Wet or windy days are a great time for a family visit to a forest because of all the new play opportunities created by mud, puddles and wind-falls.
Billy Connolly got it right when he said, "There's no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes". So put on your waterproofs and wellies, head into your nearest Forestry Commission woodland, and test out these ideas for making the most of nature's playground - whatever the weather.
Find a space with a good choice of natural 'obstacles', such as a fallen log, a puddle, a slope, a shallow stream, bumps, branches or distinctive trees and agree a circuit that everyone will cover. Depending on the numbers participating, their ages, fitness levels and conditions underfoot, either run the course together as a fast or slow race, or set off one-by-one with someone recording each time. For added silliness, insist on animal-inspired 'walks' in some sections - hopping, jumping, creeping, slithering. Making staggered start/finish lines from fallen branches or pine cones can help to even out age/fitness differences. Use dandelion clocks as makeshift timers if no-one has a watch!
One person, or a party, heads off into the forest to find a hiding place, marking their trail with natural direction signs such as arrows made from fallen twigs, patterns trampled in mud, piles of leaves and so on. After an agreed interval, the people left behind try to follow the signs. To add to the fun, false tracks can be laid, or tracking symbols agreed (for example, a circle of fir cones mean 'go left'; crossed sticks mean 'no entry). One extra tip - it's a good idea to agree in advance when the hiders must reveal themselves - found or not, or the search may last for hours!
This is a good excuse for adults to have a sit down. Find a comfy spot and send the children off to bring back natural objects that match the adult's instructions. For instance, "something a squirrel likes to eat", or "that tickles" or "begins with the letter.... (for example, b = burdock, buttercup, bird's feather, beech leaf).
Make a collection of whatever natural objects are lying around - leaves, twigs, cones, stones, feathers and so on - and use them to make giant patterns, names or faces, either on a grassy bank or embedded in a muddy patch. Please bin any non-biodegradable debris after judging, as your contribution to keeping a litter-free forest.
One of the reasons natural play is good for children is that it helps them to learn how to judge, and avoid, danger. But it's best if they do this without twisting an ankle or getting a poke in the eye! So, warn older adventurers to look after younger children and to watch for nettles and brambles, animal holes and so on.
Explore Bedgebury National Pinetum.
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