Wild Days: Outdoor Play for Young Adventurers / The Gruffalo and Friends Outdoor Activity Book

Wild Days: Outdoor Play for Young Adventurers
Richard Irvine
GMC Publications

The author of this super book runs Forest School training for new leaders as well as Forest School programmes so most certainly knows what he’s talking about. I was convinced of this as I read in the book’s introduction, ‘To be safe in the world, young people need to be allowed to take risks.’ In fact, wearing my teacher’s hat, I’d say that risk taking is key in any real learning, not only that which takes place outdoors.

There are three main sections ‘Making’, ‘Games and stories’ and ‘Exploring’; but before plunging into these it’s important to read the pages on responsible behaviour (Leave no trace being key), being prepared before setting out, suggestions for tools you might want to take along and what you might do with them.

The Making activities vary from den building and campfire cooking to painting with natural materials. I loved the Forest friends spread, even more so the later suggestion that the characters created could be used in Storytelling, one of the ideas in the Games and Stories section.

Another idea that I can’t wait to try with some youngsters is Leaf Bashing aka Hapa Zome – a method of making leaf prints that works well on old sheets or similar cotton material and of course, the bashing part is a great way of letting off steam and a terrific lockdown antidote.

A great group activity in the second section is a ‘Finding things’ Treasure hunt and with younger children especially, the author’s suggestion to stay in pairs is advisable.

Much of the third Exploring part is concerned with identification, be that of plants, birds and their songs, butterflies or invertebrates, but a gentle word of warning: it’s important not to get too obsessed with mere naming to the exclusion of observing and relishing the beauty of nature’s flora and fauna.

I could go on extolling the virtues of this cracking book but instead I’ll suggest that as well as families, all education settings add a copy to their collections, and start putting some of Richard Irvine’s ideas into action whatever the weather. Each one of them has a list of what you’ll need and step-by-step instructions as well as colour photographs. What better way to get youngsters of all ages outdoors learning through and about nature; in fact it covers pretty much every area of the curriculum.

The Gruffalo and Friends Outdoor Activity Book
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Macmillan Children’s Books

The twenty four activities in this spirally bound book have been created by Forest School specialists, Little Wild Things and are based on Julia and Axel’s The Gruffalo, Monkey Puzzle, Room on the Broom and Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book.

Each section has a context setting spread with a quote from the relevant book ‘A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. / A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.’ and every activity has a list of what’s needed, numbered ‘What to do’ instructions, hints and tips and some extension suggestions.

Whether used with a group or by an individual, there’s lots of fun learning across the curriculum herein.

Eco Craft Book / The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself

Eco Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

In their latest book, Laura and Tia offer some cool ideas for using bits and pieces that might otherwise end up being thrown away.

Instead of consigning that old T-shirt or other no longer worn garments to the rubbish or recycling bin, why not suggest your children try a project like the T-shirt friendship bracelets here.

Alternatively, if the T-shirt is white, it can be dyed using a natural plant dye and refashioned into a ‘no-sew tie-dye bag’. Those are just two of the fabric projects.

Getting even closer to nature, youngsters can make a collection of interesting shaped leaves, grasses or perhaps feathers and use them to make some printed cards (or perhaps wrapping paper)

and if you want to attract more wildlife into your garden, there are instructions for creating a bug hotel using for example, old tin cans.

Each mini project is succinctly explained with step-by-step guidance and clearly illustrated with colour photos. In addition there are spreads that talk about climate change, what youngsters can do to help protect the environment and why it is important to immerse children in nature.

This book would be a boon to parents who are coping with home schooling, but all of us who work with children have a duty to nurture their creativity and to encourage them to think about the impact on the environment of all they do.

The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself
Susan Hayes & Penny Arlon, illustrated by Pintachan
Red Shed ((Egmont)

If you’re looking to engage a child or children in some environmental projects here’s a book to try. It’s packed with eco-projects – thirty in all – and each page (as well as the cover) is cleverly designed to be used in an activity – hence the title.

It’s amazing just how much difference simple everyday actions such as turning off the lights when you leave a room, and at night can make, not only for the safety of animals but to reduce electricity consumption. Ditto, saving water by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or using your bath water to ‘feed’ your plants (of course that takes a bit of effort but every drip and drop counts). There’s a Make a Difference in your home’ page with additional suggestions .

One of my favourite projects is Throw a seed ball to rewild a built-up area, something I’ve never tried, although I have scattered plenty of packets of wild flower seeds. This is really clever though and all that’s needed in addition to wild flower seeds are water, flour and soil to make your mixture. Can’t wait to have a go at this.

(The reverse side suggests making seed paper for writing a message on – another clever idea.)

Whether or not home schooling continues, this is certainly worth getting hold of.

