We’ve had some fabulous snowy weather across much of the country which provides plenty of entertainment for all ages. But as most of the snow has come and gone, here are some extra ideas for keeping the kids entertained whilst getting out and about for some exercise and fresh air. From stargazing to scavenger hunts, here are 7 activities to get the kids outside and connected to nature this half-term holiday.
Stargazing is a magical way to learn about astronomy and experience the beauty of the cosmos. Winter is a great time to start as it gets dark early enough for even the youngest stargazers to take part. On a clear night, there are a lot of exciting things to spot and you don’t need a telescope or even a pair of binoculars. Download this beginners guide to stargazing to help you get started. We’ve just had a new moon on February 11th so the next few days before the moon gets bright again is the perfect time to head outside either to your back garden or on a night-time walk. Wrap up in warm layers and make a flask of tea or hot chocolate to keep you cosy. A simple compass can be handy for knowing where to look in the sky for certain constellations, as well as a star spotters guide.
As extra inspiration for budding astronomers, check out the National Parks Dark Skies festivals which are running all this week. This year the events are all virtual so you can join in at any time and there is a selection of different talks, workshops and activities for both adults and children.
The snow might be gone, but there’s plenty of fun to be had making things with mud! Mud kitchens have exploded in popularity in recent years and can be found in family back gardens around the country as well as in many early years settings. Playing with mud is a wonderful sensory activity, it’s great for developing a whole range of skills and it’s good for the immune system too! If you haven’t got a mud kitchen, they’re easy to create and could make a great half-term project. You can start as small as you like. At the simplest level, you can just let the kids loose in the garden with some old kitchen utensils, pots and pans and see what they come up with. If you want to create a defined area in the garden for cooking up some culinary creations then you can repurpose some old furniture such as an old desk or a chest of drawers. Add some surplus utensils, a washing-up basin, a colander and some pots and pans and you’re good to go. If you really want to go all out, then paint the furniture in some bright colours and add some hooks, knobs and storage boxes. There are lots of online step-by-step guides for building your own mud kitchen like this one here.
February is a great month to start foraging for tender spring plants and this activity can easily be combined with a nature walk. One of my favourite plants to forage for in February and March is nettles. The fresh, young plants are packed with nutrients, an excellent wild edible for this time of year. There are many ways to use nettles. In early spring, I like to make a simple nettle tea by adding a handful of fresh leaves to a teapot, filling it with boiling water and leaving it to steep for a few minutes. I also add nettles to leek and potato soup, putting them in at the very end so that they are lightly blanched before whizzing it all up in a blender. There are plenty of nettle soup recipes available online so do experiment and see what tasty concoctions you can come up with. As well as nettles, there are a few other plants that can be foraged in February including the first little cleavers, sweet violets and wild garlic.
Liven up a family walk with a spring scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunts are great fun and they encourage children (and adults!) to use and develop their observation skills. At this time of year, nature is waking from its long winter sleep and there are lots of surprises to be found in the hedgerows, on the woodland floor and in local parks and gardens. Make a list of things for your children to find such as new green leaves, sticky leaf buds and colourful flowers. A wonderful one to look out for just now is the tiny purple flowers on hazel trees. Hazel is monoecious, meaning that both male and female flowers are found on the same tree (although hazel flowers must be pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees.) The yellow male catkins are easy to spot, appearing before the leaves and hanging in clusters from mid-February. Female flowers are much harder to spot as they are so tiny and bud-like. They look a little bit like a tiny red sea anemone! The charity Plantlife also has some great month-by-month spotters sheets highlighting some key species to look out for.
This became quite a popular activity for local communities to do during the first lockdown. It’s a lovely art project and children really enjoy both hiding the pebbles they have painted for others to find as well as finding ones that other children have painted and hidden. The idea is that when you find a pebble, you can either re-hide it for someone else to find, or you can keep it and replace it with one of your own pebbles that you have painted. Some local communities have their own pebble hunt facebook page where you can post pictures of the pebbles you’ve found and the ones you have painted before you go off to hide them.
Spring is on its way along with the new veggie growing season. If you’re one of the many families who decided to take up back garden food growing last year or if you’re ready to expand your growing endeavours, then making a new raised bed might be just the activity for this half-term. I’m a big fan of the non-dig method of gardening, which leaves the existing soil structure intact and builds-up levels of fertile soil on top. If you’re making a new vegetable bed on top of a lawn, providing that there’s no couch grass, bindweed or ground elder - which spread by underground stems and are notoriously difficult to get rid of - then there’s no need to do any digging. Once you have built the frame, put a layer of cardboard at the bottom of the bed, before filling with a good few inches of compost or a compost/topsoil mix. It’s an instant way of creating a bed ready for the new growing season.
Celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day on Wednesday 17th by doing a random act of kindness for nature and the environment. You could go on a local litter pick or beach clean, make the birds some tasty treats or plant a tree. See what other ideas your family can come up with and have fun!