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My son’s love affair started with helicopters. He would hear them in his cot, grab the side-rails, tilt back his blonde-locked headand start shouting gadagadagada, imitating the sound of the chopper as it flew overhead.

And that was often. We live in that part of Cape Town known as the city bowl, which comprises the foot-slopes of Table Mountain, with Devil’s Peak and Signal Hill to either side. The city skies are rarely empty of helicopters in summer, either filming Hollywood car-chases over-head, tourists on an aerial fly-by or emergency choppers rescuing unsuspecting hikers and climbers. And sometimes the Italian and French naval vessels have popped past – caryring helicopters.

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Again and again he would watch an old VHS National geographic video of a curious, young American pilot flying over Africa, landing in exotic destinations. While I would wonder why I’d never done that (I suppose a pilot’s license would be a start) his mother swore she could recite the commentary in her sleep. In Cape Town’s sothern suburb of Tokai – the other side of the mountain – an old air force training plane, the Italian aermacchi, or ‘impala’, as we knew it, stands nearby where a fresh produce market. We visited with Fynn even before he could walk.

So, being two years into fatherhood I did what I reckon all good parents would do, and took him to an airshow at the local military airbase. He was two and sitting on my shoulders when the Saab Gripen flew low over the crowd.

He burst out crying. I walked briskly away from the oohs and aahs of the crowd towards one of the hangars housing a more sedate exhibition. I felt horribly guilty for bringing him to such a loud place that made even my ribs vibrate.

As we reached the entrance he tugged on my shoulder and said ‘more, more!’ And so we turned around and headed back to the spectators lining the runway. By the age of three he was fully into flying, his first real passion, as you see

What’s really blown me away as a parent has been how boys and girls are wired. That even without being pushed or directed as many parents will do, my son from the earliest age would gravitate to the ‘boy stuff’, like cars and planes, and likewise his sister to the dolls.


So I try to encourage his natural likes. His uncle has always been nuts about flying and sent him a Red Arrows flying suit from Scotland a few years ago. His cousin, some 15 years older, gave him his precious collection of toy model aircraft a few years back (in retrospect, I’d rather suggest holding on to precious / valuable things until they are around 7 years).

Today everything for my boy is about star wars lego. I think it helps to encourage different interests, and doubt we would need a psychologist to confirm that. I find that exposure to a variety of interests helps, with the result that his current fall-back favourite is anything to do with octopi or squids – preferably using their beaks. Enjoyment, curiosity and stimulation are all positive, and contribute to the makings for a happy family.

PS – since first writing this, his interests are now evenly spread between guant squids and octopii, the Red Baron, soccer and star wars.






Frogging For Kids

There can be few greater joys for a young child than being exposed to the natural world at a young age. Those early days of catching frogs, chasing butterflies and feeling the bark of a tree is a gift. It’s also natural, especially for boys; I give Fynn a net, he says ‘let’s go catch frogs !’

Fynn followed a little bloke named Noah - not this child on the right - from the picnic spot to the stream rushing down the mountain 'cos he had a fishing net. Luckily we had one in the car. Noah was catching frogs and tadpoles in a scary fashion - but we soon had three in the bag. Fynn was worried about the other kids having a bucket. Where was ours? I explained the virtues of catch 'n release.

They don’t know it yet, but introducing children to the natural world on their own terms allows for a subconscious appreciation of the world in which they are connected to, are part of. It also stimulates their curiosity.

As much as they enhance skills probably essential to our children’s social and professional development, iPads and phones are not part of their natural world. This randomly selected link speaks to that subject  http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/article-when-introduce-child-smartphone-tablet.html.

Nets are good for frogs, almost essential. A bucket of sorts is useful for holding the creatures caught. My son likes to catch them with his hands when a net isn’t available, as in the picture below with his mate and her two children in one of the ponds at Kistenbosch Botanical gardens*. ‘Hey dad, check this out” or ‘I’ve got one!’ he shouts, pure happiness ringing out across the weekday afternoon ripples. When it’s hot, this is literally a cool environment for the children (and you).


Some adults, probably most, don’t like slimy and squirmy things in their hands. Probably because they never held them as little children. Much like I’ve always hated slugs, and snails.

I got over that manic wriggling of worms when I got my own worm farm, and the snails, oh the snails…I eventually ate one in my 30-somethings in yes, France, which incidentally tasted like a mushroom vol-au-vent.

Frogs are easy to handle, and their little hearts tire quickly. So tempering my boy’s sometimes relentless pursuit is sometimes necessary, with the little amphibian’s legs simply unable to kick anymore. Putting them in a container or lunchbowl allows the kids to return and check their haul when it’s time to call it a day.


So allowing them to play and hold such things now is really doing them a favour. Especially the guys. Apart from that, for children there large lawns in beautifully manicured gardens (no ball sports) paved paths, dirt-trails and the funky, designer  tree canopy-bridge called ‘boomslang’. Perfect for picnics.

Check out http://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch