Category Archives: Days Out

Learning in the Great Outdoors

Quite a few people have asked me recently how I manage to Home Educate L (aged 5) with two younger children at home.  This post isn’t going to be a defence of our decision that for the moment, this is what suits L and our family, or an exploration of when or if that might change, nor is it going to provide a full explanation of the varied and interesting approaches to Home Education – but hopefully it might illustrate how not only possible but natural it is for the whole family to learn and explore together.  This isn’t limited to Home Educating families of course – it happens naturally, and it’s fun.

This week the sun has been out, and we have made the most of it after being cooped up for too long (I’m all for getting children outside whatever the weather but there are only so many welly walks we can take before the novelty wears off).  So we have been outside this week as much as we can, doing a bit more playground maths , planting potatoes with our pack from the Potato Council


as well as hunting for bugs and exploring the countryside.  great fun, and so full of learning opportunities that it would be almost impossible to learn nothing!

We have collected and counted sticks and stones, ordered them from biggest to smallest, played “how many more shall we find to make 10?”


We have looked in puddles, rivers and streams, played “what sinks and what floats?”, predicted what might happen (both L and N thought that if they could find a big enough stick, it would not float because it would be heavy and so we have experimented with different sizes of sticks and stones)…


We have written in the soil with sticks, practising letter formation (N), sentences and joined-up writing (L) and simple mark-making (F).


We predicted which leaves / sticks / twigs would fly the furthest in the wind,  what variables might change how far they travelled (how strong the wind was, how high in the air we held them, where we stood, etc), and how to make the test fair.  We did the same racing sticks down a river.


We indulged in a bit (ok, a lot) of role play with natural materials aka playing with sticks, which is one of the children’s favourite pastimes at the moment (they will look around for a stick literally as soon as we leave the front door).  Sticks, with a bit of imagination, have been mice, babies, rockets, tools, guns (of course, and no matter how much I discourage it), keys, a policeman’s truncheon, a knight’s sword, a magic wand…and probably more that I’ve forgotten.  Whilst playing, we have explored concepts of justice, morality, punishment, sharing, giving, gender roles, the difference between looking after oneself and being selfish…all initiated by the children, and conversations we wouldn’t have had without our stick-play prompts.

And not forgetting F, who wasn’t doing much science or role play, but was nevertheless very busy exploring the properties of the things she found outdoors, trying to repeat words, clearly getting excited and pointing to things she saw, engaging with us, interacting, observing, investigating…and practising her new found skills of mark-making, standing, stepping (with support), clapping…


We also did a bit of birdwatching and identified some of the birds we saw.


The bonus “lesson” was all the positive interaction the children had, practising turn-taking and co-operation as well as building all our relationships 🙂


We also took our bug collection kit out and about on a fabulous afternoon-long Bug Hunt.


We looked at bugs, along with leaves, flowers, bark, and anything else we found, under a magnifying glass – N in particular was captivated by the detail she saw, and even had a good look at the bugs, which are not her usual favourite!

L’s favourite part was “meadow sweeping” – running through the long grass dragging a net, and examining the contents.  We also considered where we might look for different kinds of bugs and worms – under stones (cool and damp) vs. the long grass (warm and dry) – introducing the idea of different habitats and adaptations.


We also took a close-up look at the sticky sap of a tree, identified different kinds of tree, and talked about what is inside a tree trunk.


And then we had an unexpected lesson about reproduction, comparing and contrasting mammals and birds, courtesy of two pheasants we met on the way home (no photo I’m afraid!),

F was tired out from all the fresh air and activity, just ready for a nap which did allow us a little bit of reading and writing based around the things we had seen.


That, my friends, is how we are currently home educating with two pre-schoolers!


10 Tips for an Autumn Nature Walk


Today we had fun collecting Autumn treasures.  Here are our tips for having fun walking in the Autumn leaves:

1. Allow plenty of time.

The ten minute walk home took us an hour and a half.  It’s no fun for anyone if you have to keep thwarting the children’s curiosity and desire to play, and if you are feeling stressed about being somewhere.  of course, ten minutes outside is better than no time outside, and a walk anywhere can be an impromptu mini nature walk, but try to make time for at least one unhurried, open-ended, child-led walk, where you can all take time to notice the sights, sounds and smells of Autumn.

sun shining through the trees

L finds a creature living in a horse-chestnut shell

The completely yellow tree we saw


2. Be prepared to say, “I don’t know”.

For example, to questions such as “why do leaves change colour?” “Why don’t they all go the same colour?” and “Why don’t birds hibernate?”… have plenty of books on standby such as this one we have (perfectly named!I) and encourage the children to guess the answers to their questions, then think of ways they can find out for sure.  They  are much more likely to remember it, and it will teach them resources for when  you are not there to answer their questions.  It will also encourage them to think for themselves.

