Nest spotting

This month’s regular post from outdoors mummy blogger, Leila Balin is all about nest spotting…..

Nest SpottingThis year we have been very lucky indeed. We discovered a family of blue tits and a family of great tits nesting in one of our apple trees. Little Man was the one to spot the great tit flitting backwards and forwards and once we explained to him what the ‘birdie’ was doing he was very excited. Every time one of the parents came to feed the chicks you could hear them screeching for food and Little Man would ask to go and listen to them. We chose to keep our distance as much as possible so as not to disturb the adults so with a close watch on the hole we would pop over and have a listen every time Mum or Dad would leave the nest.

We later spotted that a family of blue tits were using the same tree but a different hole further up. We weren’t able to hear their little ones but now Little Man knew what was going on he was still fascinated to watch. Every time we would go out in the garden or head down the driveway he would point to the tree and babble about the chicks that live there.

They successfully fledged a couple of days ago and now that they have gone we have been able to get up close and take a look at the nest. Being in a hole in the tree it is tricky to get a good look but it is obviously a great spot for avoiding predators. We managed to shine a torch in there to see the nest itself and it looks like they had used moss lined with some sort of white fluff, possibly hair or tumble drier fluff. It was a classic great tit nest and had we not seen the birds we would have been able to identify it by the materials used and the way it had been built.

Getting this close and personal with nesting birds has been such a lovely experience. We’ve been lucky enough to get close without interfering and Little Man has learnt how birds look after their babies. He has developed his language skills in the process and made connections, seeing birds with caterpillars, telling us about their chicks and later relating this back to his little book on garden birds. I’m hoping to make nests in the garden with him this weekend, giving him the opportunity to think about different materials, which ones might be nice and comfy or good and strong. I wonder what sort of nest he will end up making, or if, as is his way, he will be far more interested in exploring than creating. We have spotted some wrens nesting in our honeysuckle so he might just choose to sit and watch them in wonder. We will have to wait and see.

Have you had birds nesting in your garden this year? Have your kiddies been watching with anticipation?

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

A Nature Walk

This month’s regular post from outdoors mummy blogger, Leila Balin is all about nature explorations…..

A Nature Walk Guest Post AprilThis week has been filled with nature explorations. From chasing bees to watching butterflies, Little Man has been noticing it all. Spring is such a lovely time to go exploring in nature and although farmers fields aren’t exactly natural they are right on our doorstep and have lovely natural edges leaving plenty of space for us to discover birds, berries, flowers and flies.

The fields surrounding us are filled with rapeseed at the moment. Lots of people dislike this crop, especially hayfever sufferers (my brother being one of them) but I love the bright sunny colour and I don’t even mind the smell. Luckily Little Man seems to be fine with pollen so a waltz around the local fields is always a pleasure, especially as there are tons of butterflies around at the moment. They flit in and out of the yellow mass, dancing with each other and sunning themselves along the paths and whenever one parks itself along the path in front of us Little Man stops, goes quiet and whispers to me as he creeps up on it hoping to catch it.

Birds also capture Little Man’s attention and we have to stop and listen as a Blackcap shouts out his warning call. It sounds like two stones clinking together and Little Man is enthralled, desperately trying to see where the sound is coming from. We just catch a glimpse of it as it flies away and he shouts ‘birdie!’ as it goes. This time round we also spot Pigeon and Jackdaw and a female blackbird that lets us get quite close as she hops about her business before she finally takes flight.

A quick jaunt round the fields is a whole body experience for Little Man; he uses his listening and language skills as well as all his motor skills, hopping, skipping, climbing and crawling. We often hop in-between fields by climbing in and out of the dry ditches and Little Man loves to beat us across. It can sometimes be quite a mission keeping up with him because he can squeeze through gaps much smaller than us!  At one point I did lose him amongst the crop (don’t tell the farmer!). Despite my pleas for him to stick to the paths he decided climbing through a jungle of rapeseed was far more fun. By the time we get home I am always shattered, even if we keep it short, but Little Man, as is the way with most toddlers, seems to run on super energiser batteries. I love the way toddlers find wonder in everything they come across, it is absolutely infectious!

What are your favourite local adventures? Is it the local park, do you find adventure among the local houses or are you lucky enough to live right next to the beach?

