Nature schooling: nests

Next weeks topic in the forest school is nests. It’s a great topic with lots of possibilities. Nests are defined as “a bed or receptacle prepared by an animal and especially a bird for its eggs and young“. While we mainly think of birds with regards to nests there are many other nest making creatures.

One of the main books I’ll be using is A nest is noisy. It has beautiful illustrations and it also shows many different birds and animals that build nests.

 

The second story I will be using is bird builds a nest which is part of a series of books, “a first science storybook”. It’s a nice simple book that shows how the big builds a nest and also shows concepts such as big and little and heavy and light.

Chocolate nests

I only cover the two sessions in the nursery so I won’t have that many chances to teach different aspects of nests. I would like to do chocolate nests but I’m not sure I’ll get a chance as I don’t have the baking area this week. But I decided I would make some with Alice even if I don’t do them in school.

It has to be the easiest baking you can do with kids. I’m not sure if it even qualifies as baking it’s that simple. But it’s fun, the kids can do most of it themselves and you get something edible at the end. We made use of cornflakes and chocolate from the eco pantry. It is nice to use bran as it looks more like a nest, but I like to make use of the eco pantry. This is food that the supermarkets have rejected or is coming close to best before and they know it won’t sell. It cuts down food waste.

The chocolate was melted in the microwave giving us the chance to discuss changes of state. Alice took every opportunity fo spoon licking so we went through a lot of spoons making sure she didn’t double-dip.

The cornflakes are mixed in. A little chocolate goes a long way with these.

The mix was scooped into bun cases.

And an egg on the top of each one. We set them in the fridge which gives them a bit of crunch.

You don’t really get simpler cooking with kids but it keeps Alice’s attention as she gets to do most of the stages so I don’t need to interfere. Plus, we get an end result she actually wants to eat.

Playdough nests

Making playdough is pretty much part of most Early Years professionals skill set. You constantly replace it as kids use it, it gets too dirty, or in many cases gets eaten. Over the years I’ve picked up many different recipes for making different varieties and different activities to go with each. Making nests has been a regular activity over the years.

The basic recipe I use needs:

          • 1 Cup of salt
          • 2 Cups of flour
          • 2 spoons of cream of tartar
          • 1 spoon of oil
          • 1 cup of water

It all goes together in a bowl and gets mixed.

If it is too dry add a little water. If it is too wet add a little more flour. Carry on adding and mixing, then knead it into a ball to check the consistency and that it is mixed through.

For the nest, I collected a pile of sticks and animals that make nests. As I already said it isn’t just birds that nest. Tree frogs, alligators, orangutans, wasps, some beetles many animals make nests.

I test out lessons on Alice beforehand. She wanted to lay her sticks int the playdough very carefully comparing sizes.


And then some went around the outside before she decided who was going to nest in hers.

It’s a dead-simple activity but it’s nice and open-ended. Lots of opportunities for covering many areas of learning. Making the playdough has lots of science opportunities with changes of state and the maths side with the measuring. Then building the nest allows more opportunities for discussing the animals and creative play with playing with animals. Stories quickly emerge and characters develop.

Gardening

Next month many of the birds will start to collect material to build their nests. So to encourage the birds in we will put out some material for them to use. Many like to collect material from close to the nest site. So we can help by leaving piles of sticks, straw, wool and other nesting material. I use this strange hanging egg device to help. It can be stuffed with wool and the birds can pull bits off for their nests. I’ve not filled it yet as it’s still a bit early and I don’t want it getting wet.

 

Music

I like to plan in a few songs to go with each theme and usually aim to teach a new song. However, this week I think I’m going to stick with one most of the children will already know. Five little ducks is a popular one and we have the resources for me to place the toys in a nest to sing the song. There are other songs that actually mention nests but I like five little ducks.


Alongside the singing, I’ll be slipping in some bird song to listen to at some point during the week. Or I may just play it while we do some of the other activities.

