Wildwise – Paula Cleary explains how her family benefited from the Wild Ones Camp

Boys around campfireAs a home-educating mum with a young baby, my days are very full. Most of the time they are happy-full, but occasionally, like any mother, I feel a sense of burnout, a feeling of needing a break. Having the children around me all the time can feel exhausting when I haven’t had a break from parenting in weeks and weeks, and attachment parenting a young baby through several bouts of illness had left its toll on me, although I didn’t realise how much at the time.

So when I saw a link to a soulful forest school camp called The Wild Ones by an organisation called Wildwise, my ears pricked up. I love Forest School teachings, having had a forester for a grandpa and spending many happy days exploring and playing in the woods with my cousins as a child. It sounded perfect for my spirited, outdoor-loving boys and reading the glowing testimonials about what a special team the Wildwise people were, and how amazing their children’s camping experiences had been, I felt no sense of fear or trepidation about entrusting my children with these strangers for a few days and made enquiries. I feel it is important in this modern techie era for us to retain a deep connection to nature, and embrace opportunities for children to get away from their screens and learn ways to connect to the world wide web of nature and the skills to navigate in that ancient primal way that we all need.

Wildwise seemed to be offering something more than the usual woodland skills campout and an indefinable spiritual quality permeates their entire philosophy, with an emphasis on nature experiences in a rite-of-passage context. I booked the children on The Wild Ones camp and decided to make a holiday of it and stay nearby in our motorhome.

The camp was up in the hills of deepest Dartmoor, and not easy for our 32ft long bus to negotiate. We were greeted at the site by Feathers. I could tell immediately by his kind, open face, and his manner that he would be a perfect mentor to the boys, and a very knowledgeable, loving, firm and fun friend to them during their time together. We also met Chris, who struck me as a very grounded but with the kind of playful maverick streak that makes him very approachable, and this further convinced me that the boys would be in safe hands. Walking down the lane through the woods from where we had parked up to the actual camp, we chatted a little with Chris and Feathers and then we saw the camp – a gloriously relaxed affair, a little clearing deep in the woods with no traffic noises, a large teepee, a fire, and a food and drinks tent and the rest of the Wildwise crew. In their twenties and thirties, they seemed a fun-loving, bohemian crowd, with a real love of being outdoors and affinity with children. The scene was perfect, and we bid the children farewell, knowing they were in great company.

wildwise camp 2To be truthful, I think my boys were probably quite hard work for the Wildwise crew. Being home educated has many advantages, but I think it also can be difficult for others to manage a bunch of boys who really are very wild all year round! The thing is, my lads don’t often have to get up early for things, so very early mornings are not often attempted in our household, and they are more night owls, staying up late most nights. The three of my four boys who went are also a very tightly knit trio, which, in such a small group of children, put them at an unfair advantage in some ways, but at a disadvantage perhaps, in others. Three brothers together is quite a formidable combination. My boys are encouraged to ask a lot of questions in our usual home life, and aren’t often told to do things ‘just because’ so they have developed an attitude that means they are often given the freedom to explore tangents and different ways of doing things, which can make it hard to teach them things in any conventional sense! Their strong sense of autonomy can be hard work for adults who are used to children following instructions without constantly questioning ‘but why?’ or suggesting their own ways of doing something, or trying to change the direction of the activity altogether because they feel inspired or feel an impulse towards some slightly different thing in that moment! I think Feathers coped magnificently with their enthusiasm and stubbornness for doing things their own way, and rolled with it whenever he could – like simulating a Hunger Games session because the boys were fired up by that idea.

When Herbie had a little crisis of confidence and felt like he wanted to come home half-way through the weekend, Feathers coached him through it respectfully and skillfully, mindful of Herbie’s feelings but really wanting him to stay. I am glad Herbie had this opportunity to work through that moment of insecurity, and think it has helped him gain maturity for having gone through that. It’s a pretty big deal at the age of 11 to stay with a bunch of strangers in a dark dark wood, for three whole nights and four days, having only just had the idea sprung on you three nights before. I’m glad he stayed and learnt a valuable lesson – that he felt scared, but was cared for by others, and he not only survived it, but went on to have a great time.

Teenage group totem carvingWhen we came to collect the boys they were breathless with excitement, and looked like they had truly relaxed into the life of the camp. They proudly showed off their Atlatl spears, and were bubbling over with all they wanted to tell us and show us about tracking animals and using knives safely and it continued for weeks after.

Thank you Wildwise, for being so wise, so wild and so wonderful. Our boys will never forget their time with you, and it made this mama happy to hear all sorts of snippets of stories and treasured moments or insights into skills learnt for the next few weeks. The lessons Feathers and the others taught my boys will stay with them forever, and the lessons they learnt about their own nature and nature all around us, has, I believe, truly deepened their understanding about how to live in a wild, but wiser, way.


Paula Cleary writes about her twin passions – birth and home education, for various publications, and believes in freedom for both. She lives on the Cambridgeshire borders with her husband and five children.

You can follow Paula on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Go-With-The-Flow-Doula/436619336421551?fref=ts