This year we’ve once again participated in the Potatoes for Schools – Grow Your Own Potatoes project, whereby they send you potatoes and instructions, and you have to grow your own. As part of the project you’re supposed to keep an eye on your potatoes, soil them up from time to time, and generally follow their progress. We measured them intermittently, and made sure it was slug free and so on, but we did fail miserably at the seed potato – the one you’re supposed to plant in such a way that you can actually see the root system. I know we planted it in a jar, I just have no idea what became of the jar! We did, however, do the same with a pumpkin seed and a sunflower, and were able to watch their root systems stretch towards water. It was all very interesting. But back to the potatoes…
I watched you the other day, sitting high up in a tree, watching the world go by. Actually, high up in a tree isn’t an unusual place to find my daughters when there is a tree around. I watched you scamper down again, skirts billowing, underwear flashing to the world, newly ripped tights revealing a red patch of scratched skin you didn’t even notice.
I need to tell you something about girls who climb trees:
Actually, there isn’t a quote I know of about girls who climb trees. There’s something about girls who sit on tables – apparently they don’t find husbands, or so we were told, growing up.
But there’s nothing about girls who climb trees, because girls aren’t supposed to be interested in that.
So let me tell you a few things about girls who climb trees:
(Yes, girls can possibly be substituted for boys too, and no, probably doesn’t apply to every girl, but I’m really thinking about my girls as I write this, so the generalisation of ‘girls’ will do!)Read more: Girls Who Climb Trees
Over the summer we bought a wonderful little book called the Tree Detectives’ Handbook with which the children are able to identify common British trees by their leaves, fruit and flowers.
Each two-page set has a species of trees, and each set contains vital statistics for the tree in question, including height, location, and fruiting and flowering times. The book contains fifty trees and common shrubs found in the UK including identification tips and detailed illustrations for every tree. There are also interactive boxes where little explorers can record their sightings.
After more than ten days of being sick, and sick and tired of being sick, and thoroughly cooped up, I saw the sunshine today as an excuse to layer up and head outdoors. We went to the local Garlic Farm, and after warming up on some hot chocolate, the girls went for a run around on the grass. They discovered horse hoof imprints in the grass, and decided we had to follow them, so off we went, over the grass, down a muddy track, and through the forest, following the hoof marks.
I was ambling behind with Avi (3) and Ameli went off ahead, where I found her high up in a tree, singing to herself a song about how trees should be respected, even though they are not human.
Of course Avi wanted up in the tree too, and I wasn’t going to stand her in way.
Part of the reason I think it’s so important for children to get outdoors, and to spend time in nature, and to run wild in the forest is because they learn how to manage risk. They walk on a log and slip off, they learn. They skid on mud and end up covered in it, they learn. The concept of slippery surface + sudden stops = muddy me is so much easier and less devastating to learn as a 3 year old, than as an 18 year old, fresh behind the wheel of a car.
It’s all about risk management, and it’s important for them to learn in a safe environment. And we are that safe environment.
I didn’t grow up in the UK, or in fact in any kind of regular family – sorry guys – and despite earning a BA in English Language and Literature at university, there are many authors that I never heard of till I became a parent myself, names like Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and a few others, including Shirley Hughes. (Don’t feel too bad for me though. I had a love affair with The Famous Five, could tell you anything you wanted to know about Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, and spent hours and days adventuring with Trompie en die Boksom Bende and Liewe Heksie.)
Recently I was sent a press release about Shirley Hughes new book Alfie Outdoors and it wasn’t the name that I recognised in it, but the illustration style, and I realised that it was the same author as a Lucy and Tom Christmas story that my children love.
This new Alfie story doesn’t disappoint. Filled with beautiful pencil sketch-style (I have no idea about actual names for art styles!) images, and children with chubby cheeks, it’s a delight to read. My three and five year old daughters are engrossed in it with every reading, and they love living through the sowing of seeds, the watering, the waiting, until carrots grow. Their eyes widen every time Gertrude the Goat disappears, and they sigh with relief every time she returns.
The fact that the main protagonist is a little boy makes no difference to them – they seem to share in the common experience of being children, impatience, fear, loss, joy, despite the difference in gender.
Alfie is an all-round wholesome book. From tilling the land for your food, to washing drying on a line, to dad holding hands with his son, this story is a throwback to what in retrospect seems like a simpler time – or in fact was for us as children! It is thoroughly beautiful.
