Seed Gathering Season

The first four weeks of autumn is seed gathering season and whether you are collecting flower, vegetable or tree seeds, many can be planted now, while others can be stored and labelled for planting next year.

Flower and vegetable seeds
Most seeds are ready to collect when they have turned from green to brown and would naturally be about to fall or spread. Shake small flower seeds directly into envelopes or paper bags. Dry out vegetable seeds completely before storing in a dry, cool place for spring. It’s always worth trying the seeds from your favourite apple of the season, the best pumpkin in the crop and the tallest sunflower of the summer.

Tree seeds
Tree seeds like acorns, conkers and beech masts, that may otherwise be eaten or land in the wrong conditions to germinate, can be planted and given some protection. Check which ones are most likely to grow by putting them in water first; the seeds that sink are the good ones, and the ones that float can be discarded. They can usually be planted straight away, giving a chance to get roots started in the still warm soil, before the winter and frosts set in. Pop a pinecone into soil, give a little water and the seeds snuggly tucked inside will begin to take root and sprout. A great start to growing your own future forest.

Harvesting with care
Collect seeds with your natural neighbours in mind; the birds, mice and other mammals that rely on gathering their own harvest every autumn will need enough to see them through the winter months. Jays and squirrels will be busy hiding tree seeds, some of which will be forgotten and start blooming in the spring alongside your own.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup is easy to make, free to forage and provides a boost to the immune system to ward of winter flu. There’s still just enough time to collect an autumn harvest.

2 cups berries
¼ cup water
 ½ cup honey
add spices to taste: 2tbs ginger, cinnamon stick, 5 cloves

Elderberry syrup

The elder tree is a native summer beauty with a long rich history of sharing its beneficial blooms and berries. The flower’s full blooms mark the beginning of summer and by the end of the season a harvest of berries are ripe and ready to collect.

Elderflower blossom collected in early summer can be sweetened and boiled for elderflower cordial, or if you have the patience, wait for the fruits to make a centuries old flu syrup to boost your immune system for winter.

Harvest the berries when they are all deep purple and hanging heavily from the branch.
Old English and Danish lore will tell you to be sure to ask the elder and give thanks for any harvests to keep on the good side of the Elder Mother. O Elder Mother, if I may, I must take a bite of your forest.

Cook or freeze the berries within 12 hours, dipping and rinsing first. The easiest way to remove the berries from the stems is to freeze them in a bag and bang them free when frozen. Boil the ingredients together, allow to cool and strain the juice, before bottling and storing. Elderberry syrup is rich in antioxidants and makes a perfect flu remedy for winter. Add winter spices and honey to your own taste for an extra-tasty natural medicine.

Early summer elderflowers in bloom make tasty cordial.

Butterflies and Nettles

connect

When a patch of nettles is left to flourish butterflies and moths can safely lay their eggs amongst the stingers, allowing summer life in the garden to blossom. The humble Urtica dioica has many uses – fantastic fertiliser for the garden, nutritious soup for the family, vitamin rich tea and an opportunity for some natural crafting. In summer when the nettles are long and the butterflies have already flown, choose the longest stems to cut for cord, leaving plenty for next year’s caterpillars.

Harvesting nettle bark

Wear gloves to protect your hands from the stings, pulling off all the leaves in one motion down the stem. Keep the leaves in a bucket to make garden feed later. The stings will have been removed with the leaves but use your gloves to wipe over the stems to be sure. For cord you need the ‘bark’ of the stem. To remove the bark, split the stem down the middle with a knife (or a strong fingernail), breaking the stem open. Peel the inside of the stem away from the outside, trying to keep the outside bark in strips as long as possible. (Any inside stem, or pith, is not needed and can be added to your bucket and covered with water to soak for a liquid fertiliser.)

Twisting or plaiting into cord

If the harvested bark has dried out, dip it in water to rehydrate. Strands can be plaited together to create a strong length of cord. Or for a thinner, longer length, twist the cord by holding the end of one long strip of bark and twisting the cord between thumb and forefingers. Some cord makers prefer to lay the bark on their leg and twist by pressing down and pushing the bark away. Allow the bark to twist into its own curves, making a strong doubled cord. Overlap the next piece with one side of the twisting cord by a few centimetres to allow the cord to be made longer. The cord is strong for garden jobs or more crafting projects.

