Wild garlic toast

Wild garlic toast: Delicious wild garlic leaves are gathered, rinsed and snipped, mixed with butter and spread onto bread, ready for toasting over the fire. A delicious speedy snack.


Check you are collecting wild garlic, and not lily of the valley, by smelling the distinctive garlicy leaves. Lily of the valley has similar looking leaves but is poisonous, so be sure. To forage sustainably, take leaves from different plants, leaving plenty for the plants to continue to grow healthily. Seeds can be bought to start your own crop, which grows easily and spreads happily.

Ingredients: wild garlic leaves, butter or margarine, bread.

Tools and utensils: bowl and fork for mixing, scissors for snipping, knife for spreading, toasting rack or campfire grill.

  1. Gently rinse the leaves to remove any dirt or little creatures.
  2. Cut the wild garlic leaves into small pieces.
  3. Mix with the butter or margarine in a mixing bowl.
  4. Cook toast on the campfire.
  5. Spread on the wild garlic butter and heat through.
  6. Enjoy your tasty snack.

Dandelion Days

It’s easy to ignore dandelions as just weeds, but they are also one of the most versatile teaching tools found in the garden. From making jars of delicious dandelion to understanding life cycles and writing poetry; all much more fun than weeding!


Dandelion honey: The dandelion is one of nature’s great survivors and is so much more than just a weed.  Its name comes from the French – “dent de lion“, meaning lion’s tooth, as the leaves are deeply serrated – a wonderfully bold and brave name. Dandelions have many uses – they have traditionally medicinal uses. Young leaves can be eaten in salads and stir-fries and are rich in vitamins and minerals. The flower heads can be used to make dandelion wine, while the bitter root can be dried to make a substitute for coffee.

Tastiest of all though is dandelion honey. Make sure you only pick dandelions for edible use in an area that is free from toxins, and leave some flower heads for the bees to make their own honey.

honey-352205_640Simply soak two cups of dandelion flowers in two cups of water over night. Strain to remove all the flower heads, and squeeze all the liquid from the petal pulp. Boil the flower water with the same weight in sugar. (Use the fact that 1ml of water weighs 1g to work out how much sugar you need.) When the sugar has dissolved keep mixing until it thickens, heating for longer depending on how runny you would like your honey. Transfer to a sterilised jar and allow to cool. Delicious on campfire toast.

Dandelion journey:  Dandelions move through their life cycle so quickly that they offer instant investigations, with simultaneous stages of growth often visible from bud to seed. A patch of un-mown and untended garden will almost always be home to a dandelion or two. Make and label observational drawings or take a series of “time-lapse” photos to chart the life cycle.

dandelion-5064638_640Dandelion dispersal: Dandelions seeds are blown by the wind, each seed has its own individual parachute. Wind is one of the main methods of seed dispersal and one of the most interesting to create a scientific investigation around, linking to forces in science, as well as plants. Can you make a parachute for items heavier than seeds, try out different designs, time how long they take to land and describe why the times are different?

BBC science clip – lifecycle of a dandelion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/zhrb4wx

Dandelion maths: Dandelions offer a great opportunity to work with really big numbers, scale, and measure in context. One dandelion plant can produce around 2,000 wind-dispersed seeds. Each individual seed head can produce around 50 to 170 seeds, each capable of becoming a new plant. The seeds are carried on the wind and can travel relatively long distances. Estimate the number of dandelions in your garden and calculate the potential number of dandelion flowers they could produce.

Blow a dandelion seed head, watch where the seeds go then measure the distance to where the farthest one lands.  Why might this distance change?

Dandelion poetry: Children often call the seed heads dandelion clocks, telling the time by the number of puffs it takes to remove all the seeds and disperse them in the wind, one o’clock, two o’clock…  a lovely way to reinforce the language of time. Challenge children to invent a dandelion clock rhyme or a dandelion clock shape poem with the words blowing off the page.


Muddy Maps

Using journey sticks on a familiar walk is the starting point for the most valuable experience to understand and create maps, which opens up a whole world of adventure and exciting learning opportunity. Getting familiar with your local green spaces is perfect for develop mapping skills, and provides children with an understanding of their local environment and a connection with the nature around them.

