Via The Telegraph: Outdoor kids: creative ways to enjoy your autumn garden and get your children off the sofa
Autumn is a magical time of year, with its glorious golden hues, the inevitable glut of apples, blackberries and pumpkins, and the promise of Bonfire Night looming large in the diary.
But as children get stuck into their schoolwork and we return to our routines after the heady days of summer, it’s all too easy to forget the joys of spending time outdoors. However, the benefits of playing outside are well-documented (and that goes for adults, too).
A National Trust report recently stated that the UK as a whole is suffering from a “Nature Deficit Disorder”. Meanwhile, according to Forest School Training, children and young people are stimulated by the outdoors with overwhelmingly positive effects. So, here’s how to make the most of the garden at home during the autumn:
1. Build a hedgehog house
Hedgehogs are struggling to survive, and their numbers have fallen below one million in the UK – down by 30 per cent in just over ten years. But according to the Devon Wildlife Trust, we can easily make a crucial difference in our own gardens.
Make a start by downloading the Trust’s hedgehog home-making guide and take a look at their advice on nesting sites and making water safe, and even learn how to create a ‘hedgehog highway.’ It’s a wonderful way to learn about natural habitats.
2. Sign up to Earthworm Watch
Earthworm Watch is a free UK-based citizen science project which helps families to exchange screen time for time digging into the wonderful world of earthworm science. It’s a collaboration between the Earthwatch Institute (Europe) and the Natural History Museum in London. The data collected in spring and autumn, when earthworms are most active, contributes to scientific research.
3. Get crafty
It may seem a rather simple suggestion, but the opportunities to get creative with leaves and even sticks are boundless. According to Ordnance Survey, who recently launched their popular #GetOutside initiative, finding golden, amber and scarlet leaves should be a part of every childhood.
After identifying the leaves and trees you come across with the help of Forestry Commission England’s tree name trail, try making a leaf crown, leaf rubbings, or even incorporating them into sewing back at home. Back in July, the creative crafting area at family-friendly festival Latitude even had a stick art zone, where baskets full of lovely fabric, ribbons, wool and even flowers were provided to weave and wind around fallen branches and twigs – elevating the humble stick to a piece of art.
You could also practise making Christmas wreaths (the Royal Horticultural Society have a brilliant how-to guide) – although there’s nothing to stop you making an autumn wreath instead.
4. Wood carving
Whittling and carving is, of course, an age-old pursuit. It’s also hands-on and extremely therapeutic. Carving for Kids: An Introduction to Woodcarving by Robin Edward is a good place to start to get the hang of the basics.
Both Muddy Faces and the Forest School Shop have kits suitable for younger children (a great gift idea, perhaps, for any child who is looking to get into bush craft or enjoys outdoor activities – if you’re organised enough to be thinking about Christmas already).
The Forest School set comes with a range of animal-shaped stencils to use as a guide and for practice, and everything you need to start whittling straight away is included. They also have a range of other tools included axes, bill hooks, bowsaws and wood saws – so you could even take it a step further and have a go at chopping firewood.
5. Make a mud kitchen
Muddy Faces provides Forest Schools and outdoorsy families resources for play and learning. These include an intriguing ‘A – Z of mud play’ and ‘creepy crawlie recipe sheets’, as well as extracts from their book ‘Making a Mud Kitchen.’
“There is little more important in our physical world than earth and water and they are truly intriguing things, especially when they interact,” the book explains. “Mixing soil, water and a range of other natural materials has a foundational role in early childhood which has deep importance and endless possibilities for well-being, development and learning.”
6. Head in the clouds
Do you know your cirrus from your stratus? If not, it might be worth checking out the Field Studies Council’s Guide to Clouds, which can help you and your family to identify them quickly with the help of colourful illustrations.
The Field Studies Council is a registered charity committed to helping people of all ages to understand the environment, and to be inspired by the natural world. Their Garden Safari wildlife pack is another great resource for identifying wildlife and engaging with the natural world you can access in your very own back garden.
7. And beyond…
If you’re still hankering for adventure elsewhere, here are some of the best playgrounds to combine with a visit to a historic garden – perfect for making the most of a precious autumn weekend.