Hello nature explorers – it is going to be very chilly this week which is perfect for investigating ice. You will need to wrap up warm and wear extra thick woolly socks, a hat and gloves. Ice is so exciting to explore! Here are some of my favourite activities to get you started.
A winter wander
Even a light frost creates amazing ice crystal patterns in frozen puddles and on windows. How many different patterns can you find? Look for frozen clouds, fern frost and ice flowers. Can you find spiky ice crystals growing out of leaves, tree branches and blades of grass? This is called hoar frost which is tiny dewdrops of water that have frozen.
I like to look for trapped air bubbles in frozen puddles and watch how they move under the ice when you step gently on top. If the ice cracks, pick up a piece – how thick is the ice? Feel how flat and smooth the underside of the ice is and then look through your ice lens to see the world around you differently – its magical! I like to take photographs of the delicate patterns that I find before they melt away and vanish forever.
Where do your feet and eyes take you? This is called ‘wandering’ – not following a particular path or direction but letting nature and your feelings guide you.
Make your own ice sculpture – no hammers or chisels are needed! Simply, when outside wandering, collect a few natural objects that would look beautiful frozen inside ice. Hazel catkins, lichen, moss and small leaves can be easily found. When back home, fill ice cube trays, small plastic fruit punnets or empty yogurt pots with tap or rainwater. Now arrange your natural treasures in the water – think about why your objects might sink or float? Carefully put your creations into a freezer overnight, or if its going to be below freezing, outside in the garden!
I also add a loop of string tied onto a short stick – the stick will sink and be frozen in the water but make sure the loop of string stays out, so you can hang up and admire your beautiful ice sculpture.
Leave your frozen creations in their moulds for a few minutes before turning out – this allows the edges of the ice to melt slightly.
Hang a piece of your ice art outdoors and indoors (maybe hang over a kitchen tap – to avoid puddles of water on the floor!). Now observe what happens. If it’s really cold, your ice may not melt at all! Which piece of ice begins to melt first? Why? What happens if you put your ice in water – will it sink or float? Sprinkle some salt onto an ice block – what happens? Clue – roads are salted in icy weather to make them safer to drive on. (Salt lowers the melting point of water, so the ice melts quicker). If you add a drop of food dye or fruit juice you’ll be able to see the colour fill the cracks as the ice melts. At what temperature does water freeze?
Maybe finish your investigation by making an ice lolly!
Remember, stay safe – always explore with an adult and never stand on frozen ponds or lakes.
Welcome back nature explorers – I hope you enjoyed meeting a few wiggly worms and learnt how important and amazing they are. It’s time to pull on your welly boots, jump outdoors and get muddy again!
Mud, mud, glorious mud – it’s free, easy to use and can be found pretty much anywhere. Okay, its messy but that’s why its super fun! Firstly, you need to find a nice muddy patch. Here are some mud-fabulous activity ideas about how you can use it to create your own artwork.
Molehill soil is perfect for modelling. Soft, crumbly and damp the soil holds and sticks together well when squashed into a ball. Small plastic fruit punnets make great moulds to make bodies for hedgehogs, dinosaurs or giant insects. Or turn a molehill into a mud-castle using plant or yogurt pots as moulds to make towers.
Decorate your sculpture with natural objects such as sticks, stones and plant materials like acorns and fir cones. Pine needles make lovely whiskers. What does your mud creature like to eat?
If your sculpture is made with just natural materials then it can be left to return to the earth for the worms.
No molehills – then you can mix up your own soil mixture – make sure its not too wet or too dry.
Animal footprint tracks are often found in mud. Look for a nice muddy patch that’s not too wet and practice identifying signs by making your own animal footprints. The heel of a hand makes a good palm pad impression and fingers for toe pads. Sticks can be used to make claw prints. Then challenge your family to guess each other’s tracks.
You can also use a large sheet of paper or the back of a roll of spare wallpaper, to paint mud footprint trails. Cut out cardboard templates and use mud sponged around the edge; then carefully lift to reveal the print shape. Or you can use a paint brush – but using fingers and hands is more fun!
The colour of mud can vary hugely, from yellow ochre, dark umber and rich red sienna’s – all colours which were traditionally derived from mud. Experiment to make your own range of mud paints. Add and mix ground up white chalk or charcoal to a small pot of mud; thin with water – paint onto white card or watercolour paper. Can you make light and dark shades? Look for sticky grey or yellow clay soil to make new colours. How many different colours can you make?
