The availability of technology, apps, games and portable digital devices to children is a contentious issue among parents and early years educators alike.
Although many parents choose to limit the amount of time their child spends using mobile devices, apps and tablets, balancing screen time with other more traditional toys and methods of entertainment can be difficult with others embracing the ‘digital babysitting’ trend.
The demand for alternative entertainment has led to two dads from South East England to produce their own book with a view to encouraging children to take an interest in nature and learn a host of new skills while doing so.
Ian Hamilton and Sam Frith are the two dads behind Hugly and the Missing Carrots, with a friendship spanning six years, the idea for the Hugly and Friends series began three years ago after the pair became frustrated with the amount of screen time their children were having.
Growing up in a different world
Ian said: “I’m a child of the 70s and although we had games consoles, children nowadays are growing up in a very different world to when I grew up. I used to leave the house at eight o’clock in the morning during the school holidays and sometimes not come back until dinner. Often my parents didn’t always know where I was, but we were outside building dens, making kayaks and having fun.
“Now it seems as though there is a media frenzy around the risks associated with children going out and doing those things, and when you look back, those risks were always there, but now it seems that they’re always in the news."
Hugly and the Missing Carrots tells the story of the Hugly and his friends and his hunt for his missing carrots from his vegetable patch. The book follows Hugly and his friends as they search for the missing carrots before he realises that he has forgotten his birthday and his friends have ‘stolen’ the carrots to make him a birthday cake.
The book contains a packet of carrot seeds and advice for planting and growing carrots in the garden or in a planter, as well as a carrot cake recipe which is almost completely vegan and free from refined sugar, eggs and dairy products.
Ian continued: “My wife and try to limit the amount of screen time our children get, but the virtual world is so inviting. However, once you get children outside, they can be as entertained and have the opportunity to learn so much at the same time.
“Sometimes it seems as though devices have become the new babysitter, and it’s very easy to let your child play on a games console or tablet while you catch up on some DIY or housework. We try and encourage our children to spend as much time outside as possible, whether that is in the local park, or by encouraging them to walk a little further to the local shop.”
Speaking about the concept of the book he said: “It’s the act of planting the seeds, getting outside learning about the process that is important, and watching them grow is an experience in itself.
“The recipe for the carrot cake can be made with a parent or grandparent and enjoyed together and whilst being free from eggs, refined sugars and butter, it’s almost completely vegan and so we’re ticking lots of boxes and the book is appealing to a whole range of different people.”
Launched at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage HQ and attended by nearly 100 other like-minded people who brought their children along to spend time outside, leaving their tablets at home and celebrating the great outdoors.
Managing director of River Cottage, Rob Love said: “River Cottage is all about getting people interested in food, where it comes from and to have a connection with it, there’s no better way to do that than by starting with children and young people.
“We have a really successful cookbook which is aimed at babies and toddlers and continue to be very vocal about helping children to understand where food comes from, what is good about food and encouraging them to go outdoors.
“Children are naturally inclined to go outside and explore and often children can help to encourage and educate parents who may have forgotten those very simple values about where food comes and how they can get involved with it.”
Though the book has only been available in print for a few week, Hugly and the Missing Carrots is already available to purchase in the shop at the Eden Project with potential interest from other retailers such as Kew Gardens and John Lewis.
Buyer at the Eden Project, Laura Murphy, commented: “Hugly and the Missing Carrots is a lovely story with really great illustrations.
“The book is particularly good as it engages children with activities and encourages outdoor education and play. The book provides seeds to plant and a recipe for a carrot cake. It fits really well with Eden’s mission to connect people with the natural world.”
The interest that the book has had highlights the rise of alternative approaches to parenting, with many people opting to lead cleaner lifestyles for both themselves and their children, eating ‘clean’ and spending more time outside with nature.
'None of us is as good as all of us'
Ian explained: “Our main focus has always been to get this book published and get the story out there to as many people as possible. We’ve done everything ourselves, we found our own publisher and self-published the book, as well as self-financing, crowdfunding and doing all of our own marketing.
“Sam and I came up with the concept of the story and all of our illustrations have been completed by a long-term friend and artist, Wayne Chisnall and colour washed by Sam. The story itself was ghost written by Gemma Appleton, but the entire book is a collaboration of the four of us. We established our company ‘2 inklings’ on the basis that none of us is as good as all of us.”
The Facebook page for Hugly and Friends details the success of the story so far, with hundreds of people posting comments about the book and photos of themselves and their children reading and the story and exploring nature.
In less than a month, the book has travelled far and wide, with people photographing themselves with their copy in America, Italy, Spain and Australia.
Rebranding and repackaging nature
Hugly and the Missing Carrots is part of a global effort to ‘rebrand’ nature and encourage children to go outside, grow their own produce, and turn it into something they can eat and enjoy.
Organisations such as America’s ‘Children and Nature Network’ and UK based ‘The Wild Network’ encourage children to spend more time outside and give parents the opportunity to commit to how much time their children will spend in nature.
The Wild Network is a not-for-profit organisation with more than 28,000 members and has an advisory panel comprising of professionals from Forest Schools, nature organisations, design agencies, outdoors and youth organisations.
The Wild Network was established after ex BBC and Telegraph journalist David Bond set out making 'Project Wild Thing', a film designed to rebrand nature and sell it back to his children.
Watch the trailor for Project Wild Thing below and visit www.thewildnetwork.com to find out more.
Recently the book was featured on Radio 2 by Vanessa Feltz on her ‘Gardeners Guilt’ segment and has caught the interest of two-star Michelin chef Simon Hulstone who plans to start selling the book in his Torquay restaurant, The Elephant.
Ian said: “When we started this, my children were just six and nine and they’ve grown up with this book and its turned into a little family business. We’ve got another three books in the pipeline, including: Hugly and the Mutant Marrow, Hugly and the Alien Plant from Mars and Hugly Gets in a Jam.
“It’s not about making money from the book and any money we do make is being ploughed back into the new books. Our aim has always been to produce a good quality book that parents can associate with and make use of time and time again.”
The book is currently available to buy on Amazon or at: www.huglyandfriends.com.
Follow Hugly and Friends on Facebook: www.facebook.com/Huglyandfriends or on Twitter: @Hugly_friends.