Category Archives: Everyday Life

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!


Fun and Games

My favourite post of all time has to be The Day We Did Nothing – because I love realising that learning doesn’t have to be hard work for me or the children – in fact, they never stop learning as we go about our daily lives.  Playful learning doesn’t have to be structured – in fact the best times can be spontaneous and relaxed.  Just spending time together is building family relationships and happy children, which is every bit as important as learning to read.

Today the children and I all felt the need for some “down time”.  You would be forgiven from reading this blog for thinking that our lives are jam-packed with crafts, baking and days out –  we do plenty of those things and we love it – but I believe that children need unstructured time too, and this is when they out into practise the skills they have learnt, process the events of their little lives, develop their social skills without coaching from an  adult – and so many things that are just as important to their development as anything else we do together.

So this morning we watched a film together,  then all three spent time playing with their toys.  L and N played a fantastic game involving lots of different animals, and made good use of their dressing up box.  Their whole morning was free play, followed by a picnic lunch on the living room floor – and in the afternoon we got out the board games.

We love board games.  And they exist to prove that playful learning doesn’t have to be high maintenance.  Sitting down together, the children had my time and attention, and someone else had done the creative thinking and careful planning, so all I had to do was relax and play!

We played Junior Scrabble, Jenga, and Guess Who.

Scrabble these days has two levels for juniors.  Level one is a simple matter of matching letters, and N (3) is a whizz at it.  Whilst L (5) doesn’t seem to have the concept of a strategy yet, N plans her next move carefully and strategically, and L is learning from his sister.  So in playing scrabble, they are not only learning letter recognition, but a whole range of other skills – turn taking, planning, deferred gratification, and second-guessing what other players might do next.  This is why N is at the moment a better player, even though L can read!  Level 2 requires players to form their own words – L can do this but N needs to work with a partner.  The main stumbling block for L has been learning to read the words going down the board – the “wrong” way.  But after having played a few times, he is getting quite good at unscrambling his letters to make a word, and by joining in and watching, N is understanding how words are made in preparation for reading and writing.

F wasn’t upset not to be able to play the game – since we were all sitting down on the floor at her level, talking to her, she felt included and not left out.  She played with plastic letters – interesting shapes and textures for her to explore, but also alongside daily stories it should hopefully help her to be familiar with the shape and appearance of letters, and make them a part of her life, even whilst she is far too little to read.

I apologise for the poor quality photos in this post – taken on my phone in a room with poor lighting.

Junior Scrabble - Kangaroo and princess outfits optional!

Junior Scrabble – Kangaroo and princess outfits optional!



We were given this for Christmas, which I was very excited about as I’d wanted to get it for the children.  It is just great on so many levels.  Even building the tower requires co-ordination, care, fine motor skills, and following an alternating pattern (a pre-maths activity).

The other thing I love about Jenga is that it forces L and N to slow down in order to win.  It rewards care and attention, whilst still being fun.  Slowing things down without telling the children off for being bositerous is brilliant!

This is a game that L is better at, being older and having more refined motor skills.  But N makes up for it with effort, and practise is definitely the way forward in learning and development, which is why I tend to take the age guidelines on a game with a pinch of salt.  As long as it isn;t so beyond their reach that they become bored, frustrated or demoralised, I think underestimatin g them does more harm than letting them have a go.  Equally, they can often benefit from a toy that could be considered too young, by using it in an unexpected and creative way.


The friends who gave us jenga were thoughtful enough to include F by buying her stacking cups to go with the Jenga, so she played with those, although she did also want to explore the wooden blocks!

Guess Who?  just proves my point about the age guidelines.  N plays it brilliantly.  Both L and N love this game, and it encopurages observation skills, reasoning, early maths (sorting into categories) and also social skills and particularly differentiating their own perspective from others’.


It always reassures me to remind myself of the benefits of what I’d think of as a lazy day – and how much the children are learning even while they are relaxing.

When the Snow Came…

Finally, we got the snow we have been waiting for!!  Not as much as the rest of the country, granted, but enough to have some proper snowy fun.  I was sad to learn that Daddy, having grown up in the Channel Islands where snow is rare, has never (yes, never ever) built a snowman.  So that is what we had to do!

