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Exploring naturally as children do

I was in a school, it is the last week of the year during which the children have studied growing things, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish, mamals and birds. I have taken groups out into the school garden each week, digging, weeding, building irrigation systems, planting potatoes, onions, corgettes and a few lettuces and harvesting fruit.  Possibly, we could have grown more produce, but just allowing the children to use tools to keep the weeds down, explore the wildlife (those jumping froglets) seemed quite enough for them, each week brought a squeal of delight from someone.

So back to today, a treat, free time in the woodland area. Why this area is so underutilized is beyond me? What joy radiated from the children, beaming smiles everywhere. So what were they doing? Stretching themselves, answering questions floating around in their brains or forming more as they built dens, moved boulders from one pit to another (one little boy had put a huge bolder into his truck) Some, so emersed in their game had to be reminded to move out of the sun to the shade “that’s better its not so hot here”. As still as a statue, another sat and sketched. A group of girls sat together in earnest discussion, writing lists.   Some encountered a nettle, ouch, but found a dock leaf, phew. All 75 were occupied, no arguments, just teamwork, discovering the pleasure of fast and furious problem solving or taking a bit of time and space to observe and reflect. Will this den stay up? How could we extend our den? How do we make it big enough to fit us all? El, move over, so that D can fix the pegs. So much laughter, P, A, D to name a few, explored ‘What is the funniest way to roll down this slope?’ Just having fun… So many caught a spider, and oh the thrill of catching a woodlouse on a piece of bark. Wandering with a magnifing glass, I wonder, what did you see?

It was a real object lesson in how much children discover and learn when they are outdoors, how they explore what is important to them in that moment.

What a valuable resource nature is, somewhere, where, we are all able to find our place.



In the moment



Winter Walks

Happy New Year

Take a walk in the cold, maybe crisp, maybe damp air this winter.

I took one with family over the holidays.  Christmas morning – blue sky, sunshine perfect for a little perambulation.  A step outside into crisp, sharp air, breathe deeply and we are off across the field.  At first walking is the main preoccupation and then some bright rose hips folowed by haws, capture my eye – enough to forage??? No, lots of birds tweeting maybe I should leave them.

The frost has touched everything and sparkles abound. There is ice everywhere even the canal has frozen over, seagulls skating madly.  A squirrel scampers up a tree, stops nibbles on a nut then scampers off.

Returning home the sun catches the trees highlighting the lichen, the red tones of the bark on the branches and a spectacularly split tree trunk.  A beautiful sight.

So go on……. Get your wellies on….  What will you find??

Ripe hawsImage

Natural play…… Where does it take place?

Wandering through Hidcote this recently made me think about how although every outdoor space has potential for natural play not every outdoor space is available….  Amazing gardens, a vast array of plants, huge canopies created by spreading established trees – the famous cypress, the beech walk but because there are so many unusual, rare animals, amphibians and plants cheek by jowl which are so precious and so easily damaged.  Here, play must be carefully considered (look out for family learning activities).

Picture of boy moving along the paths

boy going through the tall planting

So what sort of play does this amazing garden and others like it facilitate?

Certainly, it stimulates vision!  It is a it is available for observation – sit and drink in the views – across the plains, carefully created vistas from long avenues – beech walk, long walk, over the haha* and far away.  At this time of year collect some fallen leaves –take a close look, what do you see?  Colours, shapes, patterns or holes.  Create a picture with them.

Use wide open spaces to move, use the landscape to suggest how to move.  At the bottom of our road there is a field with a slope so an obvious place to lie down and roll.  On a walk the other day my son ran from tree to tree stopping to hug and reach around each one.  Where have you been recently?  How did you move?

How many different ways can you move – quickly or slowly, backwards or forwards, up or down, on hands or feet or all together.  What about other body parts?

*haha – a “invisible” ditch built to keep animals in pasture but avail those in the garden of splendid views.

More Juice please

“Some more juice please”

Drink some Rosehip cordial.  (If you are really keen you could make your own!).  We did it was delicious.

Autumn berries are out in abundance. Hawthorns, Sorbus, Snowberries, Cotoneaster, Elderberry and Rosehips to name just a few!

Have you tasted rosehip cordial?  At Natural Explorers this week we did and found it is delicious.  Comments included “More please, “Please could I have some more?” “It tastes like apple juice” (an interesting comment as apples and roses are in the same family), “umm” (with lip smacking noises).

Another drink, (easy to make) was lemon barley water.  These drinks connect us back to the land in subtle but distinct ways… the seasonality of their harvest ensures nutrients are captured at their peak.  And if we are lucky enough to travel or live in an area where barley or rosehips grow then the visual image brings to the fore pictorial and other sensory memories.

Picture of rosehips


I’ll grind your bones to make my bread….

Did you know that Barley has significant health benefits?

It is a whole grain full of fibre, protein and niacin.  And an excellent source of selenium an antioxidant.  Barley grains are a unit of measure 3 barleycorns to the inch is on statute and this is still used as the unit of shoe sizes in England.  This week we used some barley to make lemon barley water – very easy and very delicious everyone had two glasses but there were a couple of sucked in cheeks afterwards!  (the strained barley was then made into a leek barletto –yum!).

Picture of lemon barletto – the lemon barley water was drunk too quickly to capture on film!


More barley was used in our measuring station where we had a fantastic time weighing on scales, pouring, scooping and sweeping up afterwards.

Picture of measuring station


We were able to find some unground wheat, at first we tried to grind it in our pestle and mortar but eventually resorted to the coffee grinder…… result – our own FLOUR.

Picture of grains of wheat waiting to be ground                                                        


Picture of our FLOUR     Image

How our love of cars impacts on children’s freedom and what we can do about it


Good morning.

What are you having for breakfast?

My guess is that it is some kind of cereal.  Cornflakes, rice crispies, puffed rice, porridge.  September is a month when many of those cereals are harvested in the fields.  In the Cotswolds at the moment it is hard to walk or drive any where without sighting a combine harvester in a field or tractor and trailer loaded with bales.  Fields are changing from waving crops to bare stubble.  What we don’t see any more are the sheets of smoke from stubble burning, a destructive yet regenerative process.

Picture – arable field


Here at Natural Explorers, we are finding out about those unprocessed cereals using all our senses.  Discovering the properties of maize was great fun.  Ripping off the husks, finding all the golden kernels laid out in rows, nibbling them, gently teasing them off the stalk.   We poured, drove our tractor through, tried to walk on, Daniel found it very tricky to stay upright, “wobbly” and filled a trailer and the barn with dried corn kernels.

Picture – playing with corn


 What happens when the corn is squashed and ground… first it made grainy polenta then fine flour and finally fine art!

Picture – polenta and cornflour art