Getting out into nature with children

A long-time friend of the Watches and avid wildlife advocate, Kate MacRae writes an encouraging post on getting out and about with your family. And no, you don't have to be expert in any sense of the word, you just need to get out! There are some excellent links and further resources below - enjoy!

Photo by Kate Macrae

Why not take the opportunity this summer to get out and about with your kids and discover that some of the best things in life really are free!!

Being both a parent and a primary school teacher, I am well used to spending the vast majority of my time with the younger generation! Although my ‘children’ are now 17 and 19 and no longer need to be occupied over the holidays, I still manage to spend time either with young nieces and nephews or with friends’ children who always love coming to my house. Do they love coming here because of all the toys and gadgets I have or because I whizz them off to all the local attractions in and around Staffordshire? Actually, none of the above! What I tend to do actually costs no money at all and I rarely stray further than a mile from my home. I use Nature’s playground; a truly amazing free resource that is there for the taking!

Photo by Kate Macrae

You may say that such a resource is easy to use if you are ‘WildlifeKate’…. someone who is used to be in the outdoors and able to identify many of the birds, bugs and other creatures that you may see whilst out. In fact, you need no real knowledge of the outdoors to take your kids out and start the adventure.

Let me take you on a simple outdoor journey and share with you a couple of the activities I have done with children which cost little or nothing at all!

Den Making – All kids love making dens! If you are lucky enough to live near woodland, then making one there is always great fun. Gathering materials and seeing if you can create a hide-away big enough for you to get inside is a great challenge. Even a garden or a local field is a great place… this den was created by my nephew out of a random selection of items he found and he was very proud of it!

 

Photo by Kate Macrae

Why not create a den for a favourite toy? Collecting sticks and leaves to make a special space for a small toy means that this can easily be done in a garden or park.

Exploring

Kids are natural explorers… they rarely need much encouragement to dress up and get outside with just a magnifying glass and a pot to put their finds in. There are plenty of free apps available if you want to try to ID your finds…

 Sometimes just stopping to look and find is enough.... we spent an hour in this field as ‘Bug Hunters’ !!

Photo by Kate Macrae

We did nothing more than find bugs and have a close look at them. Wherever I could, I let the children hold the creatures… they loved the Cinnebar caterpillar crawling up their arm and the slime trail the snail left on their hand!

Ponds, as long as there is supervision, provide hours of entertainment… especially if you are ‘allowed’ to get your hands in there and hold the creatures you find. I am a real advocate of the hands-on approach. If children are taught how to handle creatures safely, they engage and learn more efficiently than being bystanders…. plus it is much more fun of course!

Photo by Kate Macrae

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft activities fit in really well with exploring. Have a go at making a Pit-Fall Trap by sinking a plastic cup into the ground. Cover it with a piece of wood in case it rains, then check it regularly so you can release the creatures you capture. Holding an old white sheet or large piece of paper under a bush or tree, then shaking the branches can mean a deluge of exciting bugs for you to catch and look at as well.

Photo by Kate Macrae

Using some air-dry clay and items collected from the outdoors means you can create your own ‘Clay Critters’. Encourage the youngsters to look closely for twigs, leaves and naturals bits & bobs that will create the perfect antennae, legs or wings….

Why not collect pebbles and make some Pebble Bugs. ‘Sharpie-type’ pens are brill for drawing on and colouring in pebbles and then children can create a special garden for them on a plate or tray.

 

Your Garden, the Nature reserve

If you don’t already feed the birds, then making a simple bird feeder in the holidays can be a great way in. Milk cartons or plastic bottles can easily be formed into feeders … your kids will come up with some great ideas. Maybe build a mini pond in the garden. A simple washing up bowl or tray sunken into the ground with some pebbles and a perch can attract birds who may drink or bathe in there…. Maybe a frog will find his way there too, you just never know and discovering what visits your new watery home is always an adventure.

 

There is a wealth of information on the web, with amazing free resources for you and your children to use this summer… these are a few of my favourites!

 

CBeebies Minibeast Adventure – Get little ones inspired to get outside and hunt for bugs!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/mini-beast-adventure-with-jess

Wildlife Jack – A great new series to get pre-school children interested in animals they might want to go and look outside for. Available to watch on the Disney Jnr Channel

Woodland Trust Nature Detectives – An absolute minefield of amazing ideas and free printable resources. I have used loads of their great checklist sheets to get kids out and about looking for anything from bugs & birds to twigs and leaves!

http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk

Wildlife Trust – WildlifeWatch – Another great resource for parents and kids! Children will love the Wildlife Watch Awards where they earn an award as they complete great activities and challenges. Lots of great ideas , activities and some super spotting sheets!

http://www.wildlifewatch.org.uk

Big Butterfly Count – This is a wonderful activity to do with kids and you will all be taking part in a valuable citizen science project when you submit your sightings. The free resources give you all you need to identify the butterflies you will see this summer. For those who like technology, there is an app as well.

http://www.bigbutterflycount.org

Project WildThing  - Aimed more at all you parents, Project Wild Thing is a film led movement to get more kids (and their folks!) outside and reconnecting with nature. There are some inspirational clips, ideas and a network of organisations who are working alongside, including the great National Trust ’50 things to do before you are 11 ¾ ‘ … Lots of ideas to get you motivated to getting your kids outside!

http://projectwildthing.com

https://www.50things.org.uk

 

Arkive – If your kids are anything like mine, they will want to know more about lots of the creatures they are finding.  This website is great for images and videos, which kids can use in there own little projects. There are also some great games and projects ideas within the education part of the website. Great for teachers!

www.arkive.org

 

Technology & Apps – Kids love using the amazing technology that is available to them. Encourage them to photograph and film the wildlife with their devices and upload some wildlife apps for them. Many are free, others just a few pounds. 

FSC Guides – Great for checking out ID with kids

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/fsc-trees-guide/id564197292?mt=8

i-record ladybirds is free- great for ID and recording species https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/irecord-ladybirds/id634591099?mt=8

Big Butterfly Count – Great for ID and submitting records

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/big-butterfly-count/id658158833?mt=8

Opal Bug Count Pocket ID Guide – A simple, free bug ID guide

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/opal-bugs-count-pocket-id/id462166466?mt=8

Bumble Bee ID – This basic edition is a great way to get you started on identifying the commonest bumble bees. These insects are great for kids to watch closely as they are very tolerant and rarely sting

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bumblebees-britain-ireland/id657076684?mt=8

Chirp – Want to get to know some common bird song?… I love this one and the kids love the games!

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/chirp!-bird-song-britain-europe/id298766050?mt=8

 

 

These are just a few ‘starters’ - simple activities which are fun and easy to do. I hope these inspire you to get out with your kids this summer. Tweet me your pics to @katemacrae … I would love to see what you get up to!

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