3. Prepare to be surprised and let your children take the lead.  L brought me two leaves today and asked me how many differences I could see between them.  He then told me the differences he had noticed.  He and N both then “difference-spotted” all kinds of leaves along the way.

L’s spot the difference game with Autumn leaves

And N joins in


4. Don’t have a fixed goal in mind.  You may want to collect conkers.  There may be no conkers.  And your children might want to collect sticks.  Today, I wanted sticks to decorate as tress from the different seasons.  I picked up a handful while L and N got on with their leaf hunt, then joined them.  You will definitely find a craft or game in which you can use the things you have collected or seen.  This compilation of activities from The Imagination Tree is full of great ideas!

Part of our collection

5. Allow unlimited collecting.  If an object is important to them, it is important.  They will undoubtedly want to bring home thousands of the most common, boring, brown leaf.  These are their treasures, treat them with awe and wonder.  By all means draw their attention to other objects, and collect some yourself to ensure some variety when you get home, but there will be something to learn or experience in whatever they collect, and if today we are learning about the brown sludgy dead leaves instead of the beautiful red ones, so be it.  The red ones’ day will come.

A million and one brown leaves

6. Make sure at least part of your walk is somewhere you can allow the children freedom.  If the whole walk is along a main road, you will be stressed, or curtail their freedom.  You know your children and how much they can be trusted (L and N are very sensible, but I still exercise caution near traffic, and it is still much nicer to be able to let them run free).

foraging in the forest

7. Wear wellies.  Don’t wear their new school boots that cost an arm and a leg and haven’t been sprayed with protector yet.  And don’t wear their new, pristine winter coats.  We got our winter coats of e-bay.  They are Trespass ones, the kind that can be worn as a fleece, a waterproof, or both together.  the layers are useful, and they are nicely worn-in, meaning I don’t worry about marking them (and they would have looked exactly like this within a couple of outings anyway).

8. Plastic bags.  Take carrier bags along for bringing your collections home.  It’s a good idea to give the children one each.  I keep plastic bags in my handbag for impromptu collections.  Zip-loc freezer bags are also excellent for investigating those spiky, thorny Autumn treasures (the children can have a good look and handle the objects without being put off by scratches and stings).

9. Don’t underestimate them.  Children are naturally curious.  Personally, I think they absorb a difficult word as easily as one we think is easier, since it is all new to them.  Plus they like being taken seriously and feel grown up for knowing the proper terms.  N (3) knows the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees.  L (5) knows that chlorophyll makes leaves look green.   This isn’t because I have coached them or spent hours doing worksheets, I have only told them a couple of times.  They just like knowing the proper words.

10. Have fun!  teach respect for nature, certainly, but also have a leaf fight.

11. (OK, I cheated, I know I said ten) – do this again, and again, and again.  Sometimes the best playtimes are not the most creative or original, but the old favourites.  After all, there is a reason why they are favourites – because they are flippin’ brilliant!  And because they are never the same.  My children could go on a dozen nature walks with me, daddy, nana, school, nursery, a friend’s mum – and you will never hear them say “we’ve already done this”.  They will find what they want to learn, and we just follow it, and we have fun.  I can’t wait to do it again!


We Went to the Zoo

The end of the Summer holidays brought the long-anticipated grand day out – our trip to the zoo.  Getting our money’s worth, I’m seeing this as a starting point for many zoo-themed activities for weeks to come.

In preparation, we discussed what animals we might see, and researched a few facts about them.  L was very interested in using the computer to find out that a cheetah runs faster than a car, a giraffe is taller than our house, a lion has the loudest roar.  He was also pleased to print off his own laminated map of the zoo and pack his camera and binoculars.

N enjoyed looking at the website and making animal noises, playing a version of charades that involved much crawling on all fours and reminding her not to say “I’m being a lion” etc etc…

And to keep F involved, we read “That’s not My Lion” and got out a range of animal toys of varying textures for her to chew and dribble on stimulate her sensory development.
Now, I was just as excited as the kids, and packed animal themed children’s songs for the car, laminated maps for everyone, purchased scrapbooks ready for photos of happy family day out – only to wobble when it was pouring with rain.  We set out anyway, and I cheered up when L and n began singing “hairy sausages” to the tune of “Bare necessities”…Lesson Number One:  Let go of Expectations and Enjoy these Times for What They Are, not What you Think They Should Be.

And we still had fun.  In bucketloads (just like the rain!).

No structured plan for the day itself, except to have fun, enjoy the animals, answer questions as they came up, and explore – but most of all to enjoy a family day at the zoo.  However, I did take along a brother in law who happened to spend a large portion of his life in Zambia, and worked as an actual safari guide, and a sister who is a fully qualified early years teacher (I knew I invited them for a reason!).

And here we are, enjoying the day for what it is…

Mummy and N, being penguins