Luckily, 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!
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!