It is not the map that should make sense of the land, but the land
that will make a map for us. *

Start with your daily walk, following the Native American tradition of using journey sticks to mark the way.IMG_5063

Did you know…? The journey stick acted as a memory aid for travellers to find their way across harsh and rugged landscapes. Use your stick to create a vertical map, with items placed in order from top to bottom, each item giving a reminder of a turning or landmark on the journey. Journey sticks are also used to represent ‘chapters’ of a spoken story, each item a cue to direct the tale as it unfolds.

Carry a stick each, short or long, found or ‘borrowed’ from a broom or other household use. Attach treasures along the way, marking the stages of your journeying. At each stage of the journey stop, take a long deep breath, look around, listen, and share what you notice. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you.

He was all quietness. We had been all bustle.*

Look around to find a natural item to collect and attach on your stick; a leaf from a nearby tree, a blade of grass as you cross the field. The nimble fingered can tie these on with a length of string wound around the stick and knotted at intervals to secure the treasure.  For easier attaching, place a few elastic bands around the stick and tuck each treasure under the elastic. Add a ribbon or coloured band to personalise. The sticks themselves become works of art, much treasured and photographed to remember them at their prime, and to compare as they change with the curling, wilting and dropping of leaves and grasses over time.

A lucky few found a feather along the way, and others added to their treasures later with a man-made feather, using a piece of wire and two strips of masking tape.


Next time take your journey stick along on your walk, retrace your steps, remembering how the items on your stick relate to the environment around you. Which way do we go from here? Point in the right direction.
Try making your journey backwards, or pointing out the features you pass as you travel along.

Repeat the journey a few days or a week later to find out what has changed and what is the same? Which features are permanent and make good markers for your journey, and which are changeable and could lead to being sent off in the wrong direction. How have the sounds and smells changed? Which parts of the journey have remained strongly in your memory?

Even the best maps deliberately leave off nearly all of the detail in a landscape…don’t make the mistake of thinking that the map tells you all that you can see in your surroundings.*

Create a ‘muddy map’ of your journey outside on the floor, using natural treasures and found objects to represent features from your journey. Sticks can be used for paths, leaves for important trees, stones for buildings in any creative way you wish.  Talk about the map, talking through which parts of your journey are shown. This creates a great deal of insightful chatter about drawing and using maps.

Retrace the journey, using your imagination this time. Maybe you noticed a bird earlier along the way, flying overhead or observing from a tree. Decide which type of bird you are going to be (flying birds please: no penguins or ostriches or this part of won’t get off the ground!) Shake your feathers, unfold your wings and take off, up overhead, above the buildings and trees.

pixabay in Visualise section and not a big map picture in Share section bird-638112__340
Start by thinking about the places you visited on your journey. With eyes closed, talking through your journey, retracing your steps, but this time from above looking down on your pathway. What can you see? What do landmarks look like from above? What can you hear? Follow the journey in your imagination: feeling the weather, hearing the sounds, seeing the tops of the trees and the shapes of the path, the buildings, water, and all the places you passed. Describe the images you can see in your mind and how different features look from a bird’s eye view.

At the end of your journey come down safely to land, shake out your feathers and open your eyes. This imaginative journey is an important stage in understanding a bird’s eye view and how maps are drawn.

Draw your own bird’s eye view map on a big piece of paper, using colours and shared or newly created symbols for your key.



  • Go back on your journey with your map to check the positions of the features you have drawn.
  • Look at different maps and compare them to your own. How are they the same or different?
  • Introduce measurement and scale, and compass direction.
  • Guide others on a journey or set each other orienteering, treasure hunting and clue finding activities. Children who are familiar with a space and able to use a map have endless opportunities for adventures in outdoor and active learning.
  • Create new journey maps and imaginative journeys for story-telling about the places you can’t visit at the moment.

Louise Graham
Dragonfly Wood

*Quotes from Tristan Gooley: The Walker’s Handbook







Treasures and trails

Natural bracelets

Going on a sensory, nature walk to spot little natural treasures can include a little collecting along the way. Create a natural bracelet with a strip of fabric and double sided sticky tape to stick your mini treasures to as you find them. Look out for signs of spring turning to summer, observe the different colours and shades of the same colour around, touching and smelling plants as you wander by. Collect leaves, petals, small flowers, a feather to decorate your bracelet as a memory of your journey.

natural bracelet

Nature’s own trails: You may spot little creatures out on a treasure trail of their own.