 

I hope you are all managing well. If you are homeschooling don’t place too much pressure on yourself. Particularly if you are working from home alongside, you need to do your job to earn. You can’t do everything at once. Unprecedented times. I’m going to leave you with another playlist. Nests as a topic for music seem to largely be reserved for very herdy gerdy folk music of the sort in the first song from Morris on. So, I have extended the theme to bird songs.

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And an earworm to finish.

Six on Saturday: 16.1.21

It has felt like a busy week at work. I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done about the moon. I’ve still got a few ideas I didn’t use but I can save them for another year or if we revisit the topic. We managed a few quick jobs in the garden last weekend and then I’ve barely been out except to top up the bird feeders and crack the ice on the water bath.

1. Birdhouse

We completed assembling Alice’s birdhouse from a few weeks back and found a spot to hang it in the lilac. I’m not sure the birds will settle in a spinning house but we’ll see.

2. Narcissus elka

We planted up last week’s hanging pot with some Narcissus elka. These came as a cheap addition to the juniper. They are a miniature daffodil with white flowers with a creamy central trumpet.

It looks good with a bit of gravel on the top. It is quite late onto plant these but I’ve got them and not really got anything else to plant in their right now.

3. Garden birds calendar

Alice has been asking constantly about when events are coming up so we got her a cheap calendar to put her dates on. She wanted one with a robin on. They feature in a good few months of this calendar. Believe it or not, she was happy with the calendar and this was a happy face.

4. Birdfeeder

I bought a new metal feeder as the seagulls have pulled my main seed feeder off and broken it. They have become more desperate for food during each lockdown. Without the constant fish and chips, there isn’t enough to go around. This one isn’t really big enough but I wanted a metal one that was easy to clean. When we get through lockdown I’ll have a look for a better choice.

5. Primula elatior

Last week’s National Gardening teatowel got a good few comments so here is another gardening related teatowel. This one is from the charity Plantlife and features an oxlip, Primula elatior.

6. The bub expert

A house around the corner had a box left outside it on their wall with a sign free books. I found this gem in it. Hessayon is usually worth a read. While his use of chemicals is out of step with current times his knowledge of plants was clearly immense. The books are always clearly illustrated and diagrams are usually good where they are needed. Plus it was free. Lovely neighbourhood.

It’s looking to be another busy week at work next week so I doubt I’ll find much time for gardening but you never know. I’m working on my next RHS assignment on propagation which will be completed for next month just in time for starting the first seed sowings. Hope you are all doing well and managing in these strange times.

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Nature schooling: Moon

So, schools have closed to children except a few, however, Early Years settings are still open for business as usual so I am still planning for next week’s topic ‘The moon’. Last week we looked at the rain and had great fun making our rain shakers. Alice gets to be the guinea pig for activities before I try them in school.

During the first lockdown, the full moons were fantastic. Our night sky by the coast is usually pretty clear but lockdown reduced pollution making it even clearer. Alice became very interested in checking out the phases of the moon and I became interested in the technical challenge of photographing the moon. Getting outside during the night is an adventure for children and brings new opportunities for seeing different birds and animals. At this time of year, you are unlikely to find the hedgehogs and bats but winter is a good time for spotting owls and foxes.

Though you don’t need an amazing camera to have fun photographing the moon. A lot can still be achieved with silhouettes.

One of the main books I’ll be making use of is Moon by Britta Teckentrup. I have reviewed it previously. It’s a gorgeous book with beautiful illustrations to engage the children. It doesn’t really cover any factual details but it is a good book to inspire children’s questions. I will probably use Jilly Murphy’s Whatever Next where baby bear visits the moon. It is well used in education as it has so many possibilities to explore with kids. It’s a good start for box play to develop their imagination but can be used for lots of reasons.

Today we trialled making moon pictures to try and find something I can do with the kids in school. I’d seen a few ideas for foil printing pictures of the moon using crinkled foil to print texture. We started with a circle of paper for our moon and mixed back and white paint to make a grey.

We crumpled up tinfoil and pushed it around the bottom of a bottle. Then we pushed the tin foil in the paint and printed it onto our moon picture. We didn’t get enough texture. I may try experimenting with materials for printing. Maybe try cotton wool or sponges. When printing in school, there will be some children who meticulously dab the paint while there will be others who smear the paint all over. It’s all good exploration with paint and learning how paint can be used.

Alice wanted to do some stars for a background so she dabbed some dots for stars.

And one assembled.

Alice wanted to carry on and make a few more phases of the moon.

I have two sessions to cover so I’ll need to come up with another idea for the second session but this is a good start. I’ve got a vague idea that I can use a torch and a jamjar lid to demonstrate the phases of the moon but I will need to play with this idea to make it practical. The kids quite enjoyed the rain sounds last week and the rain playlist last week. So I might make a moon playlist for this week. It’s tempting to just play the whole of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon but there is no shortage of moon songs across many genres and cultures. Just have to check the lyrics to make sure they are appropriate. I hope you are all keeping well and those of you homeschooling and working are managing to balance both without putting too much pressure on yourselves to achieve miracles. Enjoy the rest of your weekends!

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12 Days Wild: Day 10-Plant hunt and bird box

Today was the last day before I return to work so we’ve tried to make the most of it. The ice decorations we made yesterday came out of the freezer. The ribbons helped to ease the decorations out of the plates.

We kept one inside in a bowl so we could see how it melted and Alice could go back to keep checking and feeling it.

Then two went in the trees outside. The decoration inside took until dinner time to melt while the outside ones held out until the late afternoon.

Then we carried on with the craft activities. Alice received a paint-your-own birdhouse for Christmas from my parents. So, we made a start on painting it. She wanted the brightest colours going. I’m not sure how birds feel about kaleidoscopic homes. We’ll see if any end up using it.

It will need a bit of time to dry before we assemble. Some pieces will need painting both sides.

Then we got out to take part in the BSBI’s New Year Plant hunt. I think we’ve taken part the last 2 or 3 years though we’ve often been up visiting Amy’s dad at Robin Hood’s Bay.

Nothing unusual recorded but I find it enjoyable taking part in these hunts. My knowledge has increased over the last few years and I take pleasure in seeing the flowers coming and going through the seasons. Each flower at the moment taking us a step closer to the warmth of spring and the abundance of summer. First up we have red valerian which is a common sight through a lot of the year.

A few different daisies spotted on our walk.

Winter heliotrope. A rather nice flower that was introduced to gardens in the UK in 1806, but with a bad spreading habit making it unsuitable for most gardens.

As Alice gets older we’ll hopefully make it a bit further afield and find more interesting flowers. But, her legs will only manage so far currently. Eventually, it will be nice to go around the Mere where there is a variety of habitats. But for now, a jaunt to the park and around town is about her limits.

So, I return to work tomorrow but it’s only a training day so I get eased back into it. The endless cups of tea at home come to a halt. Time to get back on with a bit more RHS revision. Hope you’re all enjoying your Sundays.

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12 Days Wild: Day 9-Ice decorations

Today has not been the most exciting day for Alice. Both me and Amy are preparing for returning to work. I’ve had an online first aid training course to complete, so all set for minor injuries again. So, she has largely played with Lego and completed sticker books. She has particularly enjoyed a dress the dancer’s sticker book. But I have tried to still make time to do a bit of craft with her.

We have collected lots of nature finds over the last few months and I thought we could make a temporary decoration since we took the Christmas decorations down. We arranged a few fruit slices and pine cones and conkers into plastic plates.

The objects were arranged on the plates and then filled with water. Obviously, they float around but we tried to arrange them so they’ll freeze into attractive patterns. If we had a bit more time We could partially fill it, freeze it and then fill with more water to completely incase the objects. But, ultimately they are going to melt away quickly enough.

