As we approach the autumn equinox another half term is almost upon us. For those of us with children, or grandchildren, or nephews and nieces, or just helping look after the neighbour’s kids while they’re at work, it can be a challenging time. There’s never enough to keep the little ones engaged and fend off the dreaded cry of ‘I’m bored’ and the squabbles that follow inevitably on.
Your garden, and any park or wood nearby can be a great help at this time of year. There’s so much change in the air and it can help little minds start to understand how nature, and the seasons work. Of course the benefits of being outside ‘in nature’ are widely recognised now. Spending time outside can be an important part of a child’s education and can have both a stimulating and calming effect. Just being outside, running around and messing about can be enough. But you can end up being a slightly bored spectator/ keeper-out-of-trouble. So here’s some ideas for ways that you can all engage and enjoy the experience together.
TIP! Kids love making lists, identifying things, and are usually quite happy making art – so always make sure you go out with paper and pencils.
Find your inner artist
Leaves are turning and the range of colours is at its greatest right now. Arrange a circle of leaves like an Andy Goldsworthy artwork. Working in size, colour and contrast you can make rainbow lines snaking across a path or create mysterious circles. At the same time you can try to identify which tree the leaf has come from.
Feel like foraging whilst out and about? Revisit our blog on finding wild food for free
Get on the offline web!
Younger kids are up exhaustingly early. But on a dewy sunny autumn morning you can all embark on a spider web quest. The low rays of the sun sparkling in the drops of dew make spiders webs a magical experience. Take a sketch pad and try to copy the different webs you see. There are many different patterns and structures. Each one created by a different species. The autumn is the absolute best time for spotting spider webs.
The Lace Web spider and its distinctive web
Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see some prey in the web. Tapping the web very lightly with a blade of grass might persuade the spider to come and investigate. All spiders are venomous but their bites are mostly completely harmless to humans. However there are a few whose bites can leave you feeling poorly for a day or two. So don’t pick up any spiders you see.
If you’re more into seeing fake spiders as part of a Halloween party get some spooky ideas for a Halloween garden
This is the time of year that you will see most squirrels, they are busy all day laying down food stores for the winter. Apart from a lucky few most of us will be seeing grey squirrels. It’s a lovely chance to get the kids to slow down a bit. If you see a squirrel stop and wait quietly, you may be lucky and see it burying some food, usually a nut. Look up in the trees, as their leaves fall you may be able to spot a squirrels drey (their ‘nest’). This is where they’ll spend most of the winter.
A squirrels drey. Who’d have thought such an untidy mess could be so cosy.
They don’t actually hibernate but they don’t like the cold so they spend as much time as possible in their snug dreys They are quite distinctive, forming a large untidy mass of twigs. Take advantage of these autumn days to spot squirrels. Once winter sets in they’ll be asleep for as much as 18 to 20 hours each day, only coming out for a quick feed. Squirrels are ‘crepuscular’ meaning they are busiest in the hours after dawn and before dusk. But at this time of year you can see them any time it’s light, they have so much food they need to get stored.
Look after hedgehogs
Hedgehogs will soon be looking for a place to hibernate. Why not make sure they’ve got a lovely place to sleep? They live on the outskirts of wooded areas so they like hedges. They need a dry, sheltered spot that’s safe from cats and foxes. A pile of wood or leaves in the right spot such as under dense shrubbery, at the foot of a hedge or under a shed, can be ideal.
Changing weather conditions bring a variety of clouds. Here’s another chance to slow down. Clouds are extremely short lived, most don’t last more than a few minutes. Apart from the depressing blanket of uniform low cloud known as Stratus that can hang around all day long. So stop, lie on your backs and watch a cloud, how long does it last, whose lasts the longest? Try and see what different shapes of cloud you can spot. Try and write a description or make a drawing.
Feed the birds
Of course you’ve got a bird feeder, haven’t you? Haven’t you? Well now’s a prime time for visitors so clean it thoroughly (dirty feeders can spread disease among birds), and get it filled. Birds are very busy in autumn laying down fat for the cold months ahead, they need a lot of food.
How many birds can you see visiting your feeder? In the summer we might see 3 or four species, in the autumn this can easily go up to as many as fifteen or more. You won’t see that many all at once, but you should be able to spot that number over the course of half term.
Memories are made of this
All these activities, and many more, can be done in your garden, in a local park or woodland. You’ll spend fascinating time with the kids, you’ll be discovering and creating together, you’ll have so much to talk about afterwards, and maybe, just maybe, they might be tired enough when you get back in to allow you just one small cup of coffee in peace.