It also ties in perfectly with loads of themes, like patience, caring for animals, growing your own food, summer and friendship. There are plenty themes to tie this story with whatever lesson you may be trying to teach your child. We even managed to use it as a catalyst for talking about all the bugs you find when you turn over stones in the garden – and it ties in really well in preparing for the autumn by creating a home for nature.
Shirley Hughes’ Alfie Outdoors is a beautiful book, a lovely story, and well worth having on your shelves to return to often. It’s available from Amazon UK here with an International Edition available at Amazon US on 25 August 2015*.
A few weeks ago we were sent a Wildlife Jack book for review, and it’s such a lovely book. Actually I think it’s quite unusual in the way it’s done.
The book is called “I can fly” and is about birds and bird flight, and Jack who wants to fly with them. I love the fact that they’ve used real images of birds in nature, and then added a cartoon-ised Jack into the picture. It’s really cute.
The story is about Jack who reads his explorer grandad’s magical book, goes on an adventure that starts up a tree, and follows a variety of birds as Jack tries to learn to fly. The blue tits help him jump out the tree to fly, buntings teach him to flap his wings, the Brent Geese tell him he needs bigger wings, and eventually he gets to flying with the wild geese.Included in the front and back pages of the book, and throughout the story, there’s trivia and ‘did-you-know’ type quotes with titbits like “A sooty tern can fly for 3-4 years without stopping” and “Snowy Owls can turn their head almost all the way around”.
Like all good stories these days, Wildlife Jack has a website that goes with it complete with video clips, tips and animal-related blogs providing a complete learning experience.
Wildlife Jack is based on a show from Disney Junior, which we don’t get, but you can watch the first 7-minute episode here:
In the TV adaptation a similar format is followed, where cartoon Jack is superimposed into real-(talking)-animal world. You can buy the 1st series on Amazon, which consists of 5 seven-minute episodes.
Wildlife Jack is a lovely book, great for introducing the topics of flight, birds, wildlife, aerodynamics and quite a few more!
I love the idea of helping out nature, though living on a lush green Island with rolling hills and meadows, it can be hard to imagine that we need to. But, because here and now we might not need to, doesn’t mean I don’t need to instil a wish to protect our wildlife in my children. At five and three they are perfectly capable of learning how, and now is the time that they are still so full of enthusiasm, so it’s the perfect time to do it.
Recently we’ve been talking about birds and how birds fly, and the different types of birds and all that, so it seemed fitting to make gelatin bird feeders for the garden, though this is something we’d normally do in Autumn. We don’t actually have a garden either, so we’ve just hung them in trees around us.
These bird feeders are made with gelatin, as they last a little longer than for example peanut butter, and gelatin isn’t harmful to the birds – and probably helps their beaks grow stronger too!
We’ve made them in cookie cutters so that we can play with the shapes, and have fun with them. Since we live by the sea, we’ve even had a few ships to hang in the trees.
Tip: Don’t hang them in direct sunlight. If it gets too hot the gelatin begins to melt. Also, press as much together as you can in one shape to hold them tightly together.
How to make gelatin bird feeders:
- To make the birdfeeders, plan on a packet of gelatin (powder) to a cup of bird seed. So if you’re making two cups (500ml) bird seed, add two packets of gelatin and so on.
- Prepare the gelatin to the manufacturers directions, but only add 1 cup of water to one packet of gelatin (250ml water). (Or double if you’re making double) It needs to be thicker than jelly to hold it all together. Once the gelatin has melted, leave it to cool for a couple of minutes, then add in the bird seed. It mustn’t be runny and since your seed may differ to mine, just add more if it’s too wet and liquid.
- Stir in well till all the seed is coated, then scoop in to your waiting shapes.
- We scoop half the amount needed to fill the shape, then add a length of string, before adding in the rest of the seed, so that the string is in the centre when you pull the shape out of the cutter. Press down firmly to compact everything as much as possible, before setting aside overnight to dry.
- Don’t leave in the sun or it may melt again.
- Carefully remove from the cutter, and hang somewhere to enjoy.
Google ‘garden birds’ in your local area and see if you can find a checklist of what you should be able to find in your country. Keep an eye on your bird feeder and see how many local birds you can spot in your garden.
We love the RSPB’s ‘First’ Series of books. They are perfect for small people. And why not turn it into a full experience by using a bird watching kit to really feel like a nature explorer.
My girls and I have been talking about birds the last few days, inspired by the ‘how do birds fly?’ question. One of the things we’ve done is look at the difference in beaks, wings and tails on different birds, and in the course of our play-learning, we decided to make a bird mobile.
The girls then decided they wanted it to be a present for the new baby upstairs from us, so we took it to them. They didn’t look quite as impressed with it as the girls (and I!) were, but never mind – we enjoyed making and gifting it.
