My son, now eight years old, is a wild explorer. You will always find him with a stick in one hand and his head bent down, seeking and discovering whatever nature offers him. He is the child who would rather be outdoors splashing in streams and searching for bugs, digging for worms and chasing butterflies. He is the child who always has grass stains on his knees and dirt on his hands after a long day outside.
I’ve always loved the innocence and the purity of his play and I find myself doing all I can to nurture his curiosity. We have a menagerie of glass jars, filled with found treasures — a broken piece of a bee hive, a feather that “must have come from a strange and unknown tropical species”, a dug up half skeleton of a boar’s jaw, abandoned snail shells, sea glass, pinecones, twigs and other wonders.
There are empty ones too that he cares for with equal diligence. Filling them regularly with fresh water from the stream in case he finds a tadpole, lining them with grass in case he brings home a grasshopper or two.
The early chants of “careful” or “you might crush it” are long gone. From an early age, he learned to respect all things great and small.
I always knew he had a special relationship with the natural world, but the day I caught him speaking to the crashing waves of the sea, screaming with his arms wide open, “I’m just a boy!”, then I knew. He and the wild were as one and I need not worry that his little hands might crush the delicate lives he temporarily observes with curiosity and a budding scientific eye.
Our next edit is dedicated to him and all the little explorers out there. To the children who love to get outside and discover what the world has to offer them. For the little adventurers, with disheveled clothes, a butterfly net and an empty backpack, because you never know what treasures you might find. For the dreamers who can turn any forest into a magical land and any log into a great ship. And to the parents who remember the thrill they felt as children, free to roam outdoors with the only instructions to be home before it’s dark.
We hope this roundup will spark your imagination and encourage all of you to hit the outdoors with your own children — to search for enchanted frogs, discover an alien breed of insect or learn to communicate with the birds.
Fanny & Alexander
Fanny & Alexander founder (and now author) Delfina Aguilar, has written a children’s book, The Nature of Play, that perfectly complements the handcrafted wooden toys she sells in her online shop. “Many children don’t know how to play without a screen — this book is a small inoculation against that state of being,” she says. “It requires children to challenge themselves, find solutions and rely on their skills and imaginations. Most of all, it asks them to slow their pace enough to really observe, to examine, to contemplate and to wonder.” The book guides adventure-loving kids through seasonal activities in nature, from making a fire and cooking over it, to stargazing and navigating the woods and fields using nature’s signs.
Longtime friends, Chloé and Janine, spent months developing the perfect imaginative and immersive play companions for their children. They brainstormed over coffee with background chatter from their little ones. Finally, Freckle Studio was born, and their creative collaboration resulted in amazingly clever toys such as Stovie, the wood burner; Hide&Peek, the periscope; Léf, the spinning leaf identifier; OakeyDokie, a magnifying glass disguised as an oak leaf; Hula the hula hoop; even a playhouse, lined in sheepskin, named Bothy, designed to emulate the Welsh barns that dot the countryside. All of the Freckle products are designed and made in Wales.
Quelle est Belle Company
Monsieur Francois Morell and the Quelle est Belle Company have been slowly and conscientiously creating bird calls in the South of France for decades. They recreate to perfection the songs of wild birds allowing your children to learn to recognise birds by their song, to communicate with them, to discover and observe them. The “birds” exist in sets of boxes of 3, 4, 6 and 12 nests. According to the website, “The box, made of wood, is mounted piece by piece by a carpenter who loves his job.” These handcrafted calls could be the start of a hobby that will last a lifetime for both children and adults alike.
Handmade in: France
The playful world of Eperfa, where the toys are inspired by the landscapes and wildlife of Hungary, is dedicated to slow childhood, slow design, and slow manufacturing. The company’s mission is to make magical childhood memories come to life again, by allowing kids to explore freely and take time to observe their surroundings. Eperfa’s simple, yet refined, “vintage” toys are produced by individual craftspeople in small workshops around Budapest. The jumprope will provide hours of play and the glowing pocket firefly is the little torch that will guide your adventurer safely home for supper.
Imaginative play meets fine art with Frida’s Tierchen’s beautifully designed and handcrafted masks and headpieces. Barcelona artist Maria Salamanca experienced a life transformation with the birth of her daughter, Frida, six years ago. She began dreaming and creating dolls that would accompany Frida through her childhood, prioritizing quality of material and design. As her daughter grows and her playing needs change, Salamanca finds solutions for each stage. Her detailed animal masks and headpieces leave space for Frida’s developing creativity and imagination. Each is meticulously handmade by Salamanca. Some adventures are fantasy-filled. “Be the animal!”
The Den Kit Company
The Den Kit Company started life as Flibberty — the seed of an idea that was planted, watered and tended by teachers and Forest School practitioners Kay and Jo. Both are passionate advocates of outdoor play, and their aim is to inspire wonder and intrigue in kids through creative outdoor activities. The Den Kits encourage adventure, whether in a backyard, a meadow, a field, forest or on a beach. The business is based in an old dairy in Shropshire, and all products are designed and assembled there. There are nature hideaway kits and woodland kits, a cottage garden kit, even a pirate den kit. The possibilities for inventive, imaginative summer afternoons are endless.
Yuki means “happiness” in Japanese, and that’s what the founder of Yuki Kidswear, a mom of two, wanted to embody when she conceived her knitwear brand. “Happy children! So they can play effortlessly and explore endlessly, in a world that is more and more sustainable.” states the website. The organic cotton sweaters for little adventurers are Dutch designs, made in Portugal in a small family-run workshop. The forest and woods are beckoning … let the adventures begin!
Founded by designer Balazs Lakatos from the basement of a bar in downtown Budapest, Ykra has staked its claim as Europe’s go-to source for handcrafted vintage-style backpacks. Its mission is to inspire kids to spend more time in nature. “For explorers, adventurers, pioneers and pirates,” states the instagram bio. We know our little hunter and gatherer would love filling the Fannypack mini with his collected treasures. And for longer treks, The Matra mini, named after the highest peak in Hungary, will hold all his hiking gear, plus lunch!