Use an old flour sieve to push through your mud paint to remove small stones and grit to make a smooth paint. You can also add a small squirt of washing up liquid to give your soil paint a beautiful sheen.
Messy fun tips:
When creating art with mud, have plenty of water nearby, mixing sticks and spades. Mud and water really go hand in hand, and only adds to the fun. Make sure old or protective clothes are worn and that hands are thoroughly washed afterwards. Cuts on hands should be covered with a plaster.
Have fun exploring,
Welcome back nature explorers – it’s time to pull on your welly boots, get outdoors and discover the wonderfully wiggly world of earthworms!
Earthworms are our ‘superworm’ heroes. They live hidden underground in the soil but are secretly busy recycling dead things, like fallen autumn leaves, and turning them into healthy plant food. It’s an important job.
Here are some fun activities to help you ‘get to know a worm’.
A worm in the hand
Worms can be found everywhere in gardens, woodlands and compost heaps. Carefully dig up a worm from the soil in your garden using a hand trowel. Put the earthworm in a folded piece of paper and hold this next to your ear – listen to the scratchy sound which its body makes when rubbing against the paper as it wiggles. The sound is made by tiny hairs called bristles that help the earthworm pull itself forwards and backwards through the soil.
Now put your earthworm on your hand – how does it feel and move?
Its body is covered in a slimy mucus to make it easier to wriggle through the soil.
Head or tail?
Carefully look at your worm. Adult earthworms have a thickened area, called a saddle, part of the way along their body. The head is the closest end to the saddle. To check you are right, put your worm back – remember to be respectful, it is a living creature. The pointed end, which is its head, will disappear back into the soil first. Its tail is more rounded and sometimes slightly flattened.
I-spy a worm burrow
Many earthworms live in burrows in the soil. At night they pull dead leaves down into their burrows. Safely underground they eat and then poop out the waste called castings above the ground. These look like long curly mounds of earth spaghetti – can you find one? Casts are rich in recycled plant nutrients which helps keep the soil healthy and plants grow. Now move the cast carefully away to find a hole underneath which is the burrow entrance.
You can also look for small piles of rotting leaves pulled together on the soil surface. Earthworms block the entrance of their burrows to help stop the tunnels being flooded by rainwater.
Carefully pull on the leaves to find its hidden home.
You can attract earthworms to the surface by vibrating the soil. Maybe it sounds like rain or a mole digging through the soil looking for its favourite food – earthworms! I like to stomp and jump on the ground for 2-5 minutes. Then patiently wait for the worms to appear. Birds are often seen tapping the earth with their feet to make vibrations to catch a tasty worm snack – see if you can spot one.
Simply collect some soil in a pot (molehill earth is the best), mix with a little water using a small stick to make a beautiful mud paint.
Use a paintbrush to paint your own Wiggly Woo.
Super wiggly worm facts:
- Earthworms have no bones or skeleton.
- Worms do not have eyes or ears.
- They can sense vibrations and are sensitive to temperature and touch.
- Worms have 5 pairs of hearts and one brain – so you cannot make two worms by cutting one in half!
- There are 27 different types of earthworm in the UK.
Have lots of wriggly wiggly fun.
Welcome back ‘Garden Explorers’! I hope you had lots of fun and adventures over the half-term break. I especially enjoyed camping in my back garden and looking for nature in the early evening. It’s much cooler at this time of day and there’s lots to see and hear. Maybe you noticed bats flittering around, scuttling stag beetles, heard nightjars churring from across the heathland or seabirds overhead and smelt the delicate smell of honeysuckle in the air? I was so excited about my discoveries I wanted to draw and share my memories.
Drawing outdoors teaches us how to be still, to be observant and care for living things. You’ll be amazed at how well you can draw when you stop and really look at nature.
Here are some tips to help you get creative:
- Firstly, you’ll need a sketch book or drawing paper attached to strong cardboard – the back page of a notebook is perfect. A sketching pencil, a small box of watercolours with a brush and pot of water. I like using watercolour pens and pencils – then you can decide whether to add water or not.
- Next, find a special place where you can sit alone surrounded by nature. Do you remember your special sit spot? You will need to be comfortable. Use a mat or blanket to sit quietly. Don’t forget a sunhat or sit in the shade so you don’t get too hot in the sun.
