Category

Sprintime

A nature spring guide for families – where to go locally and what to look out for

By | Education, environment, Family Farms, fun for children, Green, play, Playing, Relationships, Sprintime, Summer, Uncategorized
by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham
Fine Feather Press

Grab your coat, your wellies if it is raining, your family and perhaps a picnic, for the dark days of winter have passed and the spring we have all been waiting for is here. These are a few suggestions, COVID restrictions allowing, for where families can go to enjoy some particularly wonderful spring sights across both Sussex and Surrey, but if there is one thing that our confined lives have taught us, it is that we don’t have to go far or even anywhere further than our doorstep to enjoy the natural world.

Spring flowers
Sussex and Surrey have an abundance of woodlands – here the flowers appear early in the year when the ground has warmed up and it is light. Once the leaves on the trees have come out, the woods become too shady for most flowers to grow. Plants that take full advantage of the brighter spring conditions include wood anemones, bluebells, primroses, common dog-violets and lesser celandines. Of all these, perhaps the bluebell puts on the most impressive display, for few wild flowers cover the ground so completely or smell as sweet. Chinthurst Hill near Wonersh, Brede Hill near Battle, Heaven Farm near Uckfield and Angmering Woods near Arundel, all put on annual bluebell spectaculars along with a medley of other spring flowers.

Orchids have a captivating appeal for many people and to discover one is thrilling. Ditchling Beacon and Malling Down are excellent places to search for them. Look out now for the early purple orchid – its clusters of flowers, long spotted leaves and unpleasant smell help to identify it – and come back in the summer for more orchid spotting.

The prospect of free food is always appealing, and a great family springtime activity is foraging. This is the season of ramsons, otherwise known as wild garlic. The young leaves make deliciously pungent soups, salads and pesto and the flowers, seed pods and bulbs are all edible too. The Downs Link path which runs for 37 miles from Guildford to Shoreham provides a great day out for families on bikes or on foot. Here wild garlic grows in abundance but for other sites, there is a fantastic website called www.fallingfruit.org
with an interactive map showing you sources of food growing on common land.

Trees and hedgerows
When winter shows no other sign of ending, along comes the blossom from trees such as blackthorn followed by wild cherry, crab apple, rowan and hawthorn. Every lane puts on its own frothy display for us to enjoy. Get to know where local elder bushes grow, for there is nothing so simple as making elderflower cordial. Another foraging find (maybe not for the children) are the youngest, freshest beech leaves which can be used in salads or soaked in gin. Beech trees are a feature of most of our deciduous woodlands but the ones at Staffhurst Woods near Oxted and Ashdown Forest are particularly fine.

Insects
Early in the year, insects emerging from hibernation are desperate for food. Queen bumblebees fly between early nectar sources such as cowslips, red dead-nettles and lesser celandines as do early butterflies such as brimstones and orange-tips feeding on cuckooflowers, honesty and garlic mustard. Surrey and Sussex are rich in places to see butterflies, but particularly good locations include Box Hill, Denbies Hillside, The Devil’s Dyke, Newtimber Hill, Rowland Wood and Pewley Down.

Birds
There is no better season for listening to bird song and often the adventures begin by simply opening a window! Every habitat has its own star performers with some having flown vast distances to be with us. If you want to hear some outstanding virtuosos then head to heathlands such as Chobham, Pirbright, and Iping and Stedham Commons. Here you may hear (if not see) buzzy Dartford warblers, melodious willow warblers or perhaps a chirring nightjar or two. Even more discrete than these birds are the nightingale – its drab, brown colouring making it almost impossible to spot in the dense undergrowth it inhabits. Its song, though, is unmistakable and the male sings both day and night until it finds a mate. Make your way to Ebenhoe Common, Pulborough Brooks and Puttenham Common for an unforgettable auditory experience. Make a note of International Dawn Chorus Day which is on Sunday 2nd May this year. Events are usually planned by a range of local wildlife groups.

Reptiles and amphibians
On sunny spring days, the coconut-sweet smell of gorse fills the air and reptiles such as lizards and adders like to bask in the sun. A stroll on Thursley Common’s boardwalks usually reveals some reptilian activity but if none materialise there is usually plenty of other wildlife to watch such as dragonflies and damselflies along with carnivorous plants and cuckoos.

For more information
The best way to find out more about these and other nature hotspots across the counties is to contact our wonderful wildlife charities. Most of these have local branches and are bursting with ideas for family activities and places to explore. Among these are Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT).

This is merely a quick canter through a handful of experiences on offer outside in Surrey and Sussex this spring. We apologise for all the obvious ones we’ve missed out. We’d love to hear about the ones you cherish and are willing to share on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FineFeatherPress) and on Twitter (@NatureActivity).

Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham run natural-history publisher Fine Feather Press from their homes in Surrey and East Sussex.
Their latest title – The Little Book of Wild Flowers – is now out.

