There is something about being outside that ignites children’s curiosity and imagination like nothing else. I am a firm believer that the best classrooms have no walls and even on the coldest and soggiest day, children and adults should go outside, even if only for a while.
As a child I spent many happy days out with my father, a keen birdwatcher, fisherman and advocate of learning about the natural world. My brother and I enjoyed wandering through woodlands making plaster casts of mysterious footprints, rowing across lakes looking for monster catfish and sitting on hillsides waiting for the sun to go down and the badgers to come out.
Living with a wildlife fanatic can be a challenge at times, we often had moths he’d caught in a moth trap overnight, in pots in the fridge waiting for an id. Sometimes I was awoken in the dead of night to see the hedgehog that he’d found in the garden and that was now sitting on the end of my bed, and on more than one occasion, I took on the care of waifs and strays my father had found on his adventures.
All this to say that I learned vast amounts about the flora and fauna that surrounded me and now I enjoy spending time outside with my own children doing the same. You don’t need to live in the countryside to see the wonders of nature, look up, look down and even in the smallest of places and you will find it.
Having spent all that time out bird watching with my father, it’s not surprising that this simple activity is top of my list of things to do outdoors, or even indoors looking through the window. Watching the birds and wildlife is so good for us and encouraging children to reconnect with nature allows them a chance for adventure and also helps them to begin to understand the delicate dynamics of eco systems.
You don’t need much to go bird watching, maybe a small pocket bird book or app on your phone and, if you want to, take a note book to draw what you see and write some notes. Take time to listen to the different bird songs, look for feathers and begin to get to know which feathered friends live in your local area, you might be surprised.
If you have a garden or outdoor space, putting out feeders and water can also tempt birds into the garden so that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. (Make sure that your feeders are out of reach of local cats!)
Every January, we take part in the RSPB Bird garden bird watch. It’s become a bit of a tradition now and it’s interesting to see how different species of birds are doing. We have also turned this into a maths activity with tally charts and pictograms.
You don’t need to be a survival expert to engage in the art of den building and this is an activity that all of my children thoroughly enjoy.
Whether they are in the garden with poles, clothes pegs and sheets or in the woods playing under an oak tree or constructing a shelter from branches and leaves, the act of creating a base to play in outside is enough for it to become a den.
I’m not going to offer a specific way to construct a den here, I’m going to advise that you work with your children, if they need you, and let them create their own special, magical shelters in the wild.
As a form of therapeutic play, dens bring children a sense of felt security that enables them to develop a sense of who they are, where they are in terms of time and space, a place where they can hear themselves think and a place where they can really explore their own emotions.
So grab the clothes pegs and a sheet, or save that old box and get den building!
Leaf prints and flower fairies
One of the simplest activities to do with children is to gather up leaves of different shapes and colours and create pictures with them. By simply gluing them to paper or card you can turn them into all sorts of wonderful creations. Here are a few of ours.
You could also make flower fairies in the spring with fallen blossoms, or use sticks, pine cones, leaves and petals to make magical potions, (not to drink, just to play with!) There is so much you can do, let your imaginations run wild and most importantly, have fun!