Our playlearning – slash – pre homeschooling theme this fortnight is rainforests. I was very excited, therefore, to discover that there’s a living rainforest an hour and a bit’s drive from where we live. The Living Rain Forest is in the village of Hampstead Norreys in Berkshire.
In preparation for our visit, and because Ameli, who is almost four, has not had any previous exposure to rainforests, we did some pre-work with the books In the Rainforest* and Make your Own Rainforest*, colouring rain forest pictures, reading about the animals, and creating a pop up rainforest, complete with a discussion on the different layers of the rainforest, and acting out being all the different animals represented in the books. (Amazon has loads of books and DVDs on rainforests – no relation, I’m sure – so look to see what takes your fancy.)
On arrival at the Living Rain Forest, my first impressions left me a little disappointed. I had expected glass houses, but somehow I still had hoped for the height of the rainforest, which was obviously impractical of me!
After parking – there’s plenty free parking – we found the entrance and made our way in. We were meeting friends there, so made a beeline for the play park. It was a lovely park and while it has similarities to normal play parks – swings, a slide, a climb frame – it also has some other spinny and twirly things I’ve not seen before and the children loved. The park is set among large leafed trees, and is well themed, down to the large dinosaur peeking through the bushes.
There are also picnic tables outside so that you can take your own food if you wish.
The cafe inside served real coffee, which was a bonus for me – I hate paying for bad coffee – so we topped up our reserves before attempting the rain forest green houses, which as it turns out, really surprised me.
As you walk through the first set of doors you are hit immediately by the tropical weather of the rain forest.
Ameli knows about the equator and the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, and she was able to tell us that it was hot in the rainforest because most rainforests are between the two tropics and close to the equator, but England is further from the equator, so it’s cooler.
As we ambled our way along the first circular route we saw orchards and a large and beautiful Turaco, a red crested Turaco, which the children watched for a while with glee. It sure is a beautiful bird. The first green house also housed a cacao tree on which we were pleased to find a bright yellow pod, leading to an explanation of how cocoa and chocolate are made. (Did you know it takes one tree’s entire production of beans for an entire year to make 450g of Cadbury’s chocolate? That’s insane!)
Across the walkway from this, there are flytrap plants, where we happened to see a roach of some discription pop in for – and to become – lunch. Again, a great time for learning!
There’s a second greenhouse which was even warmer than the first. Immediately upon entering, we saw scorpion boxes, fortunately secure. There was also a beautiful set of Toucans with their brightly coloured beaks, and other unidentified free-flying birds. There’s also a large pond with hundreds of tiny little brightly coloured tropical fish, and larger species too, including sting rays. There’s a turtle breeding area and even a dwarf crocodile.
The children were probably most taken by the variety of monkeys in the Living Rainforest. They loved watching them and when the marmoset stuck it’s tongue out at them, they squealed with glee and did the same back.
We did also catch glimpses of a python (in a cage) and a sloth, curled up in a corner of the room. The children are a far cry from quiet, and there were a few school groups, so we did miss a few animals, like the free range frogs.
Possibly the most horrible critter in the Living Rain Forest, however is the bird eating spider, which fortunately was not eating a bird but was safely behind glass. It was larger than a child’s outstretched hand though, and not a pretty guy.
Overall, we had a fabulous time at the Living Rain Forest, and since our tickets give us annual free entry, I’m pretty sure we’ll go back (Your entry ticket is an annual pass, basically, and entry is currently £9.95 for adults and £8.45 for children 2-14 years. Please check the site for up to date prices and opening dates and times.)
The children had a great time in the rain forest, and it definitely was a learning, exploratory experience. As far as I can tell, they all took something away from it, and they certainly all enjoyed it.
Location: Hampstead Norreys, Berkshire, RG18 0TN
Educational Benefit/Topics: Rainforest, Tropical Plants, Equator and Tropics, Tropical Animals
See the Living Rainforest on the Mamaventurers map