IT’S COLD AND DARK AND your whole family is starting to suffer from cabin fever. Everyone has spent too long staring at a screen and you’re longing for the balmy spring sunshine when you can all get back outside. There’s so much benefit to using the seasons to get more in touch with nature.
1 - EMBRACE ALL WEATHERS
Just because it gets dark early and the rain keeps on falling doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of fun to be had outdoors. Think mud, glorious mud! The forest school adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing is so true. Last weekend we went mushroom foraging with a large group of children, most of them wearing waterproof salopettes and wellies. The few kids who were dressed in jeans and trainers got cold and miserable and had to go home early. The rest of the group forged a small stream, built a dam, gathered a trug of vibrantly coloured mushrooms and were comfortable enough to stop for a hot chocolate at the pub on the way home. Invest in a pair of waterproof trousers and some wellies and you’ll be assured of many happier days spent exploring.
2 - ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF WONDER
Approach every trip into the wilderness (or the local park, your back garden or even strip of wasteland on the way to the shops) with a toddler’s curiosity. Marvel at the little things – the fresh green unfurling leaves, the first snowdrops. Each puddle can become a miniature playground as you get down to your child’s level and explore the world afresh. Take time to splash in the puddles, taste the raindrops and run through the wet squelchy leaves. Use a sense of awe and wonder to bring each excursion alive.
3 - MAKE IT FUN
Each of us could do with more pleasure in our lives. Use outdoor time as an opportunity for joy, pleasure and fun. Think about how you can inject more joy into your trips into the woods. Or make your back garden more of a playground. At this time of year you can use the darkness to your favour. You might choose to make a fire in a fire-pit in your garden and cook marshmallows on a sharpened stick over the flames. You might feel super brave and plan a campout with a tent stuffed with sheepskins and heavy sleeping bags. Or bundle everyone up in blankets and spend a couple of hours watching the stars sail across the night sky. Check the internet for dates and times of the International Space Station transits and you might catch a glimpse of this wonder.
“You might choose to make a piece of transient nature art whilst you’re out walking”
4 - PLAY TO YOUR CHILD’S INTERESTS
Before heading out for a woodland adventure do a bit of preparation. Make the trip memorable for your child by choosing one of their interests and tailoring the experience. For example, for budding artists, you might like to collect leaves and make a collage or art piece when you get home. You might choose to make a piece of transient nature art whilst you’re out walking. Or perhaps you’ll take a camera and explore macro photography, taking photos of the tiniest items you spot in nature. Or start a bird photography journal. Or keep a record of the tracks that you spot through the forest. Maybe you’ll start a family nature diary that everyone can contribute to and write in. Or create stories and tell each other tales as you walk. Another fun idea is to bury some treasure that you’ll dig up another day with the help of a hand-drawn map. Invite friends along for the second trip – hand them the map and guide them towards the loot!
5 - ALLOW SPACE FOR MISTAKES AND FREEDOM
When you’re in a wild place with your children allow them autonomy. Encourage them to judge for themselves the safety of certain activities, within reason. Try and resist the urge to use the parenting mantra, “Be careful!”, and watch your child assess each situation for himself. We are setting our children up for a safer future if we allow self-governance around ‘dangerous’ activities. Of course, we need to be on hand to offer adult guidance if we see he is about to do something silly but try and refrain from hovering when your child is climbing a tree or navigating a stream.
6 - KEEP IT FRESH
There are plenty of ways to make each trip an exciting new experience. One of the ways that we like to explore is to get an Ordnance Survey map of the local area. Head for the large areas of green (woods) or blue (lakes or ponds). Use the pink dotted lines to work out a circular route close to home.
READ How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson
JOIN The Wild Network - thewildnetwork.com - for ideas on getting back to nature.
EXPLORE the activities at nature detectives. woodlandtrust.org.uk
ANIMAL HIDE AND SEEK
A great variation on hide and seek, this game works best in a park or woodland, you’re going to need trees and bushes. It’s perfect for all ages, too. You need to create a ‘nest’ which is the base point. The eagle stays at the base and everyone else is a rabbit. The rabbits hide and then have to make it out of hiding and get as close as possible to the nest without being seen by the eagle. To begin, the eagle shouts, ‘Eagle eyes are closing for 30 seconds”. The rabbits go and hide. Then the eagle shouts, “Eagle eyes are opening” and then scans the park for the rabbits. If the eagle can see rabbits they are out and must return to the nest. When the eagle closes it eyes again, the rabbits must move, looking for the next ‘safe’ spot.
To make it harder for the prey you can reduce the time the eagle eyes are closed for. Twenty seconds is hard, ten seconds is harder still. The eagle wins if it catches all the rabbits before they make it to the nest. The rabbits who make it to the nest without being spotted win. Take turns being the eagle.
TRY AT HOME
MAKE YOUR OWN BIRDFEEDER
You will need: Cardboard loo roll inners, A jar of peanut butter, A bag of fresh bird seed
- Tip some birdseed onto a plate.
- Cover the outside of your loo roll tube with peanut butter.
- Roll your sticky tube in the seeds until it’s all covered.
- Now slip your tube over the branch of a tree or bush in your garden, or thread some string through the tube and hang it up.