I love a freebie, who doesn’t? And I’ve found that getting outdoors and discovering nature can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things you can do with children. Below you’ll find a list (I love a list too) of activities you can get stuck into TODAY without spending a penny.
- Empty container
- Baby wipes
- Sting cream (trust me on this)
In my opinion picking your own blackberries is one of THE best free summer activities.
Stanley is an old hand at it but last week James got to experience picking too, and it went down a storm. Disclaimer: my boys are child/fruit bat mutants…they would eat fruit all day, every day, if they could so I was pretty confident that James would get stuck in.
Admittedly, you’ve first got to find a blackberry bush but once you have, you can return each year to the same spot.
However, beware the humble blackberry bush, not only are they prickly but you can guarantee that the plump, ripe, biggest and juiciest berries will be just out of reach and in amongst the most bad ass nettles known to man. At some point somebody is going to fall because they are precariously balanced on one leg, on tippy toes, arm practically dislocated from shoulder trying to retrieve the aforementioned prize berries. This is where the sting cream comes in…because although you are surrounded by monster nettles, a frantic search of your surroundings carrying a crying child will prove that the ‘cure all ills’ Dock leaf is nowhere to be found. Once the child has recovered from the nettle based trauma and you’re all on your way home you will of course notice Dock leaves EVERYWHERE. Take the sting cream!!
After partaking in this activity for a little while you may notice that your children start to resemble Violet Beauregarde and her ill fated visited to Willy Wonka. Baby wipes are handy but remember to take photos of your berry stained beauties for your own amusement before you start the clean up operation.
What’s so great about blackberry picking is that it’s a couple of hours outside in the fresh air AND it leads to fab follow up activities too such as baking (great for rainy days) smoothie/ice-cream making (great for hot days) or infusing gin (ruddy brilliant for mum!!). That last one is definitely on my list for next year.
Fun fact: blackberry juice makes great paint to create natural art, so get squishing!! (listed as one of the activities in the NT 50 things activity book, more on that later)
AND finally, there is a simple mathematical equation to follow while blackberry picking…
Total blackberries picked x 3 = amount already consumed by children ÷ 60 = hours before they need feeding again.
Raising up Butterflies
- Large glass jar/vase
- Elastic band
A brilliant way to introduce your kiddiwinks to the metamorphic life cycle of butterflies.
Firstly, you need to go on a caterpillar hunt (a fun activity in itself). Plants to base your hunt around include Nasturtium, Cabbage, Hedge garlic and Nettles (gloves required for this one!!) Look out for damaged and nibbled leaves.
Once you’ve found your caterpillars, take a few leaves and stems of the plant they are on and place in your jar. Then collect the caterpillars and put them into their new jar shaped habitat. Speaking from experience, I would leave the collecting of the caterpillars to older kids and adults otherwise you might end up with a sweaty little hand clamped around what can only be described as caterpillar mush…I’m looking at you Jimbo!!
Cover the top of the jar with clingfilm and secure with an elastic band. Get one of your littles to pop a few breathing holes in using the pencil. You’re all set.
Okay, this is a bit of a slow burner so maybe name the caterpillars, read to them or move the jar around the house to give them a change of scenery. Remember to keep adding the food plant as they munch their way through it. You should notice that they get bigger, and they poo A LOT. I only mention the poo because well, I have boys and poo is apparently endlessly funny.
The caterpillars will eventually start climbing up to the top of the jar to turn into chrysalis. Again, the waiting game…
TIP: I’ve noticed that when the butterflies are about to emerge, they excrete an orangey red liquid from the chrysalis.
The butterflies will hatch out and dry their wings before starting to flutter about the jar.
Celebrate your excellent caterpillar husbandry skills by releasing them out into the garden.
This is another one from the NT 50 things activity book….I promise you, we’ll get there!!If you are out of season or don’t fancy finding caterpillars, then check out the link below.
Insect Lore Butterfly Pavilion
- Spotter sheet
- Magnifying glass/binocular
- Small jar
Arm yourself with a few spotter sheets either make your own or find a great selection to print off here:
Pack a picnic and off you go. The first one to tick the most off their sheets wins. The great thing about wildlife spotting is it generally encourages whispering and being quiet #winner with this in mind, you may want to include a prize to ‘help’ with their concentration.
The possibilities are endless and the spotter sheets can be easily adapted to suit age and ability.
Make sure to encourage tree climbing, stream paddling, stick fights, exploring and generally tiring themselves out!!
Collect any finds in your jar, and take time to study them using a magnifying glass.
Follow up activities include drawing what was ‘spotted’ and looking up plants, insects etc that you couldn’t identify.
50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4
Told you we’d finally get here!! The reason I wanted to include this book is because it’s been the backbone of some great family days out for us.
We are members of The National Trust. Really?…I hear you cry…but you seem so young and trendy!! Yep, we are fully paid up members and proudly display the funky car sticker on our fun bus to prove it!
Now, you don’t need to be a member to do the 50 things, the books can be bought online (see link below), the scrapbooks are FREE and readily available at most National Trust properties.
50 Things to Do Before You’re 11 3/4: An Outdoor Adventure Handbook
We have been working through Stanley’s copy (a gift from family) for just over a year now. Each activity is numbered and listed (some are seasonal and some geographical). Once you’ve done the activity you can sign and date it or if you are at a NT property then you will get an official sticker to put in your book.
We haven’t done all our activities at NT properties but some we have as they organise days with this in mind. We’ve found the NT to be very child friendly. And, 50 things is a great thing to take away on (UK based) holidays too.
As shown in the photos below we were provided with a free rucksack for young explorers to use on our visit to Dunwich Heath in Norfolk that contained bug hunting equipment, binoculars, spotting sheets and a GPS for geocaching!! We then found an organised pond dipping session.
TIP: I’ve taken a different approach and used a collage technique to fill out Stanley’s book (sticking in photos, leaves, footprints etc) as this then extends the activity into another day/week/month/whenever I remember to actually print the photos off, that he can help with….ALL kids love brandishing a glue stick, right?
When I’ve been stuck for ideas of what to do with the boys especially in the Autumn/Winter months this has been an absolute lifesaver and with a bit of Facebook wizardry, I’ve looked up local events that will tick off an activity or two and taken the boys along.
So there you have it, a few things to be getting on with!! If it’s not your cup of tea, then I hope you’ve just enjoyed reading!! If you would like any further information on anything I’ve mentioned, please get in touch.
All images are my own.
Please respect the countryside and take all litter home with you.
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