- Now look carefully around at your surroundings to find something from nature to draw. Let your curiosity help you – what does your eye get drawn to?
- It might be a beautiful flower – how many petals does it have, what shape and colours? I like to sketch the outline of the flower first before drawing the stem and leaves. Look carefully at the edge of the leaves. Are they smooth, jagged or hairy? Don’t forget to draw the leaf veins.
- Maybe you’ve spotted an ant or a small beetle on the ground or on a plant stem. Moving creatures are trickier to draw and can be collected carefully in a pot to draw. Use a magnifying lens to count how many legs it has, look at its eyes and antennae. Does it have wings? – look carefully they might be hidden under a hard wing case just like ladybirds and stag beetles. Remember to release them carefully back to where you found them.
- I like to write notes about my drawings and sketches such as the date seen, what was your creature doing and a list of other things you saw. This helps you practice your detective skills of carefully watching and learning about something that has sparked an interest. Use nature books and the Internet to find out more interesting facts. Why not create a nature journal as a wonderful way to record and share your own memories?
Remember drawings don’t need to be perfect. Trust your eyes and draw what you see. Relax and enjoy!
Welcome back ‘Garden Explorers’. This week we are learning how to carefully watch and listen to nature. It’s an important explorer skill to practice. Have you noticed that away from the traffic noise of cars and planes you can hear more bird song? Maybe you have heard the soft buzz of a bumblebee or how baby bird fledglings squawk and beg for food – they are very noisy!
First, find a special place where you can sit alone surrounded by nature, maybe amongst tall plants, so you feel hidden but safe. Use a mat or blanket to sit quietly. If you sit quietly you will get used to that place and the plants and animals will get used to you.
After a few minutes, take a deep breath though your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat. This helps to relax your body and your thoughts so you can watch nature better. Try closing your eyes for ten seconds and then open them – suddenly everything looks more colourful and brighter. Look around you, just moving your head, keeping your body still. Maybe you’ll notice the movement of a tiny ant, how a flower gently moves in the breeze or spy some treasures you collected on your adventures before. How many colours and different shades of colours can you see?
How many sounds can you hear? Put both hands over your ears and count to 10. Take your hands away and listen – wow, there are sounds all around you. Every time you hear a sound lift up one finger to count them. Now you are listening and concentrating deeply.
Try and map the sounds you hear. Mark an X in the middle of a small piece of paper – this represents you – and use words or symbols to help describe the sounds you hear. Are the sounds near or far, quiet or loud? Which direction? Maybe you can feel the wind on your face or notice the sun warming your back. Then remember to share your sound map with someone and what you have discovered.
Extra explorer challenge:
Try listening to nature at your special sit spot at different times of the day. Listen to the early morning chorus, when birds sing for joy at the start a new day, it’s an amazing experience. Or at dusk when you might be lucky enough to see and hear bats flapping past or a maybug buzz by.
Wishing you lots of magical moments!
Hello garden explorers – I hope you all enjoyed your small worlds adventure. Maybe you discovered some special treasures along the way? I love the excitement of finding and collecting my own natural treasures. I think it’s because you never know what you might find. It might be something unusual and strange, colourful and shiny, delicate and soft or rough and prickly. Then best of all is talking about and sharing your treasures with somebody so they can enjoy your discoveries too!
A scavenger hunt is a great way to explore and get up close to nature by looking for as many different things as possible. Here’s my challenge:
How many tiny treasures can you fit into a small matchbox or collecting pot? Tip: I like to sit down and look carefully at the area just around me – it’s amazing what you notice if you look really carefully.
Use these clues to help find some hidden treasures – what did you find?
- A beautiful thing that was part of a wing
- If you plant me I may grow into a tree
- Seek far and close for something nice for your nose
- An empty home whose owner can no longer slither and roam
- Tick-tock, a fluffy seed that can be blown and freed
- Where there is food for a bee but quite hard to see
- I made food for a tree till it had no more use for me
- Something harder than bone, a most beautiful stone
Remember, don’t put any living creatures in your collecting box as you may hurt them.
Don’t forget to share your treasures. Which is your favourite object? Which was the hardest to find? Which object did you find first? What senses did you use on your hunt? – smell, feel, hear?