Playing outdoors

Outdoor play is an essential part of any child’s development

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Green, play, Playing, recycling, Sprintime, Uncategorized
by Laura Gifford
Little Deers Preschool

The rising trend of Forest Schools around the country displays just how important outdoor play and learning is. In a world of computer games and social media, outdoor play for children is easily overlooked or dismissed as something that was done ‘back in the day’.

It’s important now more than ever that children have exposure to nature and the outdoor world. If the recent pandemic has taught us anything it’s that family time is precious and nature can still be enjoyed when other indoor pursuits can’t. In recent months, a lot of families have reconnected with the outdoor world enjoying leisurely walks in their local parks or forests.

Studies have consistently shown that playing in an outdoor environment reduces stress while increasing vitamin D levels, promoting social skills, and even increasing attention spans.

A lot more parents these days are choosing Forest Schools and outdoor settings for their child’s early education than ever before. In the UK alone there are over 45 registered Forest Schools and in Sussex over 10 forest style preschools. The benefits of outdoor play are endless.
Children are stimulated by the outdoors and typically experience, over time, an increase in their self-belief, confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving skills and emotional wellbeing.

In an outdoor learning setting, children are physically and mentally more active and generally lead healthier lifestyles. Another recent study showed that outdoor play significantly reduced the symptoms of ADHD, a condition that now affects 11% of all school children. On top of this, playing outdoors promotes self-confidence, fine motor skills, and balance. It promotes self-reliance, increases flexibility, and improves overall co-ordination.

When it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, being outside is an exciting sensory experience. Babies will enjoy the exciting visuals on offer as you take them for a walk outdoors. Toddlers love the chance to explore different spaces and touch natural objects – leaves, pinecones and puddles included.

Playing outside is really important as it gives your little one the chance to look around and learn. While you’re having fun as a family, taking your children outdoors and supporting their play is also helping your development as well as theirs – the whole family benefits from being outside.

Another benefit of outdoor play is that your child learns to appreciate and respect the environment around them. Teaching your child, the importance of taking care of the environment, placing rubbish in the bin, ensuring they look after plants and animals they encounter, is hugely beneficial to them.

In the US, Forest Kindergarten or Nature School is quite common and often referred to as a ‘classroom without walls’ where young children spend their time outdoors in nature creating toys with found objects and experiencing little adventures with their imaginations.

In Germany, Waldkindergraten (forest kindergarten) is also common. And lately, in America, the popularity of ‘out of the classroom and into the woods’ preschools and kindergartens is growing as more parents are starting to feel that academics and tests have become the focus rather than non-cognitive, social emotional development and personal growth.

Starting your child’s education years in a setting which will give them opportunities to grow in such a positive way seems like a sensible choice to make.

Little Deers is a forest style preschool in the village of Nutley, East Sussex and have been running for over 30 years, providing an exciting and stimulating environment for children surrounded by the beautiful Ashdown Forest. www.nutleypreschool.org.uk

Sources:
www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/parenting/the-benefits-of-outdoor-play-for-preschoolers/#gs.d326o8
www.forestschooltraining.co.uk/forest-school/the-benefits/
www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/games-and-play/benefits-outdoor-play-for-children
www.mamookids.com/blogs/journal/the-ultimate-guide-to-forest-nature-schools-in-the-us

Springtime learning

By | Education, environment, Food & Eating, Gardening, Green, Sprintime

There are lots that your preschooler can learn if you take them outside in the spring. It’s a season of change and there are many fun and engaging activities for little ones to enjoy while exploring the natural world around them. After what has probably felt like one of the longest winters, everyone will be keen to get out and enjoy the longer days and the feelings of optimism that spring brings.

It is an ideal time to see and understand the changes that take place in nature; an opportunity for children to become familiar with the joys and wonder of the new season.

In spring the weather usually turns warmer, trees begin to grow their leaves, plants start to flower and young animals such as chicks and lambs are born. Children’s farms are one of the best places to learn about spring. Many have nature trails to follow where you can spot the first signs of spring and of course there are also baby chicks and lambs to see. Some farms run special events during the lambing season and you may even be lucky enough to see a lamb being born.

On a rainy spring day, let your toddler put on their wellington boots and splash in the puddles. This can lead onto a discussion about how all the rain during spring is important for helping the plants, flowers, trees and animals grow. You can also look out for the early signs of spring as trees and the first flowers of the season begin to bud. Nurseries and preschools are also likely to be talking about these themes with the children so your toddler will probably have a lot to chat about!

As we know children generally wake up early, so take advantage of this and walk outside in the early morning. Encourage your toddler to listen out for the birds’ tweeting and singing; it’s a sure sign that spring is on its way. The sight of a carpet of bluebells is another sign that spring is here, so try to go for a woodland walk and see who can spot the bluebells first. You could take a magnifying glass and download a minibeast spotter to see what’s living on your doorstep – its’s a great way to make a walk more interesting for children and they will enjoy looking through the magnifying glass to discover what they can see and then try to find out what it’s called.

