So, what would have been back to school after the Easter hols has turned into… back to home. I hope you have all made the transition painlessly.
The weather, at least, seems to be set fair for the rest of the week – though if you are limited in outdoor space that might not be the blessing it seems. Persuading children to stay indoors when it is rainy has always been an easier sell in my experience. With that in mind, all of our activities this week can be done (some with a bit of modification) indoors as well as out.
1. Make a magic potion
Making potions is a perennial Wild Learning favourite. If your children haven’t tried, it will give them a tool for play and investigation they can (and probably will) come back to again and again. Setting your children a broad goal, and the ability to design a potion recipe in any way they like, gives them the tools and the motivation to create in their own way. This helps them to engage in the kind of playful and iterative exploration that is fundamental to wild play, which is a critical way to develop creativity and problem-solving skills.
You will need:
- a jar or jars* (plastic, if you are worried about breakages with small children, otherwise jam or mason jars work well)
- water, just enough for each jar to make the potion runny (or maybe more? Only your potion maker will know.)
- natural ingredients
- Set a goal: Suggest to your children that they make a magic potion (who can resist?). Give each child an empty jar—their very own potion pot! You can make “petal potions” when there are loads of fallen petals around, but magic potions can be made with any materials at virtually any time.
- Hunt for ingredients: Set aside the jars – in a safe place where they won’t be knocked over – and gather ingredients such as fallen petals from flowering trees, clovers, leaves, dandelions, freshly-cut grass, dirt, etc. Stress to children that they should not take living material (flowers from plants or leaves from trees, and its a good idea to leave dead bark alone as it is a home for minibeasts). They will also need a stick or two for mashing and stirring their potions, but see if this occurs to them on their own.
- Offer a special ingredient or two: You could bring along a few different materials that could enhance the sensory experience. Scented petals, kitchen spices (but be wary that nothing is too spicy!) and dried lavender all work well.
- Make a potion: Add your ingredients plus about an inch or two of water to your potion pots. Then, they do whatever it takes to mix up the potions: let them do their thing and give them plenty of time for trial and error.
- Talk about it: As they are working, ask them what they notice about their potion. This should prompt them to observe, notice and talk with you about the potion as well as their process. Try not to take the lead – let them decide what they are going to do with it next.
2. Sort things out!
Sorting and classifying involves finding similarities and differences between groups of things. This can allow children to organise and make sense of the world around them, as well as building observational, fine motor and cognitive skills.
You will need:
- Some natural objects – make sure they are clean and safe to handle
- An empty egg box (or something else to help sorting)
Ask your child how many different ways they can sort the items.
- Can you sort them into size order – Can you place your items in a line from shortest to longest? Once you have finished, do you agree that they are in the right order?
- Can you group your objects by what is the same about them? E.g. by colour, shape, material or size. How else could you group them?
- Is there an odd one out? Why?
- Can you organise your objects into a pattern? Can someone else copy your pattern with some more objects? Can you copy someone else’s?
3. What’s in the bag?
This is a sensory activity for younger children that builds on the sorting activity above.
You will need:
- A bag (or bags, or a box would do at a pinch) to put materials that you have collected
- Natural objects to put into the bag(s). Make sure everything you put in is safe to handle and clean, as your child will be trying to identify them by touch (so nothing sharp or stingy!)
- A blindfold
You can collect materials, either with your child or separately, while you are outdoors on your regular walk. When you’re ready, explain that you have a mystery bag and that you need help figuring out what’s in it. However, they can’t look in it; they need to use touch and, in some cases, smell to identify the items.Put a blindfold on your child and let them take an item from the bag and describe it to you. Encourage him/her by asking questions. Your conversation might go something like this:
“How does it feel in your hand?” (acorn)
“It’s small and smooth.”
“Okay. What shape is it?”
“Sort of round.”
“Where do you think it came from?”
“From the ground?”
“Yes, I found it on the ground, but where do you think it was before it fell on the ground?”
“On a tree?”
“Yes, that’s right, it’s a tree nut. Do you know what kind?”
Some items are obvious right away; but others are more difficult. What you’re aiming for is to get your child to think beyond “it’s a leaf” or “it’s a rock” and describe the items in more depth. This will hone their observation skills and vocabulary, and encourage them to look at common natural objects in new ways.This activity is also great for expanding vocabulary and experimenting with mathematical concepts like shape, weight and size.
4. Make a tree face
Last week we talked about mud kitchens, but there are a lot of other things you can do with mud (or clay). Making tree faces is just one of these. This is an activity that encourages observation (lots of trees have faces already, that only need to be noticed and then built on) as well as dexterity and imagination.
You will need:
- At least one tree, although, to be fair, you could do this one on a wall, as a freestanding sculpture or using a stick to make a boggart (more of them next week).
- Some mud or clay
- Found natural materials
If you use clay, please be careful to use potter’s clay and not air-drying clay from a craft shop. Air-drying clay contains nylon micro-fibres and will contaminate the woodland (or your garden); potter’s clay is just clay.
You might need to kick start the process by making a tree face of your own, or by spotting a face and pointing it out to your children and then suggesting you add eyebrows/moustache/whatever.
Once your face or faces are made your children might start making up stories about them – who they are, what their names are and what they are like.
Some more suggestions to (hopefully) help you through, same time next week.
Let us know how you got on with these ideas, and send us photos of your creations.
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