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

Climbing Trees

This month’s regular post from outdoors mummy blogger, Leila Balin is all about climbing trees ….

Climbing Trees Guest Post March

Sunday was a stunning day for a walk. We didn’t get out in the morning down to one thing or another but as soon as Little Man woke up from his nap we were racing out the door. Little Man was still quite tired so his sleepy bunny came along for the ride and he was carried most of the way round. Poor hubby didn’t realise it was going to be quite such a workout for him!

About half way round we stopped to check out a tractor working one of the fields and Little Man started to perk up. He was more than happy to stop and watch the tractor work away and then say ‘bye bye’ as it moved onto the next field. We also moved on and worked our way down to a little clearing with a bench so that Daddy could have a rest.

Before we got to the bench we came across a lovely fallen tree. We had a good look, checking out the lichens along the trunk and before we knew it Little Man was asking to get on it. He wanted to go up quite high so Daddy got up there with him and for a few minutes he was happy to stand there and enjoy the view. Then all of a sudden sleepy bunny got thrown at me and Little Man was off!

At first he was scrambling his way through the top branches until Daddy could go no further with him and we encouraged him to come back to the clearer part of the trunk. From then on it was a continuous up and down, holding onto Daddy for support. We were there for ages as Little Man practiced his balancing skills and started to get braver and braver. Soon enough he was jumping and hopping along the trunk in true toddler style with a mahusive grin on his face.

He stopped for a short rest from balancing whilst he played horsey and explored the trunk of the tree with his hands and then it was off for round two. Who needs playgrounds when nature provides trees! It was amazing to watch and fabulous to see his confidence grow. He surprised us as to how sure footed he was and how quickly he wanted to climb higher without our help. Maybe if we had been able to get underneath the tree to support him then we would have let him go a bit further but with all the branches there was no way we could.

Little Man came away happy and we had one last surprise before we made it home. Walking along one of the fields behind our house we came across a small herd of deer. As we stopped to stare they stared back only disappearing as we headed up the path towards them. Little Man was mesmerised and so excited he decided to dance most of the way home. Sometimes I wonder where all their energy comes from!

We are already looking forward to our next tree climbing experience. I am sure we will be back to visit this one but it would also be fun to find some new ones. Have your little ones been tree climbing recently? Do they have a favourite tree?

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

 

Getting Crafty Outdoors

This month’s regular post from outdoors mummy blogger, Leila Balin is all about getting crafty in the outdoors ….

Getting Crafty Outdoors
Inspired by a Seed Manadala craft (by twigandtoadstoolblogspot.com) I had discovered on Pinterest, I thought it was time to have another go at some crafts outdoors. Normally Little Man is far too interested in the garden itself, and his leaning towards ‘self directed mischief’ means that anything I try and attempt to set up outdoors is shunned. With this in mind, anything crafty is usually carried out indoors. But the sun was shining, and the mud was calling us so I braved it and set up my own version of the seed Manadala craft.

I took an old cereal box out of the recycling bin and cut out two circles (I used a CD as a template) drawing a pattern on each. Little Man loves circles, which is what had attracted me to this craft in the first place, and he loves snails so I drew a snail on one and a flower on the other. As you can tell from the photos, art was never my strong point! I then gathered together some coffee grounds, some old baby pasta we had lying around and some pretty cake sprinkles that were on their way out. I also grabbed a Pritt stick for convenience. If you try this at home PVA glue will be much better, and you won’t ruin your Pritt sticks (mine is now covered in gooey coffee and mud!)

Once we were outside I used the old recycling tub as a table because Daddy seems to have pinched Little Man’s mud kitchen table. I laid everything out ready, gave one of the bits of card to Little Man and kept one for myself so I could show him what to do, but, as I should have guessed, Little Man had his own intentions. The coffee was the first thing to go, the whole tub was picked up and poured all over the floor, then he used the bird seeder trowel to scoop it up and pour it out again. This was closely followed by the sprinkles and the pasta! He had a brilliant time exploring the textures and colours for about 2 minutes before he was off trying to feed them to the cat!

