8 ways to have fun outdoors – our Monday wild time!

ImageLuckily, in Manchester, we haven’t been affected very much at all by the severe storm last night.  Yes, it’s a bit wet and yes, there are a few leaves blowing about the place, but that’s about it.  Let’s face it, it’s autumn and what better time is there than to get out there in the great outdoors and investigate the season?

We had a wonderful morning, full of adventure and excitement so here are our top tips for braving the weather (unless you’re in an area severely hit by the storm of course!) and having a good old time:

1.        Embrace the weather

In my opinion, if you hang around waiting for a sunny day especially if you live in Manchester, you might wait for years before you ever get outside.  Nature is different all through the year and even within a season, depending on how late the winter frost disappeared, how wet the summer was and whether the squirrels have already hidden all the conkers you were searching for – so why not just get out there and enjoy it?  Stick on your waterproofs, pull your wellies up, fill a flask with warming hot chocolate and just get out there! We decided, that as the rain was pretty torrential, we would try to taste it.  Did the rain taste different when it filtered through the canopy of trees ahead?  How did it feel when it rushed into your mouth when a sudden gust of wind thrust a load into your mouth?  What if you lick it off your hand?  Jasper and I lay on the floor (yes in the dirt!) looking at the sky, mouths open and just let the rain fall in.  Not only did this really give us the chance to really think about rain, but we had a great time watching the clouds blow across the sky and watch the odd bit of sunshine stream in through the treetops, lighting up the woodland floor.

2.       Go on a treasure hunt


Who can resist a treasure hunt, especially when you discover all sorts of autumn treasures to fill your nature table when back at home?  Last night, I drew maps of the woodland (from memory so they were pretty sketchy and certainly not to scale) and Jasper and I used the landmarks to navigate our way through the paths.  I had found pictures of horse chestnut, oak and fir trees together with photographs of their leaves (or needles!) and nuts.  We searched for the various objects and collected them up, noting that some leaves were still a vibrant green, some were brown and withered and others, according to Jasper, had been “munched” at! We found tonnes of acorns and oak leaves, but although we found plenty of horse chestnut leaves and conker shells, the conkers themselves had vanished.  We decided that either the squirrels had scurried away with them all or children had already found them.  We thought it was more likely to have been the children as the floor was littered with acorns.  No pine cones though – we’ll have to hunt again next time!

3.       Make friends with the dirt


It saddens me that people are so frightened of dirt.  A bit of dirt (to me!) is a good thing – it helps you build an immunity; it’s a great way to explore texture (think about how different mud feels when it’s slippy and slidy to when it’s cracked and caked on your hands).  It’s like the ultimate play-dough.  If you’re that worried, take a few baby-wipes, making sure of course to bin them or take them home again, but let’s be honest, that’s what hot baths are for!  Jasper and I found a steep hill which we thought we’d have a go at climbing.  It was caked in oozing mud, there were hardly any foot-holes but we had a go anyway.  Of course we slid right back down again until Jasper found some tree roots we could grab onto to pull ourselves up.  Nature is a fantastic way to introduce children to problem-solving skills and encourage that ‘have-a-go’ personality and if you’re more bothered about a bit of dirt, you miss all those fantastic opportunities.  Trust me, once you’ve face palmed a muddy puddle, you don’t mind so much anymore!

 4.       Make a den


Nature is full of hidden places to make dens – under fallen trees, inside caves (as long as they aren’t likely to fill with water) and the autumn/winter time is the perfect time to build one.  Snuggle up and listen to the rain drumming outside whilst wrapping your muddy hands around a mug of hot chocolate.  Knowing the woods quite well, I knew there weren’t too many natural den making places around although there were some sheltered areas, so we took a waterproof sheet, some tarpaulin and string.  We found heavy objects to weigh the sheet down and arrange the tarpaulin around a fallen tree, fastening it with some string.  Again, we made sure to take it all away with us.  It’s currently stinking out the boot of the car but I’m sure we’ll get plenty more den making fun out of it!


5.       Be a big kid!


I’m a firm believer that modelling behaviour makes all the difference with children.  How can we expect our children to try anything or even enjoy anything unless we’re prepared to have a go ourselves?  Kids are so intuitive and they pick up everything from the people around them so if we want them to get back to nature, we have to do it ourselves.  With this in mind, I decided to have a go at mud-sliding.  I haven’t had so much fun in years.  Pretty soon, Jasper joined in too and the 2 of us were rolling round in the mud, squelching, sliding – having a ball much to the bemusement of some local joggers.  We also found a rope swing.  It was quite high up and Jasper was a little reluctant at first to have a go.  I jumped on, slipped and landed right on my bottom in a huge patch of mud.  This was all the encouragement Jasper needed.  He did fall, opened his mouth and started to cry a bit – but then when he saw me giggling my head off (I knew he wasn’t hurt, I checked first!) he joined in and was desperate to get right back on again.


 6.       Chase each other


There’s nothing as exhilarating as running just because you can.  Not because you need to be at work, back for the delivery-man or for any other reason at all.  Just because you want to feel the fresh air in your lungs and the wind in your hair.  This was my favourite bit of the morning; running around with my son and hearing him laugh.  Not just giggle, or find something slightly amusing but laugh with pure joy and freedom.

 7.       Play pooh-sticks

If you need a bit of a rest, why not find a bridge and throw some leaves and twigs into the water?  Jasper and I spent a fabulous half an hour which ended up with him investigating all about density and current flow.  We talked about the way the stream might take the sticks and the adventures they might have.  Yes, it’s a calmer activity, less wild but still marvelling at everything the outdoors has to offer us!

 8.       Splash!

As adults, we spend so much time telling our children not to splash in the puddles.  “Don’t get wet, make sure the water doesn’t go over your wellies, make sure you don’t splash me!” I do this myself.  All the time.  But this morning, it was so wet and there were puddles everywhere (and of course, I was covered in mud anyway) and I just thought why not?! And it was ace.  We charged through brooks, investigated who could make the biggest splash.  Jasper had a stick which he decided was his “grabber” and he used it to pretend to help him jump from one side of a gigantic puddle to the “island” at the other side.  Once he realised, he could splash to his heart’s content, the narrative and imagination he used in his play was phenomenal. 

And isn’t that just the thing with nature?  It takes away the boundaries, it gives us the freedom to express ourselves, to play, to be filled with enjoyment and develop a sense of adventure.  So yes, I know it’s wet but that doesn’t mean it has to be miserable.  Get out there and have fun.  I’d love to know how you get on!



Beeston Castle – our diary of learning

I was thinking of how valuable trips and visits can be at the same time as having a mini panic about how/when/why to keep a record of J’s learning; I think I’m a bit stuck in “school” thinking – Where’s the evidence?  Where’s the evidence?  I’m (really!) hoping that ultimately, I will calm down a bit and settle into just enjoying our journey, but I had a thought.  It would be nice to have a record of trips and visits, even if it’s just to remember the interesting/funny things J said when he’s older.  So I have decided that each time we go somewhere, I’ll write a diary entry of our visit with a little note about any skills J has developed that day and some questions I asked him about the day at the beginning.

Hopefully, when he’s older, he may want to keep a record himself.  If not, then I’ll just keep on with it.

So, here goes.  Our first home ed diary entry:

Beeston Castle – 20.08.13

What was your favourite bit?

The little windows.

Looking for the signs.

These were the windows in the tower around the outer wall and the clues for the nature trail.

Was there anything you didn’t like?

–          The caves were scary because they had bats and frogs in them.  Why couldn’t we go in them?

–          They were made of very soft stone called sandstone and it might have fallen on us.  It was dangerous.

–          What will happen?

–          What do you think could have happened?

–          We’d get broken

Who lived in the castle?

Knights and Kings

What were the towers and the gatehouse for?

So the baddies can’t get in.  And the drawbridge, but it had been knocked down because it was old.

-Why can’t the new one go up Mummy?

– Because no one lives in the castle anymore.  It’s just to let visitors get into the ruins.

Is there anything else you want me to write down about the castle?

No thank you.

(I wrote the diary entry with some input from J.  As I was typing, I asked him questions about what he remembered.  I did this while he was eating his tea as I had finished mine!)

When we arrived at the castle, we parked in the car park and ate our lunch.  We had sandwiches, hula hoops and a drink.  After that, we looked at the English Heritage map of the UK to see which direction we had driven in; we discovered it was South and slightly West of Manchester.  We also looked at where Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland were on the map.


We showed the man in the ticket office our membership card and he gave J a map of the estate and some clues to help him follow the nature trail.  We stood with the gatehouse behind us and looked on the map to follow the paths.  We started walking up one path towards the castle, but J wanted to go to the caves so we turned around, again following the map.  When we got there, J wanted to know why bats always live in caves.  I explained that they like dark, damp places so caves are a good place for them to live.  I asked him if he could think of anywhere else dark that they could live – he suggested tunnels.


J and I used the map together as we walked around the circular woodland walk.  We talked about how we could tell where we were from the shape of the map and by keeping the wall on our left because it was on the left of the path on the map.

On the way, we saw lots of ferns, redcurrants and funghi.  We talked about why it can be dangerous to eat woodland plants even if they look like things in the kitchen at home.  We thought we saw some ivy climbing up the walls.  J also found “some oats that made porridge.” We briefly talked about how after these are picked, they need to be processed before they can be made into cereals.


We saw that some trees had been cut down; J thought this might have been because they were blocking the path.  I said this was a good point and also that the trees might have been rotten and needed to be cut down before they fell and hurt someone.  We looked at the clean, smooth lines made by an axe.  Later, we compared them to a fallen tree.  We could see all the roots where they had come out of the ground; we could tell that this tree had fallen because the roots were all jagged and broken. We also discussed why trees have roots and how they keep a tree anchored into the ground in addition to drawing up water from the soil.


We counted all the steps as we climbed up the hill (there were 35 and J counted with me to 20).  J knew that castles are often at the top of hills because it gives a good vantage point to see the baddies trying to approach.  J wanted to know who lived in the castle.  We discussed the fact that the Castle was built during Henry III’s time but that Richard II must also have visited because he was supposed to have hidden some treasure in the well.  J was excited to search for the treasure and couldn’t wait to get to the castle.  He asked me why nobody lives in the castle anymore.  We talked about how castles were often built to keep “important” people safe and for protection and that England in the Middle Ages was a dangerous place to be.  After the Civil War, England became a lot safer and so people didn’t need to live in castles anymore and so lots of them are now ruins.  J thought this was sad.

As we walked, we found more clues for the nature trail (we had already found some by the caves and near the ticket office); each time we found some, we counted the dots, wings or whatever it was that we were supposed to count and filled in J’s clue sheet.

By the time we reached the outer gatehouse, we needed a rest.  Well, I needed a rest.  J didn’t although he did agree to have a drink.  While he drank, I read him the “story” of the castle.  We talked about how this castle was different to Warkworth castle which we visited last week; this one doesn’t have a keep but has 2 gatehouses.  J was excited to look inside the remains of the gatehouse “like a knight” and to peer out of all the windows in the towers along the wall.  J found lots of rabbit holes and “loads of rabbit poo” so we came to the conclusion that lots of rabbits must live in the area.  I suggested that they probably ran around at night when there were no visitors – wild rabbits tend to sleep in the day.


J was interested in why there were so many rocks on the way up to the bridge.  We thought that there probably used to be buildings in the open space that have now been destroyed by the weather so they could be remains of those.  J also thought they could have been part of a path.

He was really excited by the time we got to the “drawbridge”.  I explained that this was a new bridge across to the castle; he noted that if it couldn’t come up, it couldn’t keep out baddies.  We looked at the drop over the side of the bridge.  “That’s the moat.” J said.  I explained that not all moats contained water.  Sometimes the drop and the steep climb up to the castle was enough to keep out enemies.  “Yes,” he replied.  “The knight would shoot their arrows and throw things at them.”

He looked through the windows again from the inner gatehouse and was really excited to be able to see “another castle.” We looked on the map again, talked about how to tell which direction we were facing and deduced that it must be Pinkerton Castle.

J ran towards the last clue for the treasure trail before I had even spotted it; he then remembered that we were near the well and charged across towards it, desperate to find the treasure.  He was a little upset that he couldn’t climb down inside it to hunt – we talked about the fact that the well is very deep and used to be used to collect water to drink.  The treasure has never been found – maybe it isn’t even there at all!


We got the map out again then and tried to work out what we could see in each direction.  J had been really excited to do this earlier in the day but was getting tired and wasn’t that interested by this point.  I didn’t push it and we set off down the hill again.

We explored the woodland again on the way down; J wasn’t sure what the word ‘treetops’ meant so I explained.  “Yes Mummy, you’re right!” He said.

When we returned to the ticket office, J was given a certificate to say he had completed the nature trail – he was really proud of this.  He also liked the English Heritage stamp he was given on his hand.  He asked what “heritage” was so I explained that English Heritage look after lots of old buildings like castles so that people can go to look at them to see what the country used to be like.  It’s good to know what places used to be like so we can see how they became how they are today.


J was exhausted and slept all the way home!  He was keen for me to write his “diary” of the day and said “When I’m older, I will write it.”  I asked him if he would like me to read it as I was writing – he said “No, when you’ve finished.” So I typed it and just asked him some questions as I went along.



Map reading – finding where we are on a map of the UK and following paths marked on local maps

Directional language – South/West

Counting – to 20

History – how people lived, why castles were needed, what the country used to be like

Nature – types of plants, woodland creatures, why bats live in caves

Science – why trees and plants need roots; to anchor plant/tree in ground and to draw in water

Weather – how the weather can damage/destroy buildings if they are not protected

Language and literacy – discussion of everything as we walked around, appropriate responses to questions and appropriate questions asked.

Balance – climbing onto trees, over roots, up stairs, hill walking