Over the past two years, children have had more screen time than possibly ever before!

At different times, COVID shuttered almost everything, limiting access to entertainment, sports venues, pools and more. Throw in home schooling by time-poor and working parents, and there are a lot of kids who could benefit from getting out and about, with a purpose.

Rewilding is a concept that encourages people to immerse themselves in nature, to slow down and learn to identify and understand the world around them.

Bounty Parents chatted to author and illustrator Melissa Mylchreest about her new activity book, Rewilding Kids Australia, a mindful, nature-based activities book aimed at kids aged seven and up.

Bounty Parents: How did you become interested in ‘rewilding’ as a concept?

Melissa Mylchreest: I moved from Sydney to the New South Wales South Coast after feeling burnt out from a fast-paced career in magazines and starting a graphic design business, King Street Press. I didn’t really know much about rewilding at the time, but I started noticing birds and plants on walks around my new local area of Kiama.

I was constantly blown away by the nature and beauty of the landscape and I came across the concept of rewilding a few times – and the idea of letting nature take care of itself: repair, restore and rebalance. I wanted to apply this philosophy to humans and our lifestyle/culture and make content to help people rewild themselves.

BP: How did the idea for Rewilding Kids Australia come about?

MM: After the success of The Kiama Passport for Kids, which focused on the small coastal area in NSW, I was keen to reach a wider audience to help kids and parents during a difficult period of natural disasters of fires and floods, then COVID and a rise in mental health issues in children.

Rewilding Kids Australia is a country-wide book that can taken on a trip or enjoyed from the sofa at home. The book is set out in with chapters for each state and Territory of Australia, featuring the flora and fauna of that area. The activities are also themed to the state or Territory but are generic so they can be experienced in your own backyard.

BP: Why do you think it is an important book for kids today?

MM: Since COVID, the world and life as we knew it has changed and it’s worrying for kids.

I wanted to create something that would help kids realise and feel the benefits of being in nature. If they’re feeling stressed, anxious or sad, they have the tools to help themselves through life simply by being mindful in nature. I hope kids will take away lasting memories of wonderful time spent in nature with loved ones or by themselves – and have time away from screens.

The book teaches kids in a gentle and positive way to be sensitive to animals and take care of the environment and the planet.

BP: What did you learn during the process of making Rewilding Kids Australia?

MM: A lot!

I didn’t realise that researching and learning about wildlife grows a desire to learn even more! It’s so fascinating, and the more you learn, the more you come to value nature and its importance. I also learnt to really notice the details and structure of birds, animals, plants. Drawing (illustrating) does this – you need to get the anatomy and proportions right, otherwise the illustration doesn’t look right. It’s also great for mindfulness.

The most important thing I’ve learnt is to slow down.

BP: Did you have any kids providing input/opinions along the way? 

MM: I’m not a mother myself, rather a big kid at heart! So feedback from local mums with kids in the age bracket I was aiming for was invaluable. I learnt to leave enough space for kids to fill the page with their own drawings and that they would place the stickers wherever – not necessarily where I’d left space for them.

One surprising thing about the Kiama Passport for Kids was that mothers where buying them for their preschool kids – much younger than the 7-12 age bracket. I had direct feedback from some of them when they picked up books they’d purchased from my website  – they wanted to use the book to explore local places and be able to point out and talk about the nature to them.

BP: What or who are your influences?

MM: I have a collection of influences that has come from years of collecting different ephemera, old nature books and maps. I love a good bookshop and follow new releases for my King Street Press business, and now Rewilding Life. I am interested in botanical illustration and plants as medicine – not that I use them for medicine, I just like reading about it!

I think the ABC  provided a lot of leads – whether it be on ABC radio, or TV – Gardening Australlia and other docos and tv shows. The Planthunter e-newsletter is a lovely approach humans and plants, landscape and the environment. A trip to Japan introduced me to forest bathing, plus I’ve been a meditator for eight years, which influenced the mindfulness prompts in the book.

BP: What is your favourite fact or activity from your book?

MM: That’s a hard one, I have a lots of favourites! I think the backyard birds activity (on page 31) is up there as a fave. I like it because it was the way I taught myself to identify and notice birds in my area – but I didn’t have the cute little record prompt cards I’ve created in the book!

There’s also a free downloadable Field Notes page I created for the Hardie Grant website that is similar but covers plants and wildlife as well as birdlife.

You can follow Melissa Mychresst and Rewilding Kids Australia on Instagram.