‘What?? You’re taking children on safari? To Africa? Is it safe?!’
And then you start to doubt yourself.
I mean, is it safe, taking children on safari? I wouldn’t want to put my kids in danger. You hear stories like ‘a dingo ate my baby’ and you wonder. Oh hold on, that’s Australia isn’t it? But still, it could as well be a lion, right? And then there’s the pirates, are they still about? And terrorism?
The thing is, we know the world is a terrifying place if you keep your eyes trained on the fear. And if you are scared to travel anywhere, then sure, Africa should not be on your radar.
If you are aware that Africa is not a country (you’d be surprised!), you can appreciate that it’s an immensely vast landmass, home to a sprawling diversity of blissfully natural, peaceful wildernesses looked after by as honest, hard-working and happy people as you’d find anywhere in the world.
And so I like to reframe the question and ask: is the blissfully natural and peaceful wilderness that is Africa, a place to take children?
My top 5 reasons for taking children on safari
Animals are awesome!
And shockingly, we are likely to be the last generation to enjoy rhino, elephant and gorilla in the wild, amongst many other endangered species.
These incredible animals have inspired kids since time began. There is a reason why your kids’ books in preschool feature 1 elephant, 2 hippos, 3 giraffes, 4 lions; instead of 1 house, 2 desks, 3 tv’s, 4 cookers. We are naturally drawn to wildlife, and children will never forget when they watched their first elephant shake a tree for its fruit, or their first monkey steal some sugar from the breakfast table.
It’s absolutely the right time to take your children out to Africa to see the Big 5, and the Little 5, and everything in between.
We know, intuitively, that nature is important for our kids.
Happily there is a body of research to back up our innate belief. Take the time to have a look at these few studies, looking at the physical and psychological health benefits of children experiencing nature (and the related long-term developmental consequences of limited experiences in nature) : Faber Taylor & Kuo, 2006 ; R. Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989 ; S. Kaplan, 1995 ; Kellert, 2005 .
If those are bit long and/or dry for you, consider a quick few quotes from these texts:
‘Natural environments turn out to be particularly rich in the characteristics necessary for restorative experiences.’ Kaplan
‘Psychologist Rachel Sebba reports that an extraordinary 96.5 percent of all adults she studied.. identified the outdoors as being of critical emotional significance during their childhood.’ Kellert
And when it comes to creativity which is seen as increasingly important for our kids, along with the absence of the relentless stimulation of the modern world:
‘The child’s sense of wonder.. is aroused as a response to the mystery of [the] stimulus [of nature] that promises “more to come” or, better still, “more to do”-the power of perceptual participation in the known and unknown.’ Edith Cobb in Kellert’s Building For Life
Taking children on safari is chicken soup for their souls.
There are no computers or mobile phones on safari.
This is crucial for the family when you consider that the average adult spends 1.5 hours on their phone per day in their ‘free’ time. How much time does the average parent have left to spend with their kids?
There is a reason why my five year old loves it when he can convince me to join him in his evening bath: because I am totally his. I cannot get to my phone to answer it or read a text, and I have nothing to do but focus on him and get involved in his magical superhero world. This is a little slice of heaven for a child in a hectic and distracting world. Imagine then two weeks of this nurturing interaction.
Editors note: Don’t worry if you really need to check in back home when you’re on safari, or if you have teenagers who need their fix – most camps do have some form of wifi these days just in case!
Freedom from over-eager ‘Big Brother’ constraints.I enjoy health and safety as much as the next mother, but I do think that we’ve all gone a little nuts in the US and England particularly. Africa provides refreshing relief from the plethora of rules and allows kids to be, well.. kids.Calculating risk, and taking risks, are such important parts of a child’s development at any age, building confidence and instilling resilience. If you discourage your children from risk-taking they are likely to adopt a negative relationship with taking risks and avoid them, or overreact with anxiety.Allowing children to climb, swim, throw spears, ride, make a fire, and explore the natural environment with all its ‘dangers’ is hugely beneficial for them.And it’s not as wild as it sounds – on safari they’ll have incredible guides who will show them the way!
There’s so much more for kids on safari than ‘just’ looking for animals.Taking children on safari is not about sitting in a dusty tent or vehicle looking for animals for hours on end. There are so many activities for the family, and so many friendly faces ready to teach, guide, explain, or just play.On my recent, admittedly very active family safari in South Africa, our itinerary took us from Jaci’s in Madikwe to Jembisa, Horizon and Leobo where we got involved in:
- Spotting wildlife on foot and by vehicle
- Swimming with horses
- Playing tennis
- Playing table tennis
- Playing snooker
- Night sky safari-ing
- Making & cooking pizzas in a wood-fired oven
- Wildlife photography training
- Bareback horse riding
- Cantering with zebra
- Quad biking
- Paintballing out of a helicopter
- Rock climbing
- Rock art visiting
- Piano playing
- Visiting an orphanage
- Massage and manicure (ok, not so much for the kids this one)
The fact is that the experiences that our children have (or don’t have) shape who they become and what they do. Knowing this, and understanding the incredible place that Africa is, why would you not take your children on safari?
And p.s. if you are wondering when to take the family on safari, have a look at some ideas here!