Take a picture of your special tiny treasures. I would love to see what you have found- upload them to the learners pool if you like! Happy hunting.
Have you ever thought what the world would look like if you were tiny? Really tiny – like the size of your thumb? What would your garden look like? The grass would suddenly become a tall dark jungle with sticky slug trails and spider web traps! A flowerpot has transformed into an enormous mountain to climb and beware of the patio stone wilderness with bottomless crevasses. Are you brave enough to explore the miniature world of nature in your garden?
To set up your own tiny adventure you will need:
- Set of small flags x 6 – coloured tape, paper or ribbons attached to bamboo skewers (cut in half) or cocktail sticks
- Set of 10 short sticks approx..10cm tall / or lolly pop sticks
- A length of string or wool (2 metres)
- A magnifying lens and hand mirror if you have one
- Optional Lego figure ……. and lots of imagination!
Firstly, I re-explored my garden. You need to get down low and I found lying on my tummy really helped to see how the world would look if I was the size of a beetle. I decided to set up my trail along the edge of a flower bed as this looked like an amazing place to start my tiny-trail adventure. When you’ve found your start point, push a stick into the ground and tie on the string. My string trail passed along the edge of a tall grass jungle and through a bright green tropical forest. My Lego friend adventurer had to look out for slugs, ants and other wild creatures before stopping for a rest at ’Tile Towers’ – where secret pixie treasures were buried. I used a flag to mark each place of interest and kept adding more sticks along the string trail.
My trail continued past the terracotta cave of echoes, a wood bark bridge – where I explored for hidden woodlice and millipedes – and a short way further along stopped at the limestone cliffs which overlooked a vast and beautiful lake called ‘Toad Pond’. This was where I saw a friendly yellow-eyed croaking creature! I couldn’t wait to share my adventure with someone else.
Along my trail I enjoyed using a magnifying lens and found a shiny gemstone, a small feather and a heart-shaped seed. What tiny treasures can you find along the way?
Use a small hand mirror to look up through your hidden world and a small cardboard viewing tube to make new discoveries.
Instead of a Lego figure, take along your favourite small model – it could be a dinosaur!
Finally, after your journey has ended it is always wonderful to share your tiny-trail adventure with someone else in your family. Afterwards I’m sure they’d love to set up a trail for you to explore.
Good luck and safe adventures.
PS- My favourite story book to read before this activity starts is ‘The King of Tiny Things’ by Jeanne Willis. The story involves two children who meet a pixie who helps to reveal a tiny world that they have never seen before.
What is a shadow and how can you catch one? On a sunny day, almost everything casts a shadow – including you. A shadow is made when an opaque (solid) object blocks a source of light and a dark shape appears behind it.
You’ve got to be quick to catch an outdoor shadow – shadows are only around for a short time. As the Earth turns and the angle of the sun’s rays changes, a shadow will move too.
Have you ever noticed how your shadow moves and changes shape throughout the day? At midday (lunchtime) your shadow-self will be very short but early in the morning or late afternoon your shadow-self will be long.
To catch a shadow you need to make a ‘shadow catcher’.
This is a piece of 24x18cm strong cardboard (the back page of a sketch book is perfect) with a square wooden stake or bamboo cane attached to the back – approx. 50cm in length.
I used strong sticky tape to hold in place. You can use small bulldog clips or paper clips to attach white drawing paper to the front of the board. Essentially a clipboard on a stick – so be as resourceful and creative as you like. Now you’re ready to search for shadows.
How to use your shadow catcher:
- Firstly which direction is the sun shining from?
- Explore with your shadow catcher to see what different shadow shapes you can find.
- Can you focus your shadow? The closer the shadow catcher, the better the image – further away it becomes larger and fuzzy.
- What do you notice? Shadows have no colour but can have lots of detail around their edges.
To capture your favourite shadow on paper, push the end of the stake /stick into the ground – a flower border is perfect (plus the ground will be softer). You’ll need to alter the angle of the board to frame your shadow perfectly; now your ready to draw around the shadow shape using a pencil or piece of drawing charcoal.
- Find a sheltered spot with no wind – it’s tricky to draw around an outline that keeps moving!
- Ask someone to hold your shadow catcher still whilst you’re drawing OR place onto the ground to catch shadows from above.
- Look for large simple shapes to draw – tree leaf shadows are easier to copy.
