorstep has lead to a kind of apathy on JJ’s part when it comes to getting outside and making his own fun. He’d much rather be entertained by a screen, and David and I have made it our personal mission to encourage him to “want” to go outside as much as possible by creating experiences that we hope will help define his character as he grows. Visiting farms, beaches, and forests is a huge part of that.
Like most big cities in Australia, Melbourne is a coastal city. Despite living on and off in Melbourne for the past 10 years, I had never visited beautiful Phillip Island until this Sunday past, when we gathered the family into two cars and headed south on a hunt for fairy penguins and adventure.
We grabbed a three park pass and headed straight to Churchill Island Heritage Farm, which the website promised would help us to “escape to another time”. The drive took nearly two hours, but it was beautiful. Freya slept through most of it and JJ travelled with my mother and Richard, who was enjoying his second and final day in Melbourne. This meant that David and I got some rare time to talk grown-up things and generally enjoy each other without housework, university, work, or beautiful but demanding little voices to distract us from each other. We stopped on the way to check out the roadside attractions on the way, including this tank, and the biggest anchor I have ever seen. I’m not kidding, this anchor was as big as a car.
When we arrived on Churchill Island, I was somewhat disappointed. Although it was absolutely gorgeous (omg, those views!), as far as farms go it was tiny. Like, really tiny. I had no idea how we were going to pass the 5 hours we had allocated there before we had to make the drive to Penguin Parade to see the fairy penguins at dusk.
Five hours later, we had milked a cow, watched a live sheep shearing that was hosted by an absolute larrikin, enjoyed the dog show, and even learnt how to crack a whip. Okay, David learnt to crack a whip – I just flailed around with it and hit myself in the head a couple of times. There’s a photo but I am absolutely not sharing it. Very embarrassing business there. We also explored the old original homestead, the kitchen garden, and took a ride on a tractor, before patting some seriously cute baby goats and a very, very large horse.
It was such a great experience and so much fun, particularly the whip not cracking, arm flailing bit. I’m really glad that we visited.
We left Churchill Island Heritage Farm and made it to the Penguin Parade with just a few minutes to spare. We had Penguins Plus tickets (for which I am so very grateful), which meant that we didn’t have to sit in the huge auditorium style seating area in the freezing cold wind. Instead, we huddled together on slightly comfier wooden benches overlooking the penguin’s paths to their nests.
I would have loved to have taken pictures, but unfortunately for us (and fortunately for the penguins), photography is banned to prevent frightening the fluffy little guys with flashes and crazy tourists hanging from the rails trying to get a close up of the birds.
We were all so in love with the penguins, and the collective gasps, oohs and aahhhs from the huge group of tourists there was testament to just how adorable these little guys are. After the last few stragglers had emerged from the waves and made their way to their tiny penguin houses in the sand, we too trickled back into the warmth to gulp down hot chocolates and wonder at the fairy penguin parade that we had been so privileged to observe.
It’s moments like these that we hope JJ will hold close to his heart always; remembering the little penguins with all the delight of an eight year old child, long after the hours of Minecraft have been forgotten.