What you need to make a bird mobile:
You will need:
- Bird template: Print the template for bird mobile here. I couldn’t fit our coloured paper into the printer, so printed onto white paper, laminated it and then traced onto coloured paper.
- Glue: a glue gun works best for these sorts of projects! This is a great little glue gun* from Amazon
- String: we used a beautiful decorative string with butterflies and beads. I can’t find it online, but there are similar here. You can add bells too.
- Corrugated paper
- Black pen
How to make your bird mobile
To start with, I found bird templates online, and put them on a document – you can print that here if you want to use the same ones – before cutting them out and laminating them so we could use them again.
Next, trace the outline of each bird, then flip it over to trace the mirror image (for the ‘back’). If you use double sided paper, it’s easier, but then your string will be visible in the final product.
Fill in the extra bits with a black pen – like the wings, the beak, feathers and so on.
Glue the two halves together, leaving a small gap at the top for the string to go in. (Or glue the string on one half, then glue the two halves of paper together.)
Use a sharp cutter to cut through the centre of the appropriate birds to slot the ‘wings’ through.
You may also need to ‘trim’ around each bird to make sure it’s identical back and front.
Cut the string to the appropriate length, and glue to a strip of corrugated paper. Cut an equal sized strip to cover it, so the string is sandwiched in between. Add another bit of string to the other side of the corrugated paper to act as a hanger.
Leave everything to dry, then hang out your lovely bird mobile!
Talking points while making your bird mobile:
How do birds differ?
Are all their wings the same? How about tails and beaks? How do different birds use their different shapes?
What birds do you think these shapes represent? (My girls said Blue Tit, Dove and Swallow).
I’ve just had a new campaign from the RSPB land in my inbox – if you’re a subscriber you will have too – and it’s really sweet. It’s the perfect timing too, as the girls and I are looking at ‘birds’ at the moment, how they fly, what makes them different and so on. Have a look at this video:
I’ve just requested the pack for my girls too – we don’t have a garden at the moment, just a driveway, but that strikes me as even more reason to see what we can do to ‘create a home for nature’. The pack includes straightforward tips and hints to help the nature that shares your space, from frogs and newts, to butterflies, beetles and bumblebees. You can download it either in English or Welsh, and you can also choose to have the English version posted to your home address.
The RSPB website have also added 20 new activities to include nature-friendly activities in your home environment. You can filter the activities based on your available space: balcony, small garden, large garden or neighbourhood. You can add a filter for which animals you want to help, and how much time you have to spend on your project.
Once you’ve chosen your activity you can download an activity PDF to instruct you throughout, and there are also links to the RSPB shop if you want to buy any products from them to help you, though you aren’t required to.
You can make it interactive for yourself and the children, and ‘pledge’ to complete an activity – the birdbath activity currently has 15 pledges – and you can even share your pictures on social media with the hashtag #homesfornature.
I think it’s a fantastic way to keep the kids busy over the summer, prepare the garden for autumn and winter, and give the world that supports our lives a bit of support too.
Do your children like kids magazines? The RSPB do a fantastic wildlife magazine 6 times a year suitable for young children. Starting at £4 a month you’ll receive a magazine, welcome gift and more. Find out more here. There are also tons of free teaching resources here.
I don’t really have a lot to say, at the moment, but I think as parents we’re often hard on ourselves. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else can, and when someone else compliments us, we normally down play it. And if someone else does ‘do’ parenting well, or achieve what we’ll call the ‘Pinterest Perfect’ parenting, well, we shun them for making us feel inadequate. Or at least that’s what the latest trend seems to be.
Well, I suck as a parent these days. I’m so busy trying to keep a roof over our heads, and food on the table, that my girls don’t get the mama I intended to be, and they don’t get the mama I dream of being. Oh, if I could pause time, go back in history, do a few things a bit differently so that I could have, and provide more security right now for these childhood years…. and so the thoughts go round and round in my head.
But, yesterday was a good day. Yesterday my children played in crystalline water and wore mud shoes. Yesterday they frolicked like lambs in a field and were carefree, and happy. I hope that yesterday will be a memory, one day, when they look back. That they’ll remember a childhood that looks like yesterday. And in the meantime I’ll celebrate and share the winning moments.
A bridge over troubled waters – except they’re not that troubled, fortunately 😉
Muddy shoes. Signs of a childhood well spent, methinks
Frolicking and frivolity, wild and free – and boy did they sleep well
There’s so much to learn in nature too…