Hello again

Here we still are, as the PM gradually recovers, and many in the Cabinet apparently want us to remain on lockdown for another 6 weeks(!).

Assuming that you are not socially isolating at a country house like Chequers, here are a few more  things you can do outdoors with less-than-country-estate levels of space….

1. Cloud watching
Our climate being what it is, the chances are there will usually be clouds in even the bluest sky at this time of year. This can be a good thing though, because quite apart from providing us with rain, clouds give us an opportunity to exercise our imaginations.

You can watch the clouds from your window, your garden, or even on a walk. Clouds differ quite markedly, as you will see: some are white and fluffy, the standard story-book clouds; but some are grey and wispy; and yet others are dark and threatening. There’s a whole world up there above our heads….

Try to invent a story using the ‘characters’ you see in the clouds, or imagine being a bird and flying through the clouds – what do you think it would feel like?

Predict the weather
Watching clouds isn’t just fun, it also gives us a heads-up on what weather to expect. Years ago, people were much more adept at reading the weather in the clouds, but see if you can rediscover some of those skills.

On a warm, sunny day you might see white, cotton-like clouds. These are often an indication of good weather, but they can grow into towering thunderstorms on a hot, humid day. Flat, grey clouds often mean it is going to drizzle. Fog is simply a grey cloud that is very low to the ground. So when you walk through fog, you are actually walking through a cloud.

Why do clouds exist?
Clouds are made up of lots of tiny water droplets or ice particles floating in the sky at different heights. They form when rising warm air cools. And this warm air helps to keep them floating. Some look white because they reflect light from the sun. Others appear grey because they’re full of water. They all float at different heights and while they appear to be moving slowly, some travel as fast as 100mph.

Don’t forget…
If the sky is bright, it’s a good idea to wear sunglasses. Remember not to look directly at the sun: it can damage your eyes.

2. Leaf printing

Spring is here is here, the leaves are starting to unfurl, and we have a great craft activity that can be done indoors or outdoors, and will appeal to even the most reluctant artist (it involves bashing things with a mallet!).

Hape Zome, or leaf printing, is the (originally Japanese) process of extracting the colour pigments from leaves and flowers onto fabric. With a mallet or some other large bashing tool…. It’s a great craft activity for children who might not normally be interested in crafts – as whacking things with a hammer seems to add a certain attraction!

There’s a complete guide to trying out Hape zome for yourself elsewhere on our blog here.

3. Minibeast hunt
If you have access to the outdoors, in a park, in your garden or even a nearby hedgerow, you can find some minibeasts. They live in all sorts of habitats, so you will almost certainly be able to find some. Be very careful not to hurt them though: if you do pick them up then put them carefully back where you found them.

Lots of minibeasts like dark, damp spots in gardens and woods, so this is a good place to start your hunt. Encourage your children to use their best detective skills to track creatures down:

  • Peek under large stones and logs to find woodlice and millipedes (put the logs and stones back afterwards – that is someone’s house!).
  • Peer into the cracks in tree bark and deadwood to find beetles and spiders.
  • Poke your nose into long grass to see ants and grasshoppers.
  • Look closely at leaves to discover caterpillars and ladybirds.
  • Keep your eyes peeled after rain – can you spot slugs, snails and worms?

Lots of minibeasts live in trees and shrubs. You can lay a piece of white cloth, such as an old sheet or pillow case, under a tree or bush and gently shake the branches. You’ll be surprised how many tiny creatures fall out.

Remember – minibeasts are very tiny, so be careful if you pick them up and always put them back where you found them.

4. Make a mud kitchen

Mixing soil, water and anything else they can find, is a classic (and I suspect universal) part of childhood. Playing with mud has a foundational role in early childhood with endless possibilities for well-being, development and learning. Mud kitchens provide something quite different to a soil digging patch, whilst also being much more easily managed. A mud kitchen includes elements of the much-loved kitchen/domestic corner and cooking from indoor play, which are then supercharged through being outside.

They have also, I’m sorry to say, become the focus of numerous attempts to commercialise the experience, so that now there are umpteen pre-built and ‘perfect’ mud kitchen sets available to buy at every price point (from more-money-than-you-need-to-spend right up to patently ludicrous). Please don’t think you have to spend a lot (or even anything at all) to encourage mud play. The very least you need is:

  • Somewhere to play (a secluded part of the garden is a good choice, especially if this is a near a den area, as the two activities complement each other)
  • Mud (or at least a supply of soil and water)
  • A child
  • Old pots, pans and cooking utensils (nothing you plan on cooking with ever again)

If you want to build on that you can add:

  • Plant pots
  • Water containers
  • A low table (sized for your children)
  • (Plastic!) plates for elegant serving
  • Cake tins or trays (again, don’t plan on using them again)

Take care to supervise the creation of mud, to make sure it is just soil and water that goes into the mix(!) and make sure that everyone understands that nothing you make in the mud kitchen is actually food. Then stand back and let the adventures in mud gastronomy begin….

Some more suggestions to (hopefully) help you through, same time next week.


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