Gardening for well-being
Our school garden is only small but has a big impact on the well-being of our pupils and the whole school community. Gardening has been proven to make you feel happier, calm, more relaxed and help with mindfulness. When gardening, our brains are pleasantly distracted by nature and this can shift the focus away from ourselves and our stresses, thereby restoring our minds and reducing negative feelings. Gardening can also be a safe space and encourage conversations about other worries. On top of all this it just looks beautiful to have some greenery, leaves, flowers and wildlife around us. We hope to encourage a love of gardening and the outdoors amongst our students and the wider school community.
Please follow the links for some brilliant videos
Check out BBC Bitesize for lots of activities to do together
Explore Mini Beasts
A 'pooter', or an 'aspirator', is a simple mini-beast catching tool that your child can use to study small and delicate creatures that would be far too difficult to otherwise capture without harming.
They simply point one tube in the direction of the bug they wish to catch, then suck on the other to draw it into the jar. They can then take a good look without having to touch the creature and can safely release it by opening the lid of the pooter.
This craft requires some adult help and supervision!
You will need
- Clean jar with a lid
- Small piece of gauze, old net curtains, or tights
- Elastic band
- Green and red stickers or tape
- 40cm of clear, flexible plastic tubing, 7-10cm wide (try a local or online DIY shop)
Top tracking tips
There are lots of signs that your child can learn to look for that reveal some of the wildlife living in our country. Here are just a few tips to get them started - tick off the signs you can see on your family adventure!
Always remember to take a look in soft mud, sand, or snow when you're on a walk. These are the best places to find footprints! Your child can draw any footprints they find and, once you're home, try to research what animal it could be together.
When an owl has eaten their prey - often a mouse, shrew, or vole - they spit out a brownish pellet full of the parts of the animal they can't digest - like fur and bones. If you spot one, then you know you're in an owl's hunting ground.
If you start seeing pine cones that have been stripped down to their core, look up into the trees around you, as you're more than likely in the company of squirrels. Hungry squirrels love pine cones!
Look for molehills the next time you are in a field or park. They're a sure sign that a mole or vole is building, expanding, or repairing their underground burrow.
You can tell the difference between a slug and a snail just by their slimy trail! Slugs leave unbroken trails, whereas snails leave trails that stop and start. Follow one and see...
The best places to find rabbit holes are under hedges and on the sides of slopes. These often lead to a system of tunnels called a warren, where as many as ten rabbits can live.
Birds shed their feathers naturally when they are damaged or worn out. If you find one, do some research and see if you can find out which bird it belonged to, based on colour, size and shape.
Long grass can sometimes reveal if a larger animal has been about, as they flatten the grass in their path. This could be a badger, a fox, a deer (such as a muntjac deer), or grazing livestock like sheep.
Keep a keen eye on fences as you walk along, as an animal's fur can often get caught as they rub against it or try to scrabble through. Can your child guess what the animal was, or where it was going - perhaps to a nearby wood? Always take care around barbed wire!
A great way to tell if a hedgehog has been around is by their droppings. Hedgehog droppings are small - only a few centimetres long - sausage-shaped and usually dark in colour. You might also be able to spot small shiny bits of beetle, which make up a lot of the hedgehog's diet.
Remember to look in the trees for bird nests. It can be difficult to spot a small bundle of twigs in higher branches, especially during the summer when there are lots of leaves, but you can also look for an adult bird returning to the same spot again and again, or listen out for the cheeping of hungry fledglings.
Lots of birds love to eat snails, but the shell can be a tricky obstacle to get around. Luckily, the song thrush is an expert at breaking these shells on hard objects, like doorsteps or large stones, to get a tasty meal, so if you spot broken shells, listen out for a song thrush. You can learn about their song, as well as the songs of other birds, here.
Urban wildlife to spot
If your family lives in a town or city and can't get out to the countryside, don't worry! There are still plenty of animals to track that call our urban areas home. How many can your child spot from this list?