The rolling a snowball though the snow technique didn’t really work.  This snow was quite powdery and dry, so our snowman, who the children imaginatively called Frosty, was more of a sculpted affair built by collecting buckets of snow from around the garden and moulding them with our hands.  L and N loved this, and I know it will stay in their memories.  It will certainly stay in mine as one of the best times we have had as a family – and although we didn’t analyse it at the time I think there has to be a lot of merit in a joint, co-operative effort that involved the whole family working together towards a common goal.  Mainly, it was great fun.  Childhood memories came back to me of building snowmen with my sister and grandfather, and it felt lovely to be passing those on to my children, and that one day they might do the same.

Daddy's first snowman

Daddy’s first snowman

Yes, this really is as cheerful as Daddy ever gets on a photo 😉 – I just love his expression of childlike joy!

Little F started out in her pushchair wrapped up cosy but soon made it clear that she preferred being in the thick of things, experiencing her first snow at ground level.

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All three children loved jumping on the snowy trampoline.  L and N drew in the snow with their fingers, made footprints, and enjoyed a fantastic snowball fight with Mummy once Daddy and F had gone inside!

Then it was time to paint the snow.  I’ve heard such mixed reports as to what works best.  Spray bottles seem to produce a good effect and probably allow for better mixing of colours.  Some people seem to use food colouring, but watered down paint gives a stronger colour.  We used very watered down paint in water bottles with a sports lid, to drip-paint the snow.  Ideally we would have used the three primary colours for mixing fun, but we had run out of yellow, so our colours were blue, red and green, with a hint of glitter!

L and N with their snowy canvas

L and N with their snowy canvas

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This was a great activity.  As well as producing a completely different effect with paint, it was a lovely way to do some large-scale painting, and there was a freedom to it that the children really enjoyed.

No more snow this morning sadly, but we are hopeful for tonight!




Invitation to Create: Pizza Art



This was an activity which aimed to fill the potentially crotchety time just before dinner.  N and I had made pizza dough that afternoon (another fun and sensory exercise involving measuring, weighing, mixing, kneading the dough and learning about yeast),



…and when L got home from school I set it up as an “Invitation to Create” and let them do their own thing.  I set out two pizza bases with two knives, a selection of vegetables, cheeses and quorn ham, some sauce made with passata, garlic and red pesto and we were away!  I tried to give them a variety of colours, textures, smells and flavours, but really we just used what was in the cupboard and obviously any combination of toppings would work well.

I like this in that it combines a lesson in independence, which I believe boosts children’s self-esteem, and creative, multi-sensory play.  The perfectionist in me has to be silenced and told firmly that it doesn’t matter whether the toppings are evenly distributed, but I bit my tongue and let them get on with it.

There was spreading, sharing out toppings fairly (counting and division going on), tasting, and careful art work.


All in all, the pizzas looked pretty damn fine, and it did avoid that post-school, pre-dinner hour of doom, and as a bonus, dinner was sorted!  It is always good to remember that simple everyday activities can provide the play experiences that children need – and they prove it by loving cooking and housework!


Our Reading List (favourite children’s books)

If I had to pick the single activity I get most excited about, it is watching the children’s emerging reading skills, and the new worlds that open up to them as their literacy and understanding develop. Sharing books with them is nothing short of magical.  And it opens up all kinds of conversations we wouldn’t otherwise have, as well as developing all kinds of thought processes, reasoning skills, emotional understanding…the thing about reading is, well, it’s so diverse.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, nor is it a “10 favourite books of all time” type of list, the idea of which paralyses me (how to choose from so many amazing, clever, imaginative, informative, enchanting books, and what of the books I haven’t even encountered?).  It is simply a list of the books we are enjoying together at the moment.  This is not advertising (the publishers of these books don’t know I exist); it is just me and my children enjoying books.

