Outdoors is the ultimate play environment for children, not only is it a sensory experience, but it also offers space and freedom. It is great for physical development as well as offering children the opportunity to interact with and learn about the world around them.
Den building, whether indoors or outdoors, is a very instinctive activity for children to engage in. Creating an enclosed space in which to play offers a sense of security as well as that lovely feeling of being embraced, safe and contained. It is a place to hide and a place to shelter.
Outdoor den building, whether under branches in the woods, under a sheet strung over the washing line in the garden, or even inside a big cardboard box, also provides shelter from the elements. It’s these elements that add more of a sensory aspect to the children’s play; the rustling of the wind or the sound of the rain tapping on the roof, the coolness of the shade after the intense heat of the sun. All of these feelings have been experienced by human beings for centuries and den building can give children a real connection to themselves.
As a form of therapeutic play, dens bring children a sense of felt security that enables them to develop a sense of who they are, where they are in terms of time and space, a place where they can hear themselves think and a place where they can really explore their own emotions.
So grab the clothes pegs and a sheet, or save that old box and get den building!
Making grass heads is so simple and it’s great fun. They can live in the garden or on a windowsill and children will enjoy watching them grow, as well as giving them fabulous hair cuts when the grass gets too long!
There is a lot that can be learned from grass heads, including how and why plants grow, how to care for a living thing and learning about the seasons and how they impact upon plants and animals. Grass heads are a practical, handheld way to explore all of these things and much more.
Old tights, grass seed, compost, elastic bands, glue, googly eyes, a cup or old yogurt pot or tray to stand it in. (Something that holds water)
Pipe cleaner if you want to make the caterpillar!
To make the grass head:
Cut the feet off of some old tights, about 30cm from the toes. Like a long sock.
Roll the tights over a plant pot so that your child can easily add a few handfuls of grass seed. (See the gallery pictures with this activity.)
Then add hand fulls of compost. You can lift the tights off the plant pot and keep stuffing them with compost until you have a nice round ball.
Tie off the end so everything stays put.
In the middle of the face, pinch out a bit of compost to make a nose and tie it with an elastic band.
Add googly eyes with PVA glue or a glue gun.
Soak the head in some water, carefully not soaking the eyes.
Stand in a pot full of water on a sunny windowsill and watch what happens over a week or so. (Make sure you keep adding water to the pot!)
To make the caterpillar I used a similar technique, but I added the pipe cleaner antenna first, then the compost to form a sausage, then put my hand in the tights and sprinkled grass seed all over the compost, before tying the end and using elastic bands to make the bulges in his body.
He will stand in a tray of water.
Look after your grass head by giving it plenty of light, warmth and water and when its hair gets too long, give it a haircut!
Using natural materials to create is always such a lovely, grounding experience and one of the easiest ways to do this is to use autumn leaves to make prints.
Ensure that your leaves are clean and dry, paint the underneath with children’s poster paints and print onto paper. It really is that simple!
You could also try making leaf rubbings, where you place the leaves under the paper and rub over the top with a crayon or incorporate the leaves into a collage by gluing them to your picture.
Using sticks for mark making, or decorating pine cones are also great activities. You could make a nature table in your home, full of interesting bits that you have gathered from outside and change it with the seasons.
Illustrator Jennie Maizels offers an excellent tutorial on drawing and painting things from the natural world, click here to learn more and why not subscribe to her YouTube Channel for lots more inspiring creative ideas?