Finally, it is the perfect time to introduce children to gardening. Working in a garden, a child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life. Do some research to find out what plants and vegetables give the quickest and most reliable results and get digging with your little one. Children are always much more likely to eat something that they have grown themselves, so this is a great way to get them to eat their vegetables!

kids in a line

The importance of problem solving and taking risk in the early years

By | Education, environment, Safety, Sport, Sprintime
by Hannah Simpson, Footsteps Day Nurseries

Problem solving is an integral part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and is embedded throughout the environment. The children are encouraged to engage in activities that involve them extending and developing their knowledge and understanding.

Children start to problem solve from birth through learning to communicate and learning to move. They use trial and error to explore new concepts and develop their knowledge of existing ones. For example, learning how to crawl they may move backwards at first but this learning informs them on what to do next time. The continual process helps the children explore and be able to achieve their goal. As children grow they problem solve a wide range of things, at our nursery we encourage all children to problem solve by encouraging activities which allow children to develop and explore different ideas. For example, setting out drain pipes for the children to work together to create a course for water to flow through. During this activity the children have to problem solve how to make the water flow to the end. It is interesting to see how the children decide on different strategies to try and whether they can or can’t work. They strategically work through their ideas, successfully finding a way of making the water flow. The activity has many benefits for the children; they develop their teamwork skills, find a solution to a problem and learn through trial and error.

During activities that the children engage in within the nursery environment there is an element of risk. It is important for children to be able to take risk but the risks have to be managed to ensure the children are not put in serious harm. Children taking a risk and having a bump or bruise is part of the growing process and how they learn to manage in different situations and learn what they are able and unable to do. It allows children to recognise their own abilities and be able to develop and learn new strategies to tackle risk. For example, encouraging the children to use a climbing frame in different ways allows them to try and explore it in different ways. They may not be able to climb efficiently the first time they try but continuing to try and develop different strategies will enhance their learning, enabling them to achieve what they wanted to do. Encouraging children to take risk will enhance their confidence that they are able to try and find new ways to complete tasks. The confidence will also allow them to tackle challenges and overcome fears, learning what their body is able and unable to do. This provides them with essential knowledge about their own abilities as they grow. The children learn about their own ability to learn and how they can manage risk to develop and extend their existing abilities. It is important for adults around the children to support this process of allowing the children to manage their own risk and allowing them to challenge their own ability and prior learning.

At our nursery we recognise the importance of encouraging children to problem solve and take risk and this is integrated into everyday activities that the children explore. It creates confident and happy children who have a willingness to learn.

Footsteps now have three day nurseries across the city offering flexible hours and funding for two, three and four year olds. Go to www.footstepsdaynursery.com to find out more.

Spending time with your children

By | environment, family, fun for children, Playing, Relationships, Sprintime, Uncategorized

According to a study from children’s brand, Stokke, one in four (23%) parents say that their child complains ‘all of the time’ that they can’t spend enough time together. Overall, nearly two-thirds (60%) of children wish they could spend more time with their parents – with the main culprits being work, chores and lack of money to do things.
The most popular quality time activities that parents said their children enjoyed doing the most as a family were:
1. Eating out (41%)
2. Going to the park (41%)
3. Going for walks (40%)
4. Going to the movies (37%)
5. Visiting family and friends (31%)
6. Playing board games (30%)
7. Reading (27%)
8. Swimming (27%)
9. Cooking (26%)
10. Playing games consoles (25%)

Stine Brogaard from Stokke’s offers five top tips on becoming closer to your child and ensuring you spend quality time together.

1.Don’t take time for granted
Instead of booking playdates for your child when you have the day off, make it quality mother/daughter or father/son time, doing something together that you both want to do.

2. Ask your child questions
Find out what their favourite things to do are. A child’s taste changes so much over time so it’s important to keep on track and do things that reflect this.

3. Share passions
Find something that you are passionate about and encourage your child to get into it too. Even better if it’s something you can do together, whether that’s reading, walking, or playing a sport such as football or tennis. This will make it much easier to find time for each other that you’ll enjoy. Though read the signs if they don’t enjoy it, you can’t force these things!

4. Cook together
Eating is something we do every day, so cooking together is a fantastic way to have fun together, give your child responsibility and educate them about food. Give them set tasks, let them choose what they’d like to cook and encourage them. Seeing the family appreciate the food you’ve created together will be something very special to them and give them confidence.

5. Make the most of the shorter windows of time
We all have very busy lives, always going from A to B whether that’s school, work, extra-curricular classes or friends’ houses. If you’re travelling together, make sure you pay your child your full attention and make an effort to understand what’s gone on in their day and share snapshots of your own. The most important thing is to laugh together, and find ways to have fun, wherever you are – no matter how little time you have.

Research has revealed, 87% of parents wished they could spend more time with their children while parents say that less than half (45%) of the time they spend with their child is quality time.

Research of 2,000 parents of children aged under 14 also revealed that when it comes to making key decisions in the household, it appears that the child has more control over what happens today than years gone by. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of people said their child had more control in their home than when they were young, and one in four (27%) admit that their child completely rules the roost! In fact, over half (53%) of British parents said that their child is the bossiest person in the household.