L (aged 5 years 2 months):

  1. The BFG by Roald Dahl

This is a book that has really caught L’s imagination.  I would go so far as to say it is his favourite.  I am amazed he isn’t scared by the child-eating giants, but he isn’t.  So, what does L love about this book?  I think it has a bit of everything – the humour of “whizzpoppers” couldn’t fail to appeal to a five year old boy, the excitement of the secret Giant country.  The idea of mixing dreams appeals to the scientist in him, who loves to know how things work.  The rescue element and the small child who saves the day, the triumph of the small, kind giant over the larger, bullying ones appeals to his sense of justice. he also loves the made up language since he is just starting to explore word-play. Despite the child-eating, this isn’t a bloodthirsty book, it is at all times funny, imaginative, clever…can you tell I like it too?  Roald Dahl’s imagination does it for me.  And the fresh-ness of his books thirty years after their writing – they are like no others.  I love the way the BFG takes Sophie seriously, and her sensitivity to his feelings.  It is a charming story even for grown ups.

2. Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon

L and I agree to disagree on this one.  To him, they are hilarious books, and the early reader ones he can read himself without too much effort, which is just about the only thing I like them for.  To me, Henry is rude, selfish, hurts other people, does dangerous things, and not only gets away with it but is rewarded.

I don’t think L is going to become Henry by reading these books, but I do question the way they present Henry’s behaviour as funny and fun, do not explore the impact on other people and the consequences of the behaviour.  And also the way things L is currently positive about (reading, school, fruit and vegetables) are presented negatively.  The relationship between henry and his parents also bothers me, in that there is no love or respect shown, just exasperation on his parents’ part and disobedience on Henry’s.  Some may say I’m taking it all too seriously, I reserve the right not to agree!  L is enjoying these books and often asks for them, and whilst I wouldn’t ban them I do try to encourage other books instead, and hope his Horrid Henry phase will be short lived.

3. You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum by Andy Stanton

We both love this.  And will definitely be buying the rest of the series.  It has humour we can enjoy together, and we both laughed out loud.  This book has a very quirky sort of humour but it is incredibly clever and well, hilarious.  The language in the book is challenging, and introduced L to metaphors and similes, some of which are really abstract – Mr Gum’s carpet, for example, is “the colour of unhappiness”.  but mostly I liked the fact that this is a completely different style of book to anything L has read before.  It isn’t dumbed down, and i think it will appeal to him for years.

4. The I Wonder Why collection

For a boy who is full of questions, these are perfect.  We have made good use of “why do leaves change colour in autumn” recently, and the question and answer format of these books has stimulated L’s curiosity even further.  I like books that give children credit for some intelligence, and don’t shy away from concepts that are difficult to explain.  Even N (3) has got something out of the explanations even if she doesn’t understand them fully – yet I think an 8 or 9 year old would get something out of these books too.

5. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Politically correct they are not, but we love a bit of Enid Blyton.

6. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

I don’t often say it, but this is a boys’ book.  It must be.  L and his dad love it, and although I feel disloyal to Roald Dahl when I say this, I find it boring.  Personally I don’t see in it the imagination and humour I love so much in Dahl’s books – I see only long, detailed descriptions of car engines.  Perhaps it is the relationship between Danny and his dad that makes the book so appealing to L?  Isn’t this the kind of parent every little boy would love to have (one who can give unlimited, undivided time and attention, one who thinks up crazy and amazing experiments and activities, one who can live up to their hero-worship?) – perhaps it is the dream-fulfillment of a small boy being able to drive a car and save the day?  Or the excitement of sneaking around in the woods at night doing something forbidden?  Whatever it is, it lit a spark in L, and for that I love it.

7. Stig of the Dump by CIive King

A confession – I haven’t read this!  However, L has, with Daddy – and he loves it.  According to L “Stig is a boy like me and he lives in a rubbish dump and he has a friend called Barney” – the idea of having a secret friend who lives a different and exciting life seems to appeal to L.  Another adventure story, which we love, and one that was instrumental in L beginning to enjoy chapter books, so we think this is a winner.

8. The Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia (Orpheus Books)

A collection of 20 information books, from which L absorbs information like a sponge.  There are so many children’s encyclopedias out there but I love these for the following reasons:

They are concise and age appropriate without dumbing things down.  Some of the information is complex, but it is accessible and interesting, with illustrations that add a lot to the explanations.

