Most of us instinctively recognise the many ways that being outside in a natural environment can enrich our lives: we might find we sleep more deeply after a long country walk or notice a lift in mood after breathing in just a few lungfuls of fresh air. Yet our modern lives often feel estranged from the natural world and it is well documented that today’s children are playing outside less than their parents and grandparents. At Forest School, children get to play in nature in all seasons of the year; they have a chance to run and make a noise, get their hands dirty and experience manageable risk, which is essential for healthy child development. Here are some great ideas for fun things to do outdoors!
- Forage Dandelions for a Delicious Cuppa
Head out to look for dandelions and collect them in cups. To wash the flowers and help any bugs that are present to escape, pour on cold water, give it a good swill, then place your hands over the top of the cup to act as a strainer and tip away the water. To make the drink even taster, bring along honey and a lime, and add a squeeze of both. Then, heat up water over a camp fire or in a kelly kettle, pour the hot water into the cups and leave to seep for 5-10 minutes, after which the water should have a slight yellow tinge. Sit back and enjoy!
- Bark Masks
Bark that has been shed by trees provides the ideal material to make masks during the summer season, as it causes no damage. Finding the right trees and bark enhances the children’s knowledge of trees and, without being constrained by a defined outcome, they’re free to shape their own piece of work. This boosts their sense of independence and confidence. Putting on the finished product opens up a world of imagination! Begin by identifying an Aspen, Sycamore or Maple Trees. They will be making masks out of the bark.
Ask the kids to gather a handful of bark from the ground, looking for different colours, shapes and sizes that catch their eye. Now the kids should take a piece of card large enough to cover the top half of their face and cut it into any shape they want. Don’t forget the eye-holes.
Break the bark into small pieces, apply glue to the card and then stick on the bark. Punch holes in the side and tie a string to hold the mask in place. Once the masks are done, it’s time to transform . . . imagine fairies, insects, warriors and even aliens!
- Build a Den
Everyone loves a den and they are perfect for taking cover in when it rains. For a simple, tipi-shaped shelter, the children will need to find three long, pole-shaped branches roughly 2–2.5m in length. Trim off any smaller branches, then lay the poles parallel to one another, making sure the bottoms of the legs (the thickest ends) are lined up evenly. Knot cord around an outside pole, then wrap it around all three poles and secure tightly. To stand up the tripod tipi, cross the outside legs away from the middle pole. The basic structure of the den is now ready to work on. To make the den more stable, you can tie on crossbars. Then the sides can be filled in with branches and the walls built up with fallen leaves to make the den warm and cosy. Add a tarp for flooring if you have one. Now stand back and admire the fantastic tipi you have built as a shelter from the elements!
- Make a Nature Mandala
Collect long sticks to outline a mandala in the shape of an old-fashioned cartwheel, with spokes that divide the mandala into sections. Then get the children to head off into the surrounding area to find items for their own personal artwork, free to choose whatever stands out to them. Maybe they will collect leaves, feathers, mud, stones, even litter, if it’s safe . . . it’s up to them (but keep foraging to the forest floor to conserve the natural habitat). Once they have chosen their decoration, they can create their mandala. It can represent whatever they want it to, perhaps a story, a memory, or something amazing they have seen.
- Earth Day Birthday Cake
Celebrate the earth in spring perhaps on International Earth Day 22 April. Using water, mud ,sticks and trowels mix up a squishy mud cake. Decorate your cake with all things natural, remember to keep the foraging to whatever’s available on the floor maybe feathers, pebbles, fallen petal, seed cases whatever catches the makers eye. Place make believe wooden candles on top or even real ones (perhaps just couple as the earth is 4.543 billion years ) and sing Happy Birthday to the earth. You may like to take it further by thinking of presents the earth may like maybe planting a tree or making a bird feeder!!
Article by Jane Worroll, author of A Year of Forest School The book was co-authored with Peter Houghton.