He did come back and explore them a bit more, but today was all about riding his bike round the garden and exploring the ice that had collected in crystals in the grass. I took the opportunity to talk to him about it being cold and how it quickly changed to water when we held it in our hands, and he seemed to take it all in, repeating back to me some of the words and absorbing it like a little sponge. He also spent lots of time playing hide and seek with the cat as if she was a proper playmate, saying things like ‘come here’ or ‘hello bell’.

I’m not sure Little Man will ever be big on creating and making crafts, he is much happier attempting to hammer in nails or fix the engines on his bikes and tractors, but he has such a natural curiosity about the world that it really doesn’t matter. I will carry on offering lots of different opportunities for him to play and he can carry on choosing how he wants to play, even if that means my efforts aren’t needed or used in the way I first expected. That is what it is all about after all.

Does your little one like making and creating or are they like Little Man, busy enough already?

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

10 Best UK Wildlife Experiences for Kids

This week we have a special guest post by Christine from www.afamilydayout.co.uk, which is a great blog filled with information about UK attractions, events, walks and cycle rides, all for families. You can follow what’s happening on A Family Day Out on Twitter @afamilyday and G+ .

 

UK Wildlife Experieces

Introducing your children to the natural world is one of the most important gifts you can give them. The UK has some great wildlife watching opportunities so why not grab a pair of binoculars and take a look at the suggestions below to get your family started.

1 Pond life

Pond dipping is a great way to explore the underwater world. Water beetles, pond snails and water boatmen are present in most ponds and at some times of the year you’ll also be able to find frog spawn or watch dragonflies flitting around. The best way is to look out for organised pond dipping sessions at your local nature reserve as they’ll have the right kit and will be able to help with identification.

2 Puffins

Ask a child to name their favourite bird and a fair proportion will say the puffin. Its multi-coloured beak and comical walk certainly make it one of mine. Puffins can be seen on and around Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire and the Farne Islands, Northumberland during the early summer months. If you’re in Scotland, do not miss a trip to the Treshnish Isles near Mull. It’s a truly magical location where you can lay on the cliffs and watch puffins close-up. Getting there is an experience too, travel sickness tablets are recommended for the boat trip!

3 Osprey

The osprey is a spectacular fish eating bird of prey. Previously hunted to extinction in the UK they have subsequently returned to our shores, migrating here from Africa each spring. Video cameras at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms provide close up views of nesting osprey during summer months. You can also see them from viewpoints in Dodd Wood, near Keswick where volunteers with telescopes can point out a nesting pair near Bassenthwaite Lake.

4 Red squirrels

Grey squirrels are present in just about every park. On the other hand, the cute tufty ears of red squirrels are much rarer and only found in a few spots around the UK. These include Brownsea Island, Dorset and Kielder Forest, Northumberland. We’ve also seen them close up at both of the osprey viewing points mentioned above.

5 Starlings

Perhaps not the most exotic of birds, but responsible for a stunning wildlife spectacle. During autumn and winter, just before sunset, check out the skies above you. If you’re lucky you’ll see a starling murmuration, a huge flock of birds swooping and swirling almost as if in time to music. I live in a town and frequently see this, but other well known places include the Somerset levels, Brighton Pier and Gretna Green.

6 Rock pools

Rock pools are a fantastic place to discover sea life. They’re like mini aquariums with different varieties of seaweed, fish, sea anemones and molluscs to look at. Visit at low tide and take a small bucket to put your finds in one at a time. Some top spots for rock pooling are Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset and Porth y Pwll in North Wales.

7 New Forest ponies

Not strictly wild as the ponies have owners, but they do roam free across the New Forest. They’re a recognised breed of pony, and have inhabited the area for around 2000 years. The ponies are pretty easy to spot throughout the forest and you’d be very unlucky not to see them if visiting. Sadly some do get killed on the roads each year, so drive slowly and keep a watchful eye out!

8 Minibeasts

Woodland floors are usually teaming with mini beasts. Using a trowel, carefully move aside the top layer of fallen leaves and you’ll probably spot woodlice, ants, spiders and perhaps centipedes. The Nature Detectives website (www.naturedetectives.org.uk) has great identification sheets to help you work out what you’ve found, and some top tips for bug hunting.

9 Garden birds

It’s amazing what you can see in your own back garden. Our small garden attracts starlings, sparrows, robins and finches as well as rarer visitors such as a blackcap, white throat and sparrow hawk. We provide bird food and a water dish, and also leave berries and seed heads on plants. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch) takes place each January, why not join in and see what you can spot?

