Picture the scene. The weekend arrives with exhausted gratitude and you awake to the morning light glowing around the edges of the curtains. Low on the horizon, the sun shines through the window and, upon stepping out from under the covers into the chilly bedroom air, peering eagerly through the window you see the morning mist give way to sunshine. Sunshine warm enough to take the edge off, warm enough to start evaporating dew from the grass.
It’s idyllic that image. The reality for most of us, at some point in our life anyway, is very different. Not necessarily worse but different. For me being awoken by children before the sunshine or birdsong is the norm, the shadows of the buildings opposite block much of my natural light and I have no clue of the forecast until I pick up my phone. I feel like in the last 30 years, certainly, since my childhood, it has become much harder for adults to be present enough to be aware of the changing seasons let alone give ourselves time to enjoy them. The trouble in my mind is if we don’t take the time to appreciate the world around us our children won’t either – we have to model a kind of curious behaviour in order for our children to grow up curious. With this in mind and with autumnal signs all around us let’s start with a little riddle and a clue to today’s challenge…
I wait in the tree for the wind and am born from a flower. I come in a prickly case until I fall to the ground. Hung on a string, I join in children’s games.
What am I?
Have you seen all the conkers about at the moment? We certainly have and have come home with pockets full of them. I keep finding them in my bag, squirrelled there because according to my youngest ‘it’s my favourite one and I must take it home’.
My question is what to do with all these conkers? Despite being a child of the 80s and therefore a fan of the traditional game of conkers, I wanted to do something different so I had a little search for ideas and came up with this gem. I would say this was a perfect tabletop challenge for little ones although with a little creativity I am sure there are many more possibilities to appeal to any age, adults with enough free time on their hands included.
We began with a search in the woods. It was a fruitless (or conkerless) venture to start with but we now know that if you want to find a horse chestnut tree, or a conker tree as the children affectionately call them, then head to landscaped parks, gardens, streets and village greens, not the woods! Even though we were heading home empty handed we had still found lots of autumnal woodland treasures, and about 11 billion sticks (not pictured) so it was a rewarding morning of exploring nevertheless.
Thankfully we struck conker gold on the way home when my eager eye spotted two huge horse chestnut trees and I had space to pull over. It’s like watching your children on Christmas morning when you find a good conker tree, we could have filled a wheelbarrow but I managed to restrain them to a couple of boxes.
Tip: if, after you’ve finished your challenge, you have some conkers left you can pop them around the house to keep the spiders at bay – so they say.
Back at home, we opened the Blue Peter box, (or so I call it), and discovered a lack of pipe cleaners – an integral part of this activity. A quick trip to a local crafting shop and we were all set to make conker caterpillars, conker spiders and conker families.
You will need: conkers, a skewer and a responsible adult to skewer holes in the conkers, pipe cleaners, glue, googly eyes, glitter, paint or various sparkly things.
Safety tip: please be careful making holes in the conkers.
Let your children loose with the conkers, (post skewered and ready for threading onto pipe cleaners), and let their imaginations run wild.
I really hope you and your children enjoy this one, here were the best of our creations!
Safety note: When exploring the woods with young children please teach them not to pick or touch anything they are unfamiliar with. We found fungi and berries that looked tactile and fruity but were, in fact, poisonous so keep a close eye on them, keep an identification book to hand if you can and keep safe.