Snail and slugs Look for the tell tale silvery trails left by these creatures. How do they generate the slime? Where do the trails lead? What kind of surfaces have the most trails? Why do you think this is? Are there any surfaces slugs and snails don’t seem to like?

We have tried adding broken up egg shells and used coffee to the edges of our seedlings patch to try to stop slugs and snails eating our plants. 

Ants follow their scent trail on their home or to a food source.  Try placing a slice of banana or small piece of apple a short way from their trail, then check back to see how long it takes them to find it. Try placing a large flat leaf or a small piece of paper across the trail. What happens? Does it confuse them? How long does it take them to reinstate their scent trail across it? What happens if you then turn the paper or leaf over?


Look up at the sky day

We’ve spent the weekend remembering to look up at the sky, celebrating the annual awareness day in April, gazing at stars and remembering a favourite campfire song.

We’ve taken a moment to lie back, relax and view the world from a new perspective.
Are the clouds heading in a particular direction, or telling a story with their shapes? How different do they look in changing weather conditions or times of the day.

We’ve viewed the sky from under the branches of a tree, through a cardboard tube and made a frame by placing our fingers together to ‘frame’ the view.
What does it make you think and feel? Does this change depending on the weather?

Not forgetting some night-time star-gazing too, with such bright clear nights and the days short enough to see dark skies before bedtime, it has been perfect for star, planet and meteor-spotting.

The relaxing weekend has reminded us of one of our favourite campfire songs, and started all sorts of conversations about journeys, travel and movement.

Emotions, Holidays, Vacations, Clouds

We’ll go north, we’ll go south,
We’ll go east, we’ll go west
In our green and yellow balloon.

In the sky way up high,
We can float, we can fly
In our green and yellow balloon.

green and yellow notes

This traditional song can be sung as a round or perpetual canon with singers starting at A,B,C or D. Make up a new verse to describe what happens and what can be seen on your own balloon journey.

Enjoy your trip!


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

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. 

What’ll I Whittle?


There is only one simple requirement to becoming a expert whittler – practice. Once you have got started this is very easy to come by because whittling is completely addictive. 




  • A knife. Everyone has a favourite but I don’t think you can go wrong by starting with an Opinel penknife (I like the round-ended for beginners) or a classic Swiss Army penknife (my trusty Hiker).
  • A sharpener to keep the knife at its best. A blunt whittling-291014_640knife is both difficult and unsafe to whittle with.
  • A piece of greenwood cut straight from the tree.  I scour the hedgerows for perfect pieces of ash, hazel, elder and sycamore to save before the cutters arrive to trim hedges. I do recommend asking first. It avoids those awkward conversations when neighbours come out to ask what you’re up to. Perfect branches that you won’t be using for a while can be cut to useful sizes and put in the freezer in a plastic bag for a rainy day.
  • Thumb/finger protectors. These can be cut from an old rigger glove, but the perfect homemade version is a few wraps around the thumb or finger of vet bandage. These always stay in place and can be removed and reused over and over again. The bright colours prevent them being lost.
  • Sandpaper of different grades.
  • A simple whittling guidebook is really useful for inspiration, for learning key terms so that you can talk like a whittler, and for the top tips that the well-practised are happy to pass on (all for under a tenner).
  • A simple tree ID book to distinguish your ash from your hazel.



General guidance for helping children with tool use:
1.Work in a safe space with plenty of room.
2. Kneel on the ground or sit on a steady seat.
3. Help children one-to-one.
4. Give clear instructions with good eye contact.
5. Wear a glove on the bracing hand and vet bandage on thumbs.
6. Touch the handle and never the blade.
7. Cut away from the body and to one side.
8. Check tools are clean and in good working order before put safely away when you have finished.


9. Keep shaves of wood to dry for perfect tinder and kindling for the campfire.


So what’ll you whittle? Try these out to practice your skills.


  • A forest friend – a few shaves of bark reveal a smooth ‘face’ ready to draw on eyes and mouth to bring your forest friend to life. Great for story-telling and play activities.
  • A cooking stick – peeling the bark of willow sticks presents a clean surface for spiralling bread dough around and baking over the scorching embers of the campfire.
  • Chop sticks – one of my favourites!  The perfect complement to a big bowl of campfire noodles.
  • Name block and name beads  – revealing the inner bark where a permanent pen can be used to inscribe a name or inspirational message.