10 Seals

Grey and common seals are found along many of our coastlines. You can take a summer boat trip to visit the seals basking at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. There are around 500 seals in the colony, and they often swim inquisitively around the boats. Alternatively, if you’re in Pembrokeshire in early autumn you may be lucky to spot seal pups from some of the cliff paths. Be careful not to get too close to the edges though!

I hope these suggestions encourage you to get out with your family and start spotting the wonderful nature on our doorstep!

 

Campfire Cooking in the Rain – Guest Post by Leila Balin

Campfire Cooking in the RainThe nights are now well and truly dark. They arrive early and leave our outdoor playtime struggling to survive. On days when we have been at work and nursery, days when we have left the house in the dark and returned home in the dark, family outdoor time doesn’t happen, leaving it limited to the weekends. This Friday though, we bucked the trend.

It was campfire time!! Despite the drizzle being stuck indoors had become too much so we escaped just as the light was starting to dim. Hubby was home early from work and to celebrate we got the fire pit out. With the help of an old window as a wind shield and some fire lighters we got our fire roaring ready for some outdoor treats.

Little Man loves a fire, we are lucky enough to have an open one in our front room, and he is well and truly acclimatised to keeping a fair distance. He talks about it being hot and will often come and sit on one of laps to watch it. So when we got the fire going in the garden he wasn’t the least bit bothered. He was more interested in riding around on his tractor, shouting for help as and when he got stuck in the long grass. At one point he suddenly stopped, looking at the sky, saying ‘Wow’ as a flock of Jackdaws flew over on their way to roost. He really does notice things we forget to look for.

Once the fire was nice and warm I popped in to prepare one of our favourite treats, Chocolate Bananas. They are so simple they just had to be done! You simply take your banana and leaving the skin on slice a knife down the middle so you create a pocket. You then get whatever chocolate you have on hand (we used some mini chocolate caramel bars) and stuff it in the pocket. Then wrap the bananas in foil and pop them on the fire. Safety tip here though! Make sure you have fire gloves to do this because as you can image it gets very hot. We use Hubby’s welding gloves and try to make a point of using them whenever we deal with the fire in front of Little Man.

After about 10 minutes, although it can take longer if the fire isn’t very hot yet, then you should be able to hear the banana and chocolate bubbling away. This is a sure sign the chocolate is nice and melted. Ours were lovely and gooey and as soon as Little Man realised what was being served he sat himself in the camp chair armed with a spoon and waited while the bananas cooled down enough to eat. Then we all tucked in. Yum Yum! As soon as we were done all we could hear from Little Man was ‘more, more’. He wasn’t impressed that I hadn’t thought to cook extra so that he could have second helpings!

Getting out in the dark turned out to be great fun and Little Man wasn’t the least bit bothered about the diminishing light or the drizzle. Do you and your kiddies get out much at this time of the year? If like me you find yourself pacing the walls like a caged animal then when not try out an evening campfire or bbq or if your littlies are a bit older then have a go at flashlight tag or a spot of stargazing.

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

Car Parks – Guest Post by Leila Balin

Car Parks - Guest Post by Leila BalinMy plan this morning was to head out to a local park and explore the woodland there. Little Man was in a fine mood and I thought he would enjoy his usual games of hide and seek and some stick play. I was, however, wrong. As usual! Once we got there Little Man had no intention of heading into the woods, the park itself was far more interesting with lots of dogs to woof at and some lovely green grass to throw himself over. There was even a wheelie bin in the middle of the path that made for a fascinating study of wheels. Being a wheel man we inevitably ended up heading back towards the car park to explore the cars. Thankfully though he spotted a log of interest that he decided looked like a great horsey and with a little bit of help from me he was soon sat on it riding into the horizon and then eating his sandwiches on it.

Once lunch was finished he played some peek a boo whilst climbing a fence and then there was a spot of mountain climbing. Suddenly he spotted some children through a gap in the hedge and before I knew it we were running after them into a walled play area full of wooden play equipment. For the first few minutes Little Man seemed to be in awe and didn’t know where to go. In fact, I think it was all a bit too much for him. You could see him being pulled in all directions and in the end he settled for a bridge with some spinning toys on them. It’s funny how he always seems to revert to playing with things that spin.