They are comprehensive, with a good general and varied overview of the world.

They are reasonable in cost, and are often on offer.

But my biggest reason – L loves them, and they have been a fantastic introduction to non-fiction books, and really broadened his reading horizons.  This is another set he will use for years and I am sure his sisters will after him.

9. .Fright Forest – Elf Girl and Raven Boy by Marcus Sedgwick

This adventure story has gripped us all – so much that I borrowed it to read in bed one night, and N came to sit quietly in her bedroom doorway to listen to L’s story, until invited to join in.  The illustrations remind me of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and they make the book even more engaging.  There is a mystery about Elf Girl and Raven Boy (not least because we never discover their real names, or where they came from) – and we are all intrigued by the fact that they live in the forest.

Elf Girl and Raven Boy are brave, loyal, good, and quirky.  I love the fact that a tiny girl and a slightly odd boy with a rat for a friend can be heroes and heroines.  And I love the friendship between them.  The characters in this book are never one-dimensional, and the story is gripping.  A favourite!

N (aged 3 years 1 month)

1. Rainbow Magic Series by Daisy Meadows

i think N likes the idea of these as much as the books themselves, possibly more, but if you ask her what her favourite story is this is what she will tell you.  I think they are a bit cynically marketed, and no great works of literature, but they work – little girls love ’em.  Read one and you’ve read them all – crisis in fairyland, two little girls help the fairies to avert disaster.  But they are harmless, and anything children enjoy reading as long as it’s not overtly damaging is fine by me.

2. The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson

Now these are just lovely.  One of those bestselling children’s stories where the hype is justified.  We love everything about them – the rhymes, the clever and humorous story, the beautiful illustrations.  Both L and N knew these off by heart before the age of two, and still enjoy them now.  Even baby F loves the pictures and the rhyme, and listens quietly.  Children of different ages can enjoy together, which is always a plus.  There are also other wonderful Julia Donaldson books including A Squash and a Squeeze, Room on the Broom, and Charlie Cook’s Favourite  Book – we love them all but The Gruffalo is still our all-time favourite.

3. Just Imagine – by Pippa Goodhart and NIck Sharrat

This is a book that N was sent for her birthday, and has been read over and over already.  It really stimulates her imagination (the book invites the reader to imagine a world of different realities) and there is so much to talk about in the detailed illustrations.  I think it will also be a lovely starting point for role play and storytelling too.

4. Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem

Lovely, charming stories that I remember nostalgically from my own childhood about the adventures of Wilfred the mouse.  They are so sweet and the illustrations really make the books prefect.  I think they inspire a love of nature, and  I still love to imagine a whole world of teeny little mice drinking from acorn teacups.  They fit beautifully with the changing-seasons crafts and activities we have been doing at home too.  These are on my must-have list for any little child, particularly one like N who adores animals.

5. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

The most famous Dr Seuss is a firm favourite with N.  She finds the naughty cat and his sidekicks, Thing 1 and Thing 2, hilarious.  The language and rhyme is great, and there are simple words (cat, hat) that N can begin to read herself, and she loves having an active role in reading the story.  But the language is also advanced enough to extend her vocabulary and keep her interest.  DIssection aside, it is fun, and engaging.
F, aged 7 months

1. That’s Not My… by Usborne Books

These board books tick all the baby boxes – bold illustrations, texture on each page, durable (chewable) pages that little hands can handle, the perfect size, and lots of repetition.  The textures make reading a sensory experience, and engage her well.  She loves the repetition and knows what to expect.

2. Pretty Baby / Cheeky Baby

Now, I can’t find these online even on Amazon, but I think this may be a link to second hand sellers.  If these are out of print, I can’t think why because they are great.  maybe it is the sexism of having a “cheeky” boy book and a “pretty” girl book, which hasn’t bothered my children since my boy has been pretty and my girls cheeky – I have read both with either gender.

F loves looking under the flaps to find the baby, and the mirror on the last page in which she can see the cheeky or pretty baby (“it’s you!”) delights her.


