We’re now into our fourth week of lockdown, the Easter holidays are over and whilst your children’s school have probably provided you with lots of work to do indoors, perhaps you and your kids are missing being outdoors and you’re pondering how to best use your outdoor time and garden (if you are fortunate enough to have one). Enter, The Outdoors Group!
We’ve compiled some of our favourite Forest School activities that can be done from the comfort of your own garden with things you’ll either already have at home or can easily scavenge on your daily government issued walk. Ironically, after one of the wettest winters on record, the weather has been nothing short of glorious since the onset of the crisis so most of the activities are outdoors based. However, I do have a few indoor Forest School activities up my sleeve as well (not an oxymoron, I promise)!
An oldie but a goodie. Chairs, laundry airers, climbing frames, sheets and pegs can easily substitute the tarps and sticks they usually use in the woods. This really requires no instruction from us; whether you’re making dens big enough for you and the kids or miniature ones for bugs or their cuddly toys…this should keep then entertained for a while. Bonus points if they decide to camp out there for a bit, buying you a precious few minutes for a cup of tea in peace!
Bug Hunts / Nature Bingo
Whether you do this in your own garden or on your daily walk, this is a great way to keep the kids engaged with the natural world around them. The internet is full of free sheets you can print off to provide some direction on what to look for (we particularly like the Nature Detective sheets offered by the Woodland Trust – now available here), you can grab a spotters book if you have one or you can simply head outside and see what you find. Discoveries often spark more investigation and learning later on as well, kids are naturally curious and love finding out about weird bugs and beasties!
You don’t need saws, drills or saw horses to do a bit of basic woodworking, or at least crafting out of wood. You may have trees in your garden to provide twigs and small branches but if not, just make sure you gather some if you can on your daily exercise. Teemed with some string or wool and the contents of your recycling bin, the world is then your oyster! You can get older kids practising their rope skills to make a natural tic tac toe board and all ages can have a go at twig chimes, stick people and mini tee-pees. And if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, why not grab a can from the recycling (be careful of sharp edges) and use it to make a bug house, simply fill it with sticks and rolled up bits of cards, decorate as desired and hang or slot it somewhere outside where it’ll be relatively undisturbed and might attract some small visitors.
Sensory Creative Play
For those missing the sensory element of being outdoors, there is plenty you can do! Mud faces on a tree, the fence or even the floor provide some gorgeous textile experiences for kids as they plunge their hands deep into the cool mud (just make sure you’ve a bowl of soapy water for when they’re done). You could have a go at making your own water play with the contents of your recycling bin and a hose. We saw a great example of this on our facebook page! Or simply collect some leaves, place them on a bit of paper and supervise as your children use a hammer to bash the leaves until the imprint is on the paper below (good for you too if you need to let off some stream!)
Need a breather?
However, maybe you’ve had a tougher day and need some gentler activities to reset the mood of your household. How about spreading out a blanket outside and getting everyone lie down for a spot of sound collecting or cloud spotting. With the former, simply ask everyone to stay quiet for 60 seconds (or more – depending on how old they are) and count how many sounds they can hear. You’d be surprised how relaxing this is for young and old! Some kids just won’t stay still though, if that’s the case, perhaps they’d like to make some nature crowns or bracelets. Just give them a strip of card or paper with some double-sided sticky tape on it and let them calmly collect flowers, leaves, feathers and twigs to stick on. Once complete, just staple the two ends together and you’re done. Alternatively, challenge them to create some natural mandalas out of whatever they can find – it’s strangely meditative and therapeutic, guaranteed to soothe the most frazzled of nerves.
I don’t want to spoil the sunny streak but I’m assuming that at some point it’ll break, and the outside won’t look quite so inviting. If that’s the case we’ve a few ideas of things to do inside. For older kids, perhaps challenge them to design a poster to promote forest school or woodlands. Or if they like games, Forestry England has kindly provided printable Tree Top Trumps that you can use to have some fun and swot up on your tree ID knowledge at the same time! Alternatively, there are a plethora of natural art activities you can do inside. They may require a little forethought but if you collect some leaves in preparation whilst it’s still dry, then you can bring them out when you need a wet weather activity to make some leaf art. These can be leaf prints, stuck onto pictures or those with a steady hand can have a go at painting some intricate patterns on them. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can send a child outside to gather some mud and then let them loose with the paintbrushes to really capture that authentic muddy-painting-in-the-woods vibe that only Forest School usually brings!
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list but hopefully it might have given you some ideas of things you can do if the kids are missing their time in the woods. We’d love to hear what you’re all getting up to whilst we’re all stuck at home so please do leave us a comment with how lockdown is going for you and how you’re getting your forest school fix.
We’re missing each and every one of you and we can’t wait to see you back in the woods later this year (fingers crossed!)
Until then…Stay Safe, Stay Home!
Author: Hannah Durdin, Forest School Leader and Admin Assistant for The Outdoors Group
Date: 16 April 2020