How can I make the most of our time outside to promote learning?

It has now been three months since the initial lockdown caused by Covid-19. For some children, the lockdown has reduced, and they are beginning to go back to school. For others, they have not stopped going to school. And then there are some for whom a return to school seems a long way away.

Whatever your story, opportunities to get out of the house have never been more important. Whether you live in the city or the country, being outside is great for the soul. This blog is intended to give some ideas to parents about how they can utilise chances to promote learning when out and about.

Nature Treasure Hunts

There are lots of parks, woods, nature trails and other areas where you are now allowed to walk. When out and about on these walks, it is a great opportunity to explore, look around with different perspectives and encourage learning. A great way of making the most of walks, promote fun and notice new things is to do a ‘Nature Treasure Hunt’.

Give your child a list of different things you want them to find. In a wood, the list could include leaves from different species of tree and plants. In a park, it could be finding a list of 15 different things there are for children or adults to do. Even in the city it is surprising how much of the natural world is still there to be seen. Your child could even set a treasure hunt for you to do at the same time. Depending on the list, your child could collect evidence of each thing on the list. They could also draw pictures and describe what they have seen to make up their treasure hunt. Just make it work for you and what you are trying to achieve.

When completing treasure hunts, you can easily add learning opportunities such as learning about life cycles (spotting butterflies, caterpillars, etc.), learning to use number tallies, building graphs, wildlife identification and more.

Playing in the woods

Woodland is central to our British culture. We are blessed with woodland of different types across the country. Just walking through woodland can regenerate energy. However, there are also infinite games you can play and activities you can do that promote learning but are also great fun. For example, a simple game of hide and seek in the woods can promote hours of fun, particularly for younger children. Just make sure you make clear where the boundaries are going to be! Adapted games of hide and seek are also fun for older children. For example, having a base where the person who is ‘on it’ counts whilst other members of the family hide. When the counting is finished, the person ‘on it’ must tag the other players and at the same time the others have to try and get back to base un-tagged.

One thing I have found to be very popular with children of all ages in the woods is den building. If you have time, challenging your children to build a shelter for themselves using only natural materials will quickly fill a couple of hours. However, if you don’t have that sort of time, challenge them to make a shelter for a mouse, hedgehog or deer. Mice dens are always good fun made together with younger children.

A quieter activity, but also very rewarding, is to just sit in a quiet spot in the woods and listen. Some children can find this hard at first, but given time and persistence, the experience can be surprising. Take something with you for everyone to sit on and then challenge everyone to find their own space, where they cannot see anyone else. Set a time when you will call everyone back and challenge everyone to not make any sound during the time. As your children get better at it, you can extend the time. Give the activity a catchy name – ‘Silent Spot’ or ‘Secret Bubble’ work well.

Bug hotels, bird feeders and bird boxes

You might want to do something outdoor and active, but not far from home. If you have a garden or even just a balcony, building something for nature can be great fun. Once made, watching nature use it and learning about it can also give a great chance to learn about food chains, habitats and life-cycles.

A bug hotel is simple to make and can come in all shapes and sizes. If you do not have a lot of space, no problem, just create a very small one. For those of you with a bigger garden – go big. These can be bought ready made from most DIY stores now. However, designing and making your own gives much more of a chance for learning. If you have the internet, there are lots of designs you can see. Really, a good bug hotel has small open spaces for bugs to crawl in and set up camp and protect them from predators like birds. Bugs like natural materials. Even cutting up some bamboo and tying the pieces together works well.

A similar creative activity that works well is to make a simple bird box or bird feeder. These are perhaps more challenging than a bug hotel and would need access to a great number of tools. However, when completed, the sense of achievement is amazing!

Planting and growing

A similar way of making the most of your own space is to plant and grow flowers, vegetables or fruit. Many of these can be done inside the house as well as outside. Again, depending on the space you have will help shape how ambitious you can be. But even something that is quite simple to grow, such as strawberries, can be great fun and rewarding. If you want to be ambitious, design an area in the garden to create a flowery picture.

Have fun

Whatever you decide, have fun doing it. If it isn’t fun for either you or your child, it probably isn’t worth persisting. Talk to your child about the options there are and agree what to do and when. For those activities that are more challenging, such as bird box making, don’t worry if it takes several attempts. The most important thing is that when out and about you create positive memories together with your children. Lockdown is a strange and stressful time. When enjoying the outdoors, don’t let that become stressful too.

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