3. I’ll See You in the Morning by Mike Jolley

This beautiful, touching book made me cry the first time we read it.  It is basically an extended goodnight to a little baby, with reassurance  that a parent is nearby and everything is cosy and safe.  It has been a bedtime favourite and a part of the bedtime routine, with soft and calming pictures.

4. The “Amazing Baby” Books

Perfect even for the tiniest baby, these books have a theme for everyone – starting from baby faces, and a black and white book, and moving on to lullabies, clap and sing, and “my mummy” / “my daddy”, this is a brilliant series which really taps into what babies like and want in a picture book.  Hours of entertainment.

N.B.  it’s also worth mentioning that all three have loved listening to longer stories as babies, even before they could understand the story – this is particularly true of rhyming stories like the Julia Donaldson ones.

As I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list and I’m sure it will grow with us!


Pumpkin Play (for a rainy day)…

We have had four pumpkins sitting in our hallway for about a week now.  The internet is brimming with articles such as “A Million things to do with a Pumpkin” and I’ve been paralysed by choice.  Two of them have yet to have their destiny decided, but given how much L and N enjoyed dissecting the fruit and veg when we made our Harvest Festival Meal, I decided to go with a general exploration of the pumpkin based on this link sent to me by a friend and fellow-blogger.

Having picked up all the pumpkins to see which was heaviest, we selected the heaviest pumpkin to cut open first.  L found this easy, N had difficulty, so we might play some more games around comparing weights.

First we cut the “lid” off the pumpkin, to find out what was inside.  Both L and N thought there might be other vegetables inside.  I don’t think they realised the pumpkin was actually the vegetable (although we have since found out it is a fruit!).

We discovered millions of seeds inside – both children recognised them as seeds and knew they would “grow baby pumpkins”.  L put his hand inside, N didn’t want to.  L discovered it was “squishy”, “wet” and “juicy”.  N just thought it was “yucky”.  We scooped out the seeds and stringy bits, and I gave them to the children in a bowl, to separate out the seeds and have a good look.  N was happy to explore it that way although she did keep washing her hands! L had no such qualms…

Once they had finished, I added some water to let them wash the seeds, and have a bit of sensory play 🙂

Meanwhile, F was busy conducting her own exploration – of one of the intact pumpkins!  She really did enjoy this curious new object.


Back to the kitchen – and we tried to colour the seeds in autumn colours.  L chose brown, N chose red.  The pumpkin seeds were not very good at absorbing colour, so we left them to stand in food colouring for a while.  The original post used vinegar with the food colouring, I used alcohol gel as we do when we dye pasta and rice, so maybe that made a difference, but even after several hours in the mixture ours were only faintly tinted.  Not that it mattered.  We put them to one side to dry and save for our sensory box.

Now, being cheap frugal, I tried to get the most out of these seasonal gourds.  So we returned to the hollowed out pumpkins and tried to strip the flesh away whilst keeping the shells intact.  This turned out to be really hard work and the children got a bit bored of waiting (lesson learned: next year, do this while they’re exploring seeds).  We did manage to extract most of the flesh though, and the two medium-sized pumpkins gave us more than I thought they might.

My plan was to use cookie cutters to cut out heart and star shapes for our Autumn lanterns (being a non-halloween family I avoided faces).  I had seen Martha Stewart do this and thought it looked fantastic.  If it works for you, let me know!  I don’t know what these people were doing, but my cookie cutters just would not cut through the darned pumpkin skin, even with the help of a rubber mallet.  By now I was sweating and muttering bad words, so we abandoned the cookie cutters and I made a very rushed job of carving out some shapes (so rushed that I’m hesitant to post the pictures, but perfectionism aside, the children didn’t mind!).

I handed the battered shells over to L and N, to paint any way they liked.  And they did like.  Very much indeed 🙂


To decorate the lids we used some watery white paint and just let it drip, watching the patterns it made.  I loved this part as much as the children and it tempted me to use our remaining two pumpkins to do this Pumpkin Drip-Art painting from The Imagination Tree – beautiful!

For now, here are our Autumn lanterns:

L and N were really excited by this (poor deprived things had never seen a pumpkin lantern before!).  And with the hard-won flesh, we made spicy pumpkin soup (a bit of cumin counteracted the sweetness nicely).


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!