The ribbons were leftover from presents. They were placed in the water so when it freezes they can be hung up outside and to help pull it out from the plate. Then they went into the freezer. I reckon it will take a day for them to freeze so we’ll see tomorrow where we can hang them. Then can watch as they slowly melt away.

Not the most exciting day for Alice but I’ve got through my course so we can have a more enjoyable last day before I return to work. But it has made use of some of our nature finds before the house gets overrun with pine cones.

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12 Days Wild: Day 7-New Year’s Eve

The day started very cold again. The back door was very stiff to slide open. But, it’s been nice sitting in the backroom and seeing the birds enjoy the extra bird feeders. They are obviously appreciating the food in the cold weather with large swarms coming in.

A good day to steal Amy’s macro lens for a few close up photos. I have a suspicion that all this frost is probably going to destroy the camellias emerging blooms but so it goes. I think it’s going to get dug out after its next round of flowers.

The colour of the Golden King holly almost concealed by frost.

It has stayed cool enough that the frost hasn’t really faded. We didn’t get out until after lunch and there was still lots of ice around. Alice wanted to go to the park to play hide and seek and look for more robins to show her robin toy.

Alice all wrapped up with her favourite new hat.

We did manage to find a robin over by the church wall. The wall here is covered in moss and ivy and you can usually find a good few birds hopping in and out of the cover.

Alice with her robin.

We spotted a squirrel which Alice told me is robin’s brother. It’s an interesting family tree.

I’m glad we are getting some decent sunny days before we head back to school. It is freezing but it’s still a tolerable temperature once we are wrapped up. But we are lucky to have numerous nice spots to walk out too. We will not be doing anything special for New Year’s Eve. Even if there weren’t restrictions in place New Year’s Eve isn’t much fun when you know you’ll still get woken up the same time as normal by a 4-year-old. So, normal bedtime for us. But I hope you all manage to welcome the New Year in safely and enjoy whatever you are up to.

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12 Days Wild: Day 4-Bird watching at the park

Today was a very frosty start. The day began in the minuses. The garden was crisp and frosty registering a -2. It hasn’t warmed up massively through the day. It has stayed very low all day. But it is sunny and still felt like a good day to get out. I was considering planting the last few bulbs but minus temperatures are not the weather for that job.

The birdbath needed the ice breaking again. We are getting a good number of birds visiting currently though not much variety.

We enjoyed a few rounds of bug bingo. She’s quite enjoying it now and it’s interesting to see how she spots the similarities between different cards. I discovered a documentary on an Inuit hunter, ‘The last igloo‘. It seemed suitable viewing for the cold weather and since Alice enjoyed her igloo den so much. We watched the first half of the show and Alice was fascinated by the huskies and igloos.

I didn’t want to spend the whole day in though as while it was cold it might be one of the dryer days of the holiday with rain forecast. I wanted to go an pick up some more bird food to keep them going in the cold weather and try and encourage a few different birds into the garden. We wrapped up in every layer and headed out across the park.

The park gets water-logged pretty easily and you can see why we don’t have a top league football team when this is the state of the pitch.

It is, however, great for birds as most of the time they live a safe existence where they are left undisturbed. We had come prepared with our binoculars. The tits and finches were out. Alice still insists on using her binoculars back to front as they are more comfortable this way.

We enjoyed a few games of hide and seek. Alice insisted on playing as she said it would improve her counting.

We successfully made it to get some more bird food and Alice got a robin from the discounted Christmas stock. She’s very happy with it and has sat cuddling it back at home.

Now we are all set with extra bird food we can get that set for the birds tomorrow. I currently have birdseed and sunflower hearts out but I like to provide a greater variety of food as the weather gets colder to encourage different birds into the garden. We are building up for the RSPB big garden birdwatch next month and it’s nice to see how many species of birds we can get into a relatively small space. More on our bird feeding efforts tomorrow.

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12 Days Wild: Day 3-A walk out

We are up to day 3 of 12 days wild and it was time to get back outside. We’ve had two days largely inside and that’s pretty much my limit. It was only a short walk out but it felt good to shake off the cobwebs.

