Charcoal challenge

Which type of wood makes the best charcoal for drawing? Experiment with using different types of wood; softwoods such as willow, hardwoods such as oak and other plant materials such as grape vine. The simple process of making your own charcoal for crafting and drawing can be used for maths challenges for older children.


INVESTIGATE: Spot and identify twigs from different trees to cut and collect into a tin for burning on the fire. The tin needs a firm fitting lid and a hole made in the top for smoke and gases to escape.

For an added maths challenge, record the length and weight of your twigs to compare with the resulting charcoal later.

OBSERVE and DISCUSS: Place the tin of wooden sticks on the fire, cover with burning embers but with the hole in the tin exposed. You will see smoke coming out of the hole. Keep the fire hot until the smoke and gases stop being released through the hole in the tin. This will take about an hour depending on the size of your fire and tin. Carefully remove the tin and leave to cool.

CREATE:  Use your charcoal to draw and decorate paper, wooden discs or stones. Compare the different materials. Which do you prefer for drawing?

CHALLENGE questions:
Measure your twigs before and after charing to record the changes in length. Alternatively, cut all the twigs from the same tree to the same length, e.g. oak 9cm, willow 12cm. Keep one of each of the twigs out of the tin to compare the length with the charcoal sticks later.
Does the volume and density of wood change after it has been transformed into charcoal?
Do different twigs change at different rates?
How many centimetres of drawing do you estimate 1cm of charcoal will produce?
Which type of wood produces the longest charcoal line?


A whole science lesson in one pop, and a healthy snack for all. IMG_4711

Before tucking into this popular campfire sharing snack, take some time to consider what is happening to change a kernel of corn into a piece of popcorn when it is heated.  There’s lots of thinking time to come up with some ideas about the science of heating and changes. The water inside the kernel is being heated into steam, causing the mini explosion as it tries to escape the confines of the kernel casing.

Cooking popcorn on a campfire:

Challenge children to cook popcorn on the campfire by giving them two sieves, a wooden pole and some wire to create the popcorn cooker themselves.

Place a handful of kernels in a sieve. Attach another sieve with wire to make a sphere. Add a wooden handle before holding over the fire embers to heat. 

Maths challenge: What happens to the weight of corn kernels after they have popped?



KS1: Find out how materials can be changed by squashing, bending, twisting and stretching

KS2: explain that some changes result in the formation of new materials, and that this kind of change is not usually reversible, including changes associated with burning

KS3: SCIENCE – Sc3 Materials and their properties and Sc4 Physical processes

Plant a rainbow

An edible rainbow of flowers and herbs can be enjoyed through the spring and summer months. Red lollo rosso, nasturtiums, marigold, rocket, borage and lavendar make a colorful culinary collection, a beautiful sight in the garden and an opportunity for all areas of learning.

Dig the patch for some healthy activity.
Mark out the space and divide into sections for each plant, or a pattern of planting for some designing and maths.
Research recipes for different edible flowers and herbs for English skills and reading.
Grow plants from seed and care for them, following the life cycle of plants through the seasons for science.
Take photographs and keep a record of your patch.
Mix a colour wheel of rainbow colours and paint your design, and your flowers as they grow for some creative, artistic activity.
Harvest your crops and make healthy snacks, following and creating new recipes.

Make a change

Continuing with the springtime theme of change and transformation, today is all about the power of making little changes in ourselves and noticing the world around us in a different way.

Change…your view. Use a small mirror placed across the bridge of your nose to see what is happening up above you. With a partner as a guide (linking arms and giving quiet, clear instructions to keep everyone safe). If you can be under the trees, imagine you are a squirrel looking for the best tree to build your drey. Or take a closer look at the clouds and what’s going on overhead above you (not suitable for bright sunshine).
Great for working together, listening carefully, looking with interest from a different perspective.


Change…your walk. Make cards from a selection of … like a spy, like a bee, like a deer, like a police officer, like a monkey, like a pirate, like a dinosaur, like a queen, like a robin, like a ballet dancer, like a spaceman, like a cat. Take turns to move in the way that your card tells you to move and ask others to guess your card.
Great for observing, being active and describing movements in preparation for descriptive writing.

Change…your expression. Explore what happens when you move around showing different facial expressions. How does it make you feel when you are smiling? When someone smiles at you? When you frown or look surprised?
Great for understanding the power of a smile and developing self-awareness.

Take a tiny seed

Springtime seed planting can carry on in gardens and window sills around the country. Here’s a couple of ideas for your seed planting.sunflower-seed-1213766__340

Create… a tiny masterpiece

seeds-1918001_640Look closely at tiny seeds to develop observation skills.
Make sketches of a range of seeds before sowing them in the garden or using them in seed bombs (below). The incredible range of shapes and sizes can be explored and represented through simple pencil and coloured pencil drawings. Or choose one seed to magnify for a large picture, scaling up a hundred times (is that a little maths hiding in an art activity?)


Grow… a quick winter salad

Plant quick-grow salad leaves in pots or a tray inside.  Cress is the familiar one but also try a range of more exotic micro salad leaves, like rocket and pea shoots (most seed companies now produce micro-leaf seed mixes and many are delivering on-line).
Micro leaves are usually ready to harvest within a week or two of sowing, a satisfyingly swift result for inquisitive children. 

The first leaves that emerge from a seed are called cotyledons, or seed leaves. The next pair are the true leaves of the plant. Some micro leaves are harvested as soon as the first seed leaves emerge, and others when the true leaves grow.

bloom-1239031_640 When your micro green leaves have grown, use to top a pizza, make a winter salad, or egg and cress sandwiches and enjoy!


Make… a seed “bomb”

Guerrilla gardening greens-up empty and abandoned areas with native wild plants or edible herbs and flowers, preferably bee and butterfly friendly varieties. A seed “bomb” is compost mixed with flour and water and your chosen mix of seeds. Once thrown and the seeds have begun to germinate, the components will slowly break apart. The soil will then provide a base for the seeds to start growing. 

Empty your chosen seeds into a bucket or tray.
Add compost to the bucket. Stir to mix everything together.
In another container, put the flour, add water stirring until you have a gloopy mixture, i.e. glue! (approximate ratios:  1 part seeds/ 6 parts compost/ 2 parts flour mixture).
Add the flour and water mixture to the compost and seeds mixture and stir it all together.
Gently roll the mix in the hand to form small balls.
Place the balls in a tray or box and allow them to dry for 24 hours. 

sunflower-4206171_640 Take to a neglected patch of soil to bring it back to life, checking out how the seeds are growing each week.