When you are happy with the basics its time for a butter knife. A thin branch of hazel or ash can be crafted into shape with a little patience, and some sanding to smooth off the blade. Individuality abounds with each branch giving its own knife shape. Perfect for campfire toast.



The possibilities of longer projects for experts of all ages are endless and can include spoons, more detailed animals with feather stick tails, bows, totems and indeed any piece of kit that creative and resourceful minds can think of while out enjoying the joys and challenges of the woodland. There are many expert books to inspire your projects once you’ve got the bug … and you will!




Can’t see the sticks for the trees.

Spring 2016

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 11.43.05“Oh no children I forgot the paintbrushes!

How will we paint the woods today?”

The children coming to forest school think I’m very forgetful (and let’s be honest they’re often right), but forgetting the paintbrushes, or another important piece of kit, has become a regular “problem” for us. We’ve been painting the trees to wake them up for spring, and the children love this activity so much they have lots of suggestions to resolve my forgetfulness.

“I’ll go back.” There is always a thoughtful, helpful child or adult in the group.

“We’ll use our fingers.” That particular child would have used their fingers, paintbrush or no paintbrush, but maybe we don’t want to get quite that messy so early today.

“Let’s do something different.” “NO! the trees need us to wake them up.”

“We can make some paintbrushes.” Great idea. Now how will we do that?

trolleyMy trusty forest school trolley has become a resource box of useful bits and bobs. The scaled up version of the ever-ready Boy Scout’s pocket. The tools box, different strings and fabrics, scissors, freshly dug clay, paper pots combined with found natural gems in and around the wood (including sheep’s wool from a neighbour’s farm today). It makes for a treasure trove, inspiring paintbrush design in all corners of the wood.

Being resourceful is one of the greatest skills we allow children to develop at forest school. They spend so much of their time having activities beautifully prepared, ready on a plate. Having to choose what you need, how you will get it and how to connect all the bits together gets the cogs turning that bit faster.

So now we are searching for the natural materials we need to make a brush. Some are going for stick and leaves, others sheep wool with muslin stretched over the top, some very pretty fern brushes and all tied on using string from the trolley and newly acquired knotting skills, and various levels of perseverance when the first knot slips away from little fingers. Some children are already waking up the trees with some muddy mix paint, and a splash of (non-toxic) colour.

 And just when I thought no-one was going to ask….

“Louise, I can’t find a stick. Can you help me?”

You’d be surprised just how often I hear this. In the woods. Surrounded by trees. Acres of them. There are a number of responses that spring to mind, and it can be challenging not to sound patronising when pointing out where we are, and asking if we know where sticks come from. Or picking up one nearby and suggesting “How about this one?” But today I was asked by one of my cub scouts. And she stopped me in my tracks because she knows where we are, where sticks come from and she doesn’t tend to rely on adult help to get stuck in.

So I thought a bit harder about the question. What is she asking? And I found there are lots of interpretations beyond simply not being able to see the sticks for the trees, or wanting the nearest grown up to do the job for you.

  1. Checking the rules – “I can find a stick but I can’t reach it, within the area I know we can collect from and because I always keep to the rules, I need you to bring the loppers or let me go past the yellow rope. Please. I’m just building up to asking you because I really want that stick.”
  2. Polite – “There is the perfect stick in your trolley but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to use your one. Would it be ok, because now that I’ve seen it, no other stick is good enough.”
  3. Special stick – “I can’t find a very particular stick which is this shape / colour / size in my mind and as yet hasn’t popped out at me in my search. You know the woods, so can you point me in the right direction? Please.”
  4. I have a different plan – “The stick isn’t as important as everyone else thinks and I have a new paintbrush design in my mind, but I just need to confirm that going outside the box will be ok. My heart isn’t in finding a stick because I am about to break new ground.”

So often the most important skill is listening. We tell children this all the time and then make assumptions about the questions they ask without listening and interpreting and exploring exactly what they mean. All too often we can’t hear the children for the words. But on reflection I now have lots of new responses to “Can you help me find a stick?” and we have all learnt a little bit more about being resourceful today. Allowing these children to explore the boundaries of their resourcefulness has shown their passion and creativity, developed their problem-solving and negotiation. And helped me to listen. Really listen.

Thank goodness I forgot the paintbrushes today.


Louise Graham