Nature Club: An Update

Back in November last year, Tom and I went to the open day of our new local Forest Nursery and had a great time exploring their facilities and discussing the importance of free play outdoors. The full time nursery starts from 3 years old and up, but there is a Nature Club for the 0-3’s. We found out in December that we had managed to get one of the places (there seems to have been some competition) and Tom and Mr Techno have been going every Tuesday for the last five weeks.

They are currently on a break from half-term, so it seemed like a good moment to update you all on how they’ve been getting on. Of course, I am at work on Tuesdays, so have to rely on reports from Mr Techno, which can be a bit lacking in detail at times!

The first week they went, Tom was suffering with teething pain and was not in the best mood. Apparently he didn’t really join in and just wanted cuddles the whole time, which is understandable if he wasn’t feeling 100%.

From the second week on, though, Tom seems to have really enjoyed himself. The ethos of the nursery is very much about free, child-led play, which suits us down to the ground. Apparently there are always some organised activities available, but no pressure to join in – it is up to the child whether they want to or not. Tom generally chooses not to – he is so used to wandering at will that he is entirely comfortable doing his own thing outdoors. Plus, at only 17 months, he is not yet at the stage of playing directly with other kids. Mr Techno, like me, is entirely happy to let Tom roam, as long as he can see where he is.

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Unsurprisingly, Tom’s favourite time is snack time. Mr Techno forgot to bring food one week, so Tom happily Yogi-beared it off everyone else (yes, that is the technical term). Boy does love to eat!

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He has played with chalk, clay, and their mud kitchen. Apparently he has also gained some little admirers – there are some older girls who follow him around everywhere.

This Tuesday, which was the last one before the half-term break, the site they usually use had become a little, ahem, waterlogged (thanks, Storm Imogen). So they all headed out onto the Marshes for a nature walk. Unfortunately, our little man took a bit of a tumble… face first into a puddle. But he was well togged up with waterproofs and recovered with a little helping hand from one of my jumpers (which he has adopted as a comforter following the tragic loss of his former comforter…one of my bed socks).

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Mr Techno seems to be enjoying himself too. He doesn’t often get a chance to meet other parents, and there are some other dads there, so he doesn’t feel like the odd one out. And it is nice to be with a group who share similar values to us (and don’t think we are being irresponsible for letting our toddler play outdoors in the winter).

The next half of term starts in a couple of weeks and they will definitely be going back!

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Weekly Report: w/c 23/11/15

This week did not get off to the best of starts, with Tom waking up in a foul mood on Monday morning. We had errands to run first thing, though fortunately he was fairly happy to sit in the buggy whilst I picked up groceries. In the afternoon, we headed out onto the Marshes for some bad mood therapy – more to come tomorrow.

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Wednesday was our family day, as usual. Tom and I spent the morning in the garden, testing out his new snowsuit and bopping about to the tunes played by next doors’ radio.

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Mr Techno works for a restaurant group owned by well-known chef Mark Hix and had been rewarded for two years of service with a £150 voucher for any Hix restaurant. So at lunchtime we headed to Oyster and Chophouse in Farringdon for a free meal. Tom very much enjoyed his fish, chips and minted peas, whilst Mr Techno and I sampled oysters, cockles, ox heart, hake’s head and liver. We like unusual food in this family! We rounded up with a Yorkshire Parkin shared between the three of us before heading home for a well-deserved nap.

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On Thursday, I walked Tom in to nursery as usual, but then had to travel to Exeter that afternoon. I didn’t get back until late Friday and Mr Techno has admitted they caught the bus in on Friday morning, so I guess that was a bit of a fail on the outdoor front.

Saturday morning Tom and I spent at the open day for Free Range Urban Kids, a new outdoor nursery opening in Hackney in January. Read all about it here.

Tom had a bit of a cough and clearly need some extra sleep, because he didn’t wake up from his nap until 4. The light was already fading, so we stayed in and he played with cloud dough instead.

Sunday was incredibly windy. We spent the morning in the park in the rain, splashing about in puddles. In the afternoon, we went for a walk on the Marshes. Tom did get out of the buggy for a bit, but found the wind too strong, so asked to get back in and ride his way round.

It’s been a bit so-so this week, with work commitments keeping me from spending as much time outside as I normally like.

 

Finding Time for Outdoor Play

On the days I don’t work, making time to play outdoors is no issue. We have a park around the corner, the Marshes nearby, and lots of other green spaces that we can easily access. Tom still naps twice a day, and we do have to find time for meals, chores, bath time and bed, but that still leaves us with a good chunk of time in both the morning and the afternoon to get out.

Work days are more challenging though. Tuesdays, Mr Techno has off so he and Tom can enjoy being outdoors together (though Mr Techno is rather more weather shy and prefers not to go out when it’s wet). But on Thursdays and Fridays both of us work and Tom goes to a lovely little nursery about half-an-hour’s walk away. The nursery have a great outdoor play area, with a separate bit just for the baby room, and their policy is to get out as much as possible, even when it’s cold. But it is very much a playground – they have that rubberised tarmac stuff on the ground – and I prefer that Tom have some time each day in a more natural environment.

So how do we find time for outdoor play on work/nursery days? Well, one of the unexpected blessings of the nursery being a bit further away is that we can walk in. In fact, because of the way the bus routes work, it only takes about 10 minutes longer to walk than it would to get the bus. We have a cosy footmuff on the buggy, and the rain cover lives permanently in the bottom of it, meaning we can walk in all weathers. I get a bit wet sometimes, but have taken to keeping a ‘kag in the bag’ in the buggy too, so I always have a waterproof to hand. Even better, the route takes us via our local park, so we get to see some greenery on our way.

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We aim to leave the house at 7.30 am. We actually leave the house at around 7.40 am. That gets us to nursery for drop off at roughly 8.10. The tube is close by, so I am generally at my desk by 8.45 at the latest. And I get in having had a bit of exercise, some fresh air, and a bit of quality time with my boy, all of which makes the working day a bit more pleasant.

We have a bit more time at the other end of the day. Unless snack time is running especially late, we generally leave nursery by about 5.30 pm. Tom has his bath at 6.30, so that gives us an hour free. Half-an-hour walking, and half-an-hour’s play in the park.

We are definitely missing the lighter, warmer evenings. Before the clocks went back, we had a good amount of daytime left when we got to the park. Tom could explore, point out doggies, and examine leaves to his heart’s content.

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The dark evenings have been a bit of an issue. But not as much of an issue as I thought they might be. Once I had gotten over my initial ‘I can’t let the baby toddle round the park in the dark’ panic, I realised that this was another case of exaggerating the risk. What, exactly, was I so worried about? Yes, it is a bit harder for bikes to see him, but the park is floodlit, I’m always close, and I plan to buy him a hi-vis jacket (many thanks to Tammy Twinkle for this suggestion!) So why shouldn’t he explore?

And he has had a great time. He’s discovered shadows, and is busy working on the idea that dark patches on the ground are sometimes shadows and sometimes puddles (in the name of science, he has to walk through each one several times to make sure which it is). We have occasional battles over which way to walk, but otherwise outdoor play in the dark is a lot of fun and a great way for us to bond after a day apart.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Windy Day Play

The rain may have cleared, but Sunday was still pretty grey. When we went to the park in the morning, the wind was blowing so strongly that it actually knocked Tom over a couple of times.

Clearly there was nothing to do but to embrace the wind and turn it into our play theme for the day. Whilst Tom napped, I scoured the house for some suitable equipment. I gathered together some ribbons, a light silky scarf, some bubble mix we got given as a favour at a recent friend’s wedding, and Wind by Carol Thompson, a book we were given free at Tom’s one year review (I love it. Mr Techno…doesn’t). I attached one of the ribbons to a kitchen spoon with some sticky tape, with the idea that this might make it easier for Tom to hold.

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When he woke, we headed out to find a suitably exposed spot on the Marshes (and a fairly quiet one – the fewer people who witness me dancing around with ribbons the better!)

We quickly discovered two flaws with the plan: 1) Tom is still too little to be able to hold the ribbons high enough for the wind to blow them, and 2) Trying to take photos whilst simultaneously waving ribbons in the wind is damn near impossible. After a bit of tickling Tom with the ribbons, we gave up with them and attached them to the buggy instead, where they blew around merrily every time a gust caught them up.

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The scarf was more successful. Tom loves the parachute game that is sometimes played at toddler groups, so this was a good variation to do with just the two of us. He giggled happily as the scarf flew out in the wind and came down to settle over his head.

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The big success of the day was the bubbles. Tom loves them when we play at home, but the wind sent bubbles speeding off in all directions, making him whoop with excitement. Sadly he hasn’t quite worked out how to blow them himself yet, but it is only a matter of time.

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Tom then found the book in the bottom of the buggy, so we settled down in the grass for a read, the wind providing fitting accompaniment to the sound effects in the book. We tossed handfuls of leaves into the air as we read, illustrating the ‘rustling’ and ‘snatching’.

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Mixed success with the materials, but I can see us repeating this again on windy days. The ribbons may have to wait until he’s a bit older though!

Do you have any top tips for windy day activities for our next adventure?

Monkey and Mouse

 



Weekly Report – w/c 09/11/2015

The weather this week was less than fantastic. We’ve still been getting out (almost) every day, but not for as long as we normally would, and we are sticking a bit closer to home so we have easy access to changes of clothes if we get caught in a downpour.

Having been at my parents’ house last weekend, Tom and I woke up there on Monday. I had an appointment locally, so Tom and my mum explored the garden, chatted to the hens, and splashed about in some puddles. You can read more about our visit here. We drove back to London in the afternoon, but didn’t have time to head back out again before it got dark.

Wednesday, we headed into town first thing for a second attempt at banking some cheques. Fortunately, I remembered my purse this time around. Banking achieved, we popped into a charity shop (scoring a new book and jumper for me and a couple of toys for Tom, all for under a tenner). Chores out of the way, we had the afternoon free for play. We headed out onto the Marshes, where I let Tom out of the buggy and gave him control of our route. As usual, this meant we were off in a completely different direction to what I had expected. And had to stop regularly to investigate sticks.

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Thursday, we walked to nursery as usual. On the way home that evening, Tom was walking back through the park with me when he discovered his shadow. I wish this photo was better because he was so cute trying to work out what it was. He also thought the shadows of the hanging baskets were puddles and was very confused when his feet didn’t get wet.

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Friday, again walk in to nursery as usual. We had some pretty extreme rain and a bit of hail during the day. Though it had cleared by the time I picked Tom up, I had forgotten his rain footies, so he had to stay in the buggy on our way home. He was probably relieved – it was pretty windy but he was kept sheltered and warm snuggled in his footmuff.

Saturday, the rain settled in for the long haul, so we headed to Sutton House for a drier, indoor visit. Thumbs down on outdoor play, but there was no way I was tempting Mr Techno out in that weather.

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Sunday, the rain had stopped, so we headed the park first thing. We didn’t bother with the buggy, as it is so close, but that did mean it took so long to walk there that we only had 10 minutes to actually play. Tom met a little 19 month old girl, who sweetly took his hand and helped him walk up and down the slopes in the play area (whilst her mum and I stood nearby going ‘ahhhh, cute!’ to each other). Unfortunately, the wind was pretty fierce, so they kept getting knocked over by it! Wind was the theme of our afternoon – we headed out onto the Marshes with some props for windy day play. Post to follow.

Verdict: not bad, considering the weather