Share your shadows on a ‘shadow tour’ – can you try and guess what made the shadow? Or set up a shadow gallery. We enjoyed adding different shadows to our picture to make a collage.
Leave a shadow catcher in place with your sketched image. Come back in 15 minutes – what has happened to your shadow?
Or make a ‘shadow puppet show adventure’ – which characters will you meet?
Have lots of shadowy fun!
Butterflies are beautiful and almost magically appear in the first warmth of the spring sunshine. Spotting their colourful fluttering wings always makes me smile but where have they been all winter?
Butterflies are insects and unlike mammals and birds need to warm their bodies enough so they can move about and fly – this is why butterflies are more likely to be seen on sunny days. There are 59 different types of British butterflies. Some survive the cold winter as eggs, some as caterpillars or a chrysalis and others as adult butterflies either hibernating or flying to warmer countries.
Butterflies that you see now are usually the adults that spent the winter in your garden shed or hidden amongst ivy.
Try out these activity ideas to learn more and get arty.
I-spy: What butterflies visit your garden?
Have a go at recording the butterflies that visit your garden by their different colours. How many (what proportion) are white, yellow, blue, orange, red or brown? What colour flowers do they visit? Do they have a favourite flower? Different butterfly species will visit you in the spring and summer – so keep recording your sightings. You’ll then be ready to take part in the Big Butterfly Count – click here to find out more.
I look for butterflies on warm but cloudy days because they are less active and stay still longer!
Fluttering butterfly wings
Butterflies have two pairs of wings – two fore and two hind wings. Wings are covered in tiny scales to give them their colour. When resting, their wings fold together – the underside pattern is often camouflaged with a brighter display colour on the upper side.
Make your own beautiful butterfly to learn about different shapes, colours, patterns and symmetry:
- Check out Butterfly Conservation to help choose your favourite butterfly to copy and draw on paper – click here. I drew mine the size of my hands.
- Using tracing paper (or baking parchment) to draw over your butterfly shape using a felt tip pen. Then carefully add wing patterns and colour. Remember each side is identical – this is symmetry. You do not need to colour in the body.
- Now carefully cut out your tracing paper butterfly – the translucent paper allows the light to shine through to create delicate colourful fluttering wings.
- Slide the wings between two large lolly pop sticks, held together with small elastic bands, to make the body; or slide the body onto a short stick with a slot – bind top with twine and add stick antenna. Pipe cleaners work well too.
Now you’re ready to have a fluttering adventure around your garden!
I would love to see your creations.
Spring has sprung and now there is an explosion of new life and colour in many of our hedgerows and woodlands. How does this happen?
Dormant buds, which will become this year’s leaves and flowers, were grown last summer and protected through the winter within thick overlapping bud scales. Triggered by increasing day length and warmth, buds begin to swell, burst open and new leaves unfurl. Elder tree buds are the first to open followed by hawthorn. It’s an exciting time waiting for the next trees to leaf. I love the large sticky horse chestnut buds and the soft bright lime green leaves of the beech tree.
Try out these activity ideas to explore the leafy signs of spring:
Explore your garden and local area to look for signs of new leaf growth. Carefully cut a small tree twig with buds and put in a jar of water. Keep inside on a warm window shelf. Over the next few weeks, you can watch the buds swell and how the tiny new green leaves delicately unfold and grow. Can you identify your leaf and tree? Click here for a Leaf spotter chart to help you.
Extra challenge: Collect twigs from different trees to compare their leaves as they grow – look at their shape, size and texture. Young beech leaves feel soft and delicate with hairy edges, and hazel leaves feel fuzzy. Use a magnifying lens if you have one, to look at these small details, particularly the intricate leaf veins.
Horse chestnut bud (top) and seedling (bottom) grown in my greenhouse – first leaves are fully open already.
On a warm sunny day, lie under the canopy of a tree and look up at the sky above. I love how the branches sway and move in the breeze, creating patterns against the sky and shadows on the grounds. Listen to how the trees talk to each other – what are they saying? I also like to sit under a tree, with my back against its trunk, with a small hand-held mirror. When you look down into the mirror you’ll see the trees branches and canopy reflected above – it’s really magical and gives you a different perspective of the world! Maybe imagine you’re a squirrel scampering amongst the tree branches.
Happy day dreaming!