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An ABC of Learning Naturally: Moments, Nature, Opening the window

Natural learning is all about following natural curiosity, learning by experiencing, connecting with nature and valuing a creative approach. At the centre of the natural learning ethos lies the importance of caring for yourself, for each other and for the world around us.

M is for Moments
Mindful moments encourage calmness, a sense of wellbeing and build resilience. Quiet time for everyone might be together or separate, might be with a book or some colouring pencils, listening to gentle music, sitting under a tree. Have some every day. Some people simply can’t live without a little time to switch off and press reset, and everyone benefits.

97-256Practise stillness Find a space to sit  and be silent for a short period of time, closing eyes, listening to sounds. Be aware of breathing in and out, plants rustling, the wind and weather, birds and insects. Share your experiences and feelings by talking and drawing sound pictures of the nature you heard.
97-256Breathing tree Find a tree to put your arms comfortably round. Imagine the life forces within the tree: the sap moving, the roots drawing up the water, the leaves converting sunlight into food, the tree “breathing” – taking in carbon dioxide, giving out oxygen. Imagine listening to your tree drink – if you could put a powerful stethoscope on its bark, you might hear a crackling sound as the water moves up through the tubes beneath the bark. Talk to your tree and say thank you for its contribution to life on Earth. Take a deep breath of the air around you.
97-256Memory scents Breathing in a specific smell can invoke memories and instantly transport us back to important times or places. Smell scented herbs or flowers , breathe in and focussing on the scent of each. Can you describe the scent? Does it remind you of anything?


IMG_5435N is for Nature
Being outside is essential for wellbeing and whatever the weather take time outside every day. Notice bugs, hear birds, spot changes and use your daily walk as an inspiration for your learning. Bring small, natural treasures home or take photographs as you walk to use later to begin your story-telling and map-making adventures. Starting a nature table inside celebrates the time spent outside, and begins a museum of natural wonders to spark investigations, questions and discoveries.

 

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O is for Opening the window
Often. Look outside and up at the sky in daytime or night time to observe the clouds, the stars, the birds and the changing colours. Learn the constellations, spot patterns in the clouds, predict the weather, perform with the birds, paint what you see or what you can imagine – hot air balloons, dragons, shooting stars.

 

Next time: Play, Questions, Records

Louise has taught in classrooms of all shapes and sizes, as a primary school teacher, forest school leader and trainer, outdoor learning consultant and researcher. She writes resources and stories for outdoor and woodland learning adventures using the natural learning ethos.

An ABC of Learning Naturally: Games, Happiness and Individuals

img_3979G is for Games
Get out the cards, the dice and the board games to share together. Teach each other the games you know and make up new ones. Check through the recycling pile for cereal boxes and bottle lids and a new game or two can be created while covering all the skills for the day from measuring squares on the board, writing the rules, developing co-operation and creating artistic decorations across your board. Natural materials make perfectly unique counters and starting materials.

This native American stick game uses twigs wrapped with raffia and walnut shells filled with wax and coloured beads . Roll the walnuts and win sticks according to how many land with the wax facing up and down. Simple changes to other traditional games like mancala and noughts and crosses are a great starting point for creating new games.

H is for a Happiness and health
Keep happiness and health as first priorities, especially when there are other challenges to consider. Relaxation is important every day for everyone (children, teenagers, parents: everyone). Weekend, holiday and downtimes are crucial, whether at home or elsewhere, these times feel different and give brains and bodies time to reboot. Learning time sticks better when we smile, so focussing on the joyful stuff is a win win all round.

I is for Individual
You, your children and your family have their own individual needs, quirks, skills and interests so play to your strengths and enjoy this time when you can follow your own path. There is no right way. Building learning around something you already love, whether it’s ballet, big cats, bridges or bumblebees, provides a motivation where other skills (like reading and writing) can be hidden. Go with what you love and share your enthusiasm.

Next time: Journeys, Kindness, Listening
Louise has taught in classrooms of all shapes and sizes, as a primary school teacher, forest school leader and trainer, outdoor learning consultant and researcher. She writes resources and stories for outdoor and woodland learning adventures using the natural learning ethos

An ABC of Learning Naturally: Discovery, Everyone and Flexibility

Natural learning is all about following natural curiosity, learning by experiencing, connecting with nature and valuