This is the first in an attempt by myself to try and help you as a parent plan some activities for the coming weeks. Hopefully these are both educational and fun for you and your children.
I will totally hold up my hands at the start and say I am passionate about getting people out and about, active and mentally connected to the wonderful countryside around Colchester. Despite the lock downs in place you can still go out for a daily walk, or exercise, as long as you are careful and keep to the Government guidelines of being around 2m away from anyone else. This means imagine there is a large, very muddy cow between you and everyone else, you really don’t want to get any closer to the mud on that cow – apart from anything else it is a bit wiffy!
However, despite my aim to get people into the Country parks these activities can be done more or less anywhere and you may even find they can be done around the house.
Before I start, I will add a bit on risks assessing the activities and making sure you also take care of the park. Remember that the rangers who normally spend a long time clearing litter and checking the areas are safe are being asked to work at home as much as possible, so we are hoping we can rely on you to help this happen. This means we ask you to
• Take all your litter home,
• Check the locations you are going - on the floor, body height and above your head for any obvious risks. If you see anything serious do let us know.
• Some plants can be poisonous so we don’t recommend eating anything
• Wash your hands after being in the woods – in fact for those who work outside washing hands (and singing to ourselves) has been in fashion for a long time!
• We ask that you try to “leave no trace” that means as far as possible take nothing home, and leave nothing behind, leaving the lands as you found them.
• STAY AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE!!!!
Ok that’s the important bit done – on to the activities.
Learning about maps are a great way to build a connection and understanding of what is around us. They are also essential to our everyday lives- from mental maps of our neighbourhood, to sat nav for much longer distances.
The activities below can link to several areas of the school curriculum such as geography, maths, communication, art and science. In particular it is hoped that these activities will help children;
• Develop an understanding of what is around them
• Use their senses to explore the environment
• Understand how apps and computers and the world around us link together
• Develop recall and memory
• Develop artistic skills!
I have given no age limit, as you know your own child best and what they will like. However, things in blue may work best with older children. Equally these are simple ideas that you may like to adapt for your own child. For example, if you really feel like you can’t go out, you could even map your own house!
• Camera or phone camera Go for a walk and as you go around stop every so often for your child to take a picture.
Return the next day/week/month and see if you can find the exact spot the picture was taken from.
If you have more than one child, you may want to swap over and see if they can follow the other child’s trail. You could link this to Percy the Park Keeper and the Treasure Hunt
You may want to talk about the changing seasons and other changes if you come back over time.
This could be done around your house as well. Can they take pictures that you or another child have to find, or can you give them a series of pictures in your house that they need to follow. It can be surprisingly hard to recognise something slightly out of context.
X Mark's the spot
• Phone or tablet and the what 3 words app
As above go for a walk, but at different points create an X from sticks or other biodegradable items. Wherever you do this use the What3words app to give you 3 words that you can use to find that location again. Make a note of these and next time you come to the area type them into the app and see if you can find your X, or if you have more than one child can they find each others?
If you don’t want to leave your house what 3 words will actually give different readings for each room, so this could evolve to finding something in your room. What 3 words is a system of locating everywhere by 3 words! Each 3m square has its own set of 3 words, so you can use them to find your way to the same place again.
It is starting to be used by the emergency services, so an understanding of how to use could be an important skill later in life.
- Wool or string and scissors
- Go for a walk and find an easy to carry but sturdy stick.
At points along your walk pick up something from the local environment. Tie it to the stick in the order you find it. When you get home go over the things you found and talk about what you saw at each location.
You may like to follow this up by drawing a map of your journey. Remember when you are gathering thins to take nothing alive (including plants) and nothing too yukky.
Rubber bands can also be used to fix things on to your stick.
You could try this by walking around your garden – which part of the garden has which different thing found there (children are much better at finding things in even comparatively bare areas than adults)
• Paper and pencil The idea of this activity is to draw the soundscape.
Find somewhere nice to sit outside. Each of you need a piece of paper and pencil and be sitting as quietly as possible for about 5 minutes. During this time you are listening to what is around you, and draw it on the sheet of paper. You may like to draw yourself as in the centre, then as you listen draw the sound from where it comes in relation to you. Each sound can be represented by different symbols, or drawing, or squiggles which you can make up, or if you prefer a word to describe the sound. This is easily done in your garden, or could even be done inside with the window open.
It is surprisingly hard. Especially trying to describe the noise in word or in pictures. I often end up with strange lines and squiggles as I try to capture the sound on paper!
For younger children you can ask them to count or point to any noise they hear.
• A blindfold In an area blindfold your child and lead them on a route around a small area, talking to them and ensuring their safety as you go. This works well in woods, or where the ground changes, but can be good in a garden, where they know everything. You can see if by turning them around you can trick them into not knowing quite where they are and the rout they have taken.
When you feel you have led them far enough take the blindfold off and see if they can retrace the route.
You can make it easier by describing what is there, and reminding them with the description, or harder by asking them to climb over things that are not there! It is fairy much guaranteed that you will also be blindfolded and led around. Hence, be really clear when it is your turn to guide your child, in what is sensible in terms of speed, guiding their elbow or hand, and describing what they might come across.
• Paper and pencil
• A way of measuring out an area Solitary bees and wasps live in cracks and holes in the ground. They have been observed flying a few times around their hole when they leave. It is believed this is to make sure they know exactly what they are coming back to.
You could ask you children to draw a bee map. This works well in a grassy area such as a garden. Mark out a square of about 1m and ask them to draw everything in that spot, from the top looking down like a bee will see. Once you start looking you will realise that grass is not actually grass. The best areas have lots of different plants and leaf shapes. The soil won’t be even and there will be stones, wood, straw and any other number of things in the area. Encourage your child to develop a key using symbols for each of these things, and to do a map in enough detail they, or someone else can find the area again. Using keys and an aerial view is how we are used to seeing maps, but it is a skill that needs to be learnt. This is one way to understand it. You could compare their maps to OS maps (they have a free app if that is useful), and their symbols and keys to the OS map symbols and keys.
You can also use this to talk about scale.