Often found scampering in our city parks or visiting our garden bird feeders, grey squirrels were only introduced to the UK in the 1800s, but are now much more common than the native red squirrel, whose numbers have fallen rapidly since.
These adaptable birds are among the most widespread in the world. They live in colonies and commonly nest inside the crevices of buildings or in thick hedgerows.
Our most familiar urban bird, feral pigeons are the descendants of domesticated rock doves, which were kept by humans for thousands of years as a food supply. They now thrive in our city centres, making the most of what we leave behind.
Believe it or not, the world's fastest animal has made a home in our towns and cities, often roosting at the top of tall buildings, which resemble its natural nesting environment on the side of cliffs.
Red foxes are the UK's only wild species of dog. You might be familiar with their calling late at night - the males make a barking noise and the females make a terrifying shriek!
A nocturnal visitor to our gardens, the hedgehog spends most of its time sniffing out and crunching on bugs which would otherwise be eating potted plants and vegetable patches - so they are well loved by green-fingered humans.
Blackbirds are a great starting point for bird-spotters, as the male's black body and bright yellow beak are hard to miss. Keep an eye out for the females in dark brown too! You can learn about their song, as well as the songs of other birds, here.
During the winter, starlings come together from miles around to form huge flocks which can reach more than a million birds. The synchronised diving and soaring is a spectacular sight in the sky above our towns!
If your ladybird has got a red back with seven black spots, it's a 7-spot ladybird - easy! Did you know: ladybirds wear bright colours to warn any potential predators that they don't taste very nice. That vibrant red is them saying 'don't eat me!'
Tree bumblebees can be identified by their dark orange thorax, their black abdomen, and their white tail. They're a new species of bee in the UK, with first sightings recorded in 2001!
The Wildlife Trusts care for 2,300 nature reserves all over the UK, providing inspiration and education about the natural world. They also work with others to manage their land with nature. Their Wildlife Watch collection has plenty more nature activities for families to try.
MAKE A MANDALA
Making a beautiful mandala is one way your child can express their love of nature and you can help them along using the instructions below, created in partnership with The Wildlife Trusts. There's even a bonus nature art activity for kids who like to get a bit grubbier!
Did you know? - The word 'mandala' is the Sanskrit (an ancient language from South Asia) word for 'circle'.
You will need
- A bag or basket to collect natural materials
Natural materials like...
- Sticks and twigs
- Fallen leaves
- Conkers, acorns, pine cones and other objects from underneath the tree canopy
- Flowers - Use flowers that have fallen to the ground where possible, and do not pick any wildflowers!
Let's get started
As you start your family adventure into the countryside, keep a keen eye out for natural materials, like the ones suggested above, that you think would look good as part of a mandala.
Let your child take the lead in choosing these materials, but make suggestions to help them along. They'll need a few of the same type of object as this will help with the final structure of the mandala.
Once you've collected enough material, it's time to make a mandala! Help your child find a flattish surface - under the canopy of a tree, for example - then let them choose the item that they'd like to be the centre piece of the mandala.
You could screenshot the illustrations above and show them to your child for inspiration.
Work together to use the rest of your finds to create a pattern coming out from the centre piece. Symmetry is important in a madala, but let your child get creative and slowly build out their mandala in a way that they choose. If you have enough material, you can always make your own alongside theirs!
Once they've completed their mandala, remember to take a picture! Now it's ready for the next intrepid countryside explorers to discover for themselves - maybe they'll be inspired to make their own...
Make a forest guardian
If your child likes their art a little less... ordered and a little more mucky, then another way to get them using natural materials is by making a forest guardian to watch over the woods.
All they need is some mud (firmer mud is best) and some sticks, twigs, fallen leaves, moss, grass, any material you find during your adventure that your child can use to make a friendly face.
Help them stick the mud onto the trunk of their chosen tree, then shape it into a face with eyes, nose and a mouth. Now they can press their natural material into the face to create hair, a beard, maybe even a crown! Take a photo of the finished product!
Remember to take wipes and sanitiser to properly clean muddy hands after this craft!