We are very lucky to live by the sea and it is a short walk to the seafront. Today was a gorgeous winter day with blue seas and views out to Flamborough.

At several sites along the coast, these recycle bins have been placed. Alice loves to check it out each time and sometimes asks to save recyclable rubbish to put in it.

Next to it is a sign explaining how long it takes for rubbish to decompose. It is a shocking amount of time but despite many of the schemes we still end up having to do beach cleans. The number of years are too big really for Alice to comprehend but she knows it isn’t good. If a 4-year-old can understand there is no excuse for anyone else. There are bins every 20m probably. The seagulls can be a pain and pull things out but much of the rubbish is just pure laziness.

Preaching over. As it was a lovely day just about everyone else had decided to get out for a walk along the seafront. The car parks were rammed. I don’t begrudge people wanting to visit but I felt a bit hemmed in so we headed away to the memorial gardens.

And Alice found a cousin to play with for a little bit.

It was only a short walk but I think it did us all good to walk off some of our food from the last few days and feel some sun on our skin. A lazy evening ahead of games and reading. I am reading Merlin Sheldrake’s entangled life which is fascinating. It is all about fungi which in the grand scheme of human knowledge we still know little about. I also got an alert to tell me the new Monty Don had dropped to 99p on Kindle. I’ve been interested to read but didn’t really want to pay full price. This looks to be Monty’s efforts at talking about nature and wildlife gardening. I have quite a few very good books on the subject so I’m not expecting anything new but figure it will be an easy read alongside my RHS revision. The reviews have been very critical as they say he defends fox hunting which isn’t going to win him any fans amongst environmental readers. But we’ll see when I read it whether it is any good. At 99p I don’t mind if it doesn’t turn out to be amazing.

I read a few of Alice’s new books with her sat in her den set. We read Nicola Davies-Last: the story of a white rhino. Despite her face, in this photo, it did quite upset her hearing about how animals are becoming extinct.  This isn’t a book that is going to be a regular bedtime read but it introduces that idea of animals endangered to promote our need to care for the natural world. It sparked a lot of conversation from her which was the point. We want Alice growing up aware of our need to be stewards of the natural world. I am a fan of Nicola Davies books with the promise being one of my favourites of recent years.

I hope you’re all managing alright and not suffered too much with storms the last few days. It hasn’t been particularly bad here despite warnings. Hopefully, you’re all keeping well and got a chance to get outside today.

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12 Days Wild: day 2-bug bingo

Yesterday was day 2 of the Wildlife Trust’s 12 days wild. The scheme aims to get people out in nature and help people connect to nature and improve their mental health. I was pleased, yesterday, that my six on Saturday post on mental health and gardening received lots of positive feedback. I was happy people got some pleasure from it.

We spent much of yesterday just chilling. Alice took stock of what she had received for Christmas and she had more of a chance to enjoy it. She wanted to spend most of the day playing games. She received a chess set from her grandparents. So, she is now desperate to learn to play. I need some nature therapy after each lesson as it isn’t the easiest game to teach a 4-year-old. But, she is full of enthusiasm. Ludo was pretty frustrating for her as it takes quite a while to play and she kept getting sent back to the start. Uno junior makes for a good quick burst and it’s a game with can put in the rucksack for when we do go out on adventures. Suited to a quick game in a cafe while waiting for food. Or will be when we can actually return to cafes and restaurants. On the ‘acts of wild’ side of things, we played bug bingo. This was enjoyable and simple enough for us to play straight out of the box. The illustrations are lovely and it helps teach us the names of many different bugs. We looked up a few that captured her imagination afterwards to learn more. It was quite long and while we do play games to teach patience and turn-taking I may play it with her as the first to get five or ten initially to keep her attention. I’d rather play several rounds of the game than have one big game that loses her interest. The bugs come from around the world. In an ideal world, I would prefer an edition which just covered UK bugs that we are likely to see. My approach to the natural world is very parochial. I am mainly interested in the nature within our own patch. Corona Virus has only strengthened this with us being limited to our locality. But enough of the bugs are UK based for it to still teach her about the names of UK bugs and foster an interest in them.

