Thursday, 18 July 2013
Free Forest Fun
The Forestry Commission have today launched some research which shows that parents spend a staggering amount of money entertaining their kids. On average, each family spends nearly £4,800 per year on activities; entertainment; games and attraction tickets.
With the summer holidays here (or just around the corner for us as we break up next week) here's some ideas for free activities you can enjoy in your local woods. Half of the population in England lives within 6 miles of woodland, so let's make the most of it!
1. Climb a tree or a stump.
Be careful to respect Mother Nature and don't damage the bark. Climbing up high gives kids a whole new perspective, it builds confidence and agility skills, is great physical exercise, and let's face it is a fundamental part of being a kid. The Forestry Commission actively encourage children to climb - so you won't get told off!
2. Practise balancing skills.
Find a fallen tree and pretend you're walking the plank; balancing on the high beam or walking a tightrope. Have competitions to see who can get the furthest. Hold hands for younger children for safety, but still allow them a sense of achievement.
3. Build a den.
Great for team work. Get the whole family involved and check out these great tips from the experts for how to do it safely and effectively. Failing that, find one that's already built and squat! Take some old blankets and cuddly toys and snuggle down.
4. Make a 'pretend campfire'.
With this heatwave we've been having, the ground and vegetation is tinder-dry so take extra care with naked flames. Real fire lighting is something best left to the experts, following strict safety precautions, but older children may be interested to find out how it's done by attending a bushcraft day - check the Forestry Commission's website to find workshops near you such as this one at Sherwood Pines. For younger children, it's fun to collect sticks and twigs and pile them up into a pretend fire. They can play and rubbing sticks together boy-scout style. Take some red and orange tissue paper along with you to make realistic looking make-believe flames (remember to take all litter home with you).
5. Forest words and art.
Just because school's out, doesn't mean you should forget about reading and writing! Gather up sticks to spell out woodland-themed words. Or collect up leaves, seeds; pine cones and feathers to make a giant picture on the ground.
6. Wildlife exploration.
The forest is full of creatures great and small, see how many you can find. From beetles to butterflies to birds to badgers. Look for clues such as nibbled nut shells; footprints; trampled undergrowth and burrows. Sketch or take photographs so you can research them back at home and discover what animals might have been there. If you're organised you could take some plaster of paris with you to make a cast of any footprints you find.
7. Take some books.
There is nothing more peaceful than reading a favourite story under the shade of a big tree. Find a comfy spot, maybe on a soft mossy bank, cuddle up and see how well loved tales come to life in the woodland environment. Maybe you'll read the Gruffalo, or Going on a Bear Hunt, or one of the Grimm's fairy stories. See how it inspires play and transforms your surroundings. The Forestry Commission have a fabulous new Fairy Tale initiative running, with free downloads, ideas and inspiration and details of special 'fairy tale installations' at some sites.
8. Collect natural art materials.
Whether it's sticks, stones, leaves or feathers, nature provides a wonderful bounty for crafting when you get back home. Maybe you could make stick men; decorate stones to make fairy houses; make a willow wreath or bark candle holder. There's tonnes of inspiration on this We Love Forests Pinterest board.
9. Borrow some educational books from the library.
Borrow books for free, and learn to identify wild flowers, different types of trees and seeds. Over the summer libraries are running a reading challenge, so these books will all count towards them. We love the I-Spy books. You could even set a challenge or treasure hunt to see who can find the most varieties of leaves for example.
10. Take a picnic.
Some larger forests have cafes on site, but if not pack up a picnic and plenty of cool drinks. Keeping the kids fed and watered means they'll want to stay even longer! Remember to be respectful and take your litter home or use bins provided.
What's your favourite activity in the forest? Are you dreading the expense of the holidays or will you be making the most of what nature provides for free?
Disclosure: I am an Official Forestry Commission blogger and receive and annual Discovery Pass which give free parking and other benefits.