Car Parks - Guest Post by Leila Balin

Once the playground had lost his attention it was back to the car park, his original destination, where we spent some time splashing in puddles and eyeing up a lorry that had parked up. When I say some time, I really mean a lot of time. So much time in fact that we were attracting some strange looks from many of the dog walkers who had been on their walks and come back again before we had even got half way across it. The children he had followed to the park had long gone and Little Man was well overdue for his nap. None of this seemed to bother him at all as he spent time investigating pipes, holes in the ground, wheels of cars, puddles, wooden posts and watching all those ‘woof woofs’ walk on by. To top it off, when we did finally make it back to our car he insisted on driving for a while whilst pressing every button and turning every dial he could possibly find. By the end of the morning I was exhausted but he seemed to be on super charged batteries. What had I given him for breakfast?! After a quick snack and a drink I managed to convince him it was time to climb into his car seat and we headed home where, surprise surprise, he was asleep within seconds of his head hitting his little pillow.

Car Parks - Guest Post by Leila Balin

It always fascinates me to let Little Man take the lead. I never quite know where we will end up or what will grab his interest. It is always a little adventure. Do you ever let your little ones take the lead when you are out and about? What happens when you do? Why not give it a go and see if you end up loitering in car parks or find out if your little one has another agenda.

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

Slippery Slopes – Guest Post by Leila Balin

Slippery Slopes - Risky PlayRisky play is a term that I’ve heard a lot since studying early years and being involved with environmental education. Providing children with opportunities that expose them to risks can build their confidence, allow them to test their physical and emotional limits, develop their problem solving skills and help build up social skills. It really is something positive we should be encouraging our children to be involved in. However, as a Mum, even one who is fully on board with the idea of ‘risky play’, the world of risky play can be a scary one. I constantly have to remind myself not to jump in just before he falls over or not to step in and offer him help before he has really had the chance to try for himself. Your basic instinct as a Mum is to step in wherever your child might need you. Today was one of those days where I had to remind myself a few times to simply back off.

 With the recent rain providing the perfect opportunity and a #wildtime activity recipe from Play England we headed to our local country park in search of a mudslide. The previous day I had walked round the park with a friend scoping out possibilities and it wasn’t long before we found one with potential. It wasn’t too big and there was a lovely little narrow trail leading to the top that would seem like a big adventure for someone of such small stature. Little Man currently enjoys slides very much particularly walking up them rather than sliding down them so it was no surprise when instead of wanting to slide down with Mummy
he was far more interested in climbing up said slippery slope. This, however, did provide a few heart in mouth moments for me. The slope was indeed slippery, it had to be to make any sort of slide, and wearing wellies made getting a grip even more difficult.

Needless to say Little Man did end up flat on his face a few times but he is a determined soul and after I realised he had more control than I gave him credit for, I left him to it and he was up there in no time. I then had a job scrambling after him, I think it took me longer to get up the slope than it did him and then I had fun trying to keep up with him before he disappeared out of site!

Little Man soon got bored with the slope and moved on to some woodland stairs, somewhere I would normally offer him my help but I stepped back for a moment and let him get on with it. He handled the stairs brilliantly, carefully taking his time and congratulating himself when he got to the bottom without tripping. I have to admit I was a very proud Mummy who learnt a few lessons about stepping back and letting my Little Man take some important risks. He is still learning about his body and how it moves but he is also incredibly aware of his capabilities and his limitations. When I watch him it makes me realise just howcareful and capable he actually is.

So this month I challenge you to take a step back and let your little one take a risk or too, stepping in only when you are really needed. If you do decide to have a go at mudsliding then my top tip is to put their waterproofs on! As you can probably see from the pics, Little Man ended up with a very very muddy bum. Why I didn’t put them on I have no idea, it would have saved me a lot of washing!

Leila writes a personal, nature inspired blog at Mud Marvellous Mud. She is passionate about connecting children to nature and writes about her son’s experiences as they explore together. She is trained to Forest Schools and Beach Schools level 3 and is currently studying for an Open University Open Degree.

Follow her on twitter @MudpieMama or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MudMudMarvellousMud