Having bought one nature game I am now seeing lots of recommendations for other nature games through my online advertising. There are many variants of the bingo for the nature lover. There is a jungle, bird, dinosaur, cat, dog, monkey and ocean bingo. There is even a poo bingo which if I’d seen first I probably would have bought as she is at the age where poo is hilarious. I saw it first looks to be another simple game for seeing the great variety of life out there. Match the leaf looks like one I could do with to help teach me to match the leaves and trees. It even includes the Latin and common names so could help with my RHS course. It also comes in many varieties with a flower version, a bird version, paw prints and more. There are a wealth of nature games out there suited to any age now.

I hope you’ve all had good Boxing Days and now the main days of gluttony are done you find a chance to start getting back outside. We had yellow weather warnings last night but it didn’t sound too horrific out there. But, I will need to check the garden for damage as it gets a bit lighter. Enjoy your days.

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12 Days wild: day 1

Today is the start of the Wildlife Trusts 12 Days wild initiative. In the dark days after Christmas, many peoples moods drop with Christmas done and the dark days. 12 days wild aims to get people involved in nature. They share some ideas on the website and some more if you register. I’ve taken part the last two years and I’ve found it nice to take part in some of the activities to give focus to the holidays. It helps get us outside and create lasting memories in nature. If you’ve got bored children it can give some ideas or if you’re just feeling down it can help. You can take part through social media with the hashtag #12dayswild There is a great online nature community there supporting each other.

Today was obviously a busy day with Christmas. We have had a lovely day and I may talk more about our day in a future blog but I’m going to focus on our 12 days wild today. There wasn’t much time to get outside but I did pop out first thing to top up the bird feeders and crack the ice on the birdbaths. As the weather gets colder and natural food sources scarcer the feeders see more visitors. The birdbath has seen many birds gathering today as they may not have been able to access many of their usual water spots.

Apart from that and trips to the compost heaps, the day has largely been spent inside. I am not going to go through everything we received but I will share a few of the nature-themed presents we received. Amy was given this beautiful bee decoration from my parents. She is becoming a bit of a crazy bee lady. In her younger years, she amassed a collection of cat ornaments. Now people seem to want to get her bees. Possibly after our wedding. But she got a good few bee gifts for her birthday earlier in the month and she got a few more today.

This is a gift I bought for Alice. There are several nature-themed bingo sets by the same company but I liked the look of this one. It’s a simple enough game for a 4-year-old while also teaching us the names of many bugs. It should make for a good act of wild even if we are stuck in.

My Aunty Dot works for Bodleian publishing so I received these gorgeous books. I had seen she’d been involved with the gin book. Chris’s illustrations are stunning I have a few of his other books and this looks like a nice one for dipping into. The bird anthology has a great mix of excerpts and poetry for flicking through. Some nice winter nature reads.

And Amy treated me to a Stanley flask. However, she didn’t realise she had bought XXL so she bought me a smaller thermos for smaller outings. These will be great for our walks for filling with tea and soup. Our current ones just didn’t keep the heat whereas the Stanley ones are rated as some of the best. It doubles as a bludgeon in a survival situation. It is pretty solid. I may need a bigger rucksack to go with it.

We have been very fortunate to still have a lovely Christmas this year, even if we can’t see family. But we would rather leave family safe than expose them to risk when we may have a vaccine in the not-so-distant future. We have had good quality family time in our household. Playing games, sharing Alice’s toys and building things. Each year I always end up reflecting on how lucky we are, but we are. We live in a lovely community in a gorgeous area. We are very blessed. Hopefully, over the next 11 days, I can share some of the wild acts we do as part of 12 days wild. Here is one final picture of Alice hiding in her new den building set.

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