Kids Knit

Kids Knit
Kerry Kimber
GMC Publications

I’ve never really got to grips with knitting – just the odd (very) scarf, a jumper that I abandoned and numerous blanket squares for charitable causes over the years. And, rather than making me feel relaxed, something my mum used to say about knitting, I always ended up having tense shoulders from trying to go fast, so I was interested to see these listed in the “Ten Great Things About Knitting’ at the front of the book:
#2 Feel Good, #3 Relax,  #7 Cheer You Up  – failure on my part with those.

What about the others? #1You Can Make Stuff – sort of; #4 Improve Your Maths – yes possibly; #5 No Screens – absolutely! #6 Banish Boredom – perhaps for a short time #8Make Friends – I definitely never joined a class; #9 Start a Movement – I was never sufficiently proficient to be enthusiastic to teach anybody else #10 Gifts From the Heart – yes hurrah!
However a book such as this with its upbeat, encouraging tenor and emphasis on creativity might well have made all the difference.

After talking about the basics: what you need, needle sizes and yarn selection, comes the part I really love that starts with ‘Get Creative’ …

and there’s a lovely traditional rhyme, (new to this reviewer, certainly in a knitting context) “In through the door / Once round the back / Peep through the window / Off jumps Jack.” And an invitation to young users to invent their own version with the key words ‘in, round, through off’.

There are tutorials on the basic stitches, casting on and off. Then comes “Sewing On’ bits and pieces so that you can make cute creatures such as Frog,

monster hand puppets, a sweet tufty owlet (its instructions come with an owl joke).

Things step up a level then as readers learn about colour changing; that results in patterned items including a rose, bunting, a cup cuddler and beanbags.

After this section of tutorials you might be sufficiently proficient to start on the “Star Knitter Tutorials’. Herein you can find out how to make your very own stylish beanie,

a funky field mouse and several, a ladybird, a crown or even a cactus.

The book concludes with information about the origin of different yarns and being a responsible kids knitter, a bit of history and some useful templates.

There’s a wealth of photographs to provide further inspiration should you need it and the children shown with their creations look really proud of what they’ve made.

With the shorter days and less time to be outside, this is the ideal Kids Knit time.

Urban Forest School

Urban Forest School
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

Wow! What an absolute treasure trove of ideas this is for anyone who wants to include forest school and all that this has to offer into an urban school or nursery setting. That, one hopes (unless it’s already embedded into their curriculum) includes all early years and primary teachers and other staff.

Equally during this time when many parents are faced with home schooling their children, this book by a husband and wife team totally dedicated to outdoor learning, offers a wealth of activities across the whole curriculum and most could be used with a very wide age range.

After an introduction explaining what urban forest school actually is and where to look for urban nature, why it’s important to do so, and giving instructions on how to tie some useful knots, the main body of the book is divided into four sections.

We start with In the park or garden (a quiet street or a porch would suffice) where one of my favourite activities is shadow painting. Strangely enough as I was walking with my partner the other day past a patch of stinging nettles I remarked that their shadows looked much more striking than the actual plants. Then two days later I found this idea in the book. I’ve had children draw around their own or a friend’s shadow many times but never thought of using plants – love it!

Moving further afield Around the city or town has a nature focus and includes such things as cloud spotting and I really like the idea of the city sit spot – an opportunity for mindfulness of whatever your surroundings might be. From that sit spot or walking around, children can begin to get to know about the trees and the flora and fauna close by.

The third section – Home crafts – offers a wealth of creative activities: the leaf watercolour printing can be fun in its own right but also the starting point for other arty projects. I can’t wait to try the leaf bunting activity with children – I have to admit to having a go myself with some leaves and hole punches.

Recipes comprise the final section and there you’ll finding such diverse ideas as stinging nettle smoothie – this one might be an acquired taste, and spiced blackberry sorbet – more up my street I think, but the blackberry plants are still at the flowering stage just now.

Packed with enticing illustrations and photos, and covering so many areas of the curriculum, this bumper book includes something for all ages from the very young upwards, and is a fantastic encouragement to get children outdoors learning about and through nature.

A Clutch of Activity and Craft Books

Scratch and Learn: Space
illustrated by Victoria Fernández
Scratch and Learn: Animals
illustrated by Natasha Durley
Wide Eyed Editions

These are new additions to the series, both of which have seven interactive spreads and an attached stylus for young readers to do the scratching.

Each spread explores a different theme and in the Space title, these start with the Big Bang and the scratching reveals 10 galaxies. Then come a look at the solar system, the Moon, ‘Spacecraft’, which has the Space Shuttle as a featured image, a peep at life on board the International Space Station, an account of the life cycle of a star, and finally, a constellation map.

Spencer investigating the map

There are 10 ‘scratch and discover’ shapes to investigate with the stylus on every spread as well as a lead-in, easy to understand, factual paragraph (or two), clearly labelled objects and an additional ‘fact’ most in speech bubble form, for example ‘The light from the closest star still takes 4 years to reach us.’

The Animals featured in the second book come from different habitats around the world and as in the previous title, Lucy Brownridge supplies the succinct text.

Ten animals have ‘hidden’ themselves in each of Natasha Durley’s alluringly illustrated locations: the Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Sundarbans Mangrove forest, (between India and Bangladesh), the grasslands of the African Savannah, a coniferous forest of northern Canada, the arid Gobi Desert and Antarctica.

Both titles are appealing early interactive books that can be brought out anywhere especially on a journey or a rainy day.

The Mermaid Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

Prolific craft book creators, Laura and Tia have added a new title to their series, this time with a mermaid theme.
It’s filled with ideas for making things to use, things to wear and tasty things to eat.

Having provided a list of what is needed, the authors give step-by-step instructions for such diverse projects as creating a seashore garden, making aquarium puppets and a theatre to use with them,

and you can even bake a mermaid cake or throw an ‘under-the-sea’ party serving only sea themed food and serve up that cake then. Young merpeople will love it.

Youngsters will also be enthusiastic about the book as a whole though they’ll require adult support with several of the activities.

Ancient Egypt Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

Historical fun aplenty Ancient Egyptian style is found in this activity book.

Little ones can immerse themselves in the world of mummies, pyramids, pharaohs, hieroglyphics and ancient gods as they engage in mask making, maze manoeuvring, maths, message decoding, crafty creations, unscramble muddled up words and more. There are more than 100 activities in all as well as 4 pages of stickers to use to complete some of the scenes.

While engaging in these activities youngsters will likely learn some Ancient Egypt related language and facts too, as well as developing their fine motor and observational skills.

Jen Alliston has provided the illustrations and where relevant, answers are provided at the back of the book.

Forest School Adventure

Forest School Adventure
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

The husband and wife authors of this book are passionate about introducing children (and adults) to their wild side, to connect them to the natural environment. The book of more than 170 pages is profusely illustrated with photographs and after an introduction extolling the benefits and importance of outside play in nature, is divided into four sections.

In the first, Nature Awareness, there are such activities as making a bug hotel, creating natural collages and sculptures, leaf and flower plaques, playing with clay and making 3D maps.

Each activity is introduced with the suggested age range, likely time needed, the tools required and the materials to be used. My favourite in this section is Sit Spot – finding a place to sit quietly for ten minutes or more to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural surroundings.

The next section, with more than 80 pages, is Bushcraft and covers knots, shelter building all aspects of fire from lighting one without matches, types of firewood and fire lays, and carrying fire, collecting water, making cordage

and rope, using a knife safely, wilderness first aid, arrow and spear making, making pots and even making a lamp from nuts.

Section three has 25 pages on Wild Food including foraging tips and recipes for cleaver and nettle cordial, nettle tea, methods of cooking chicken and fish over a fire and cooking inside fruit and vegetables.

The final, briefest section, is devoted to games. My favourites were ‘seven second camouflage’ and ‘egg drop’ – making a protective nest around the egg so it doesn’t break when dropped from around 2metres.

Interspersed with all this are half a dozen episodes from the authors’ 5 months stone-age immersion experience in the USA.There’s also a list of resources at the back of the book.

I believe that forest school should be part and parcel of children’s early years and primary curriculum. However, despite the enthusiasm for it, particularly with early years staff, many schools stop offering it for older children claiming pressure from the supposedly more academic curriculum. Perhaps reading a book such as this could re-enthuse or introduce all adults working with children to the benefits of, and learning potential across the curriculum, of forest school.

Every primary school should have a copy.

The Big Book of Outdoor Activities

The Big Book of 100 Outdoor Activities
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

This bumper book is just right for trying out now the better weather has arrived – for a few days at least. It’s absolutely jam-packed with simple and quick activities and creative possibilities that will encourage children to get involved and at the same time find out more about the natural world.

The book is divided into seven sections, the first being Wildlife Spotting – love the pine-cone bird feeder and bug hotel herein. Ditto the ‘Flowerpot person from the In the Garden section.
I’m all for getting messy especially where young children are involved: I know they will thoroughly enjoy making bubble snakes and plunging their hands into the oobleck or cornflour goop and finding petals, leaves etc to add to the mixture – always a favourite with children in my early years classes. Both these are found in the Messy Makes section along with over a dozen other ideas.

The natural paintbrushes in the Art and Crafts pages look terrific fun …

and have great potential for getting creative. So too do the nature faces although I’d rather have the children draw faces for themselves on the card.
There are lots of exciting possibilities in the Rainy Day and Games sections so it’s definitely a good idea to do as the authors suggest in their introductory tips and take a carrier bag for collecting items. You might for instance gather up sticks and fir cones and save them to make a set of the funky stick people. Once done there are lots of ways these could be used – as fridge magnets or finger puppets perhaps: no doubt children will come up with ideas of their own.

All in all this is a great book for using with children – the ideas cost very little or nothing at all – just the thing to pack into a rucksack for a weekend away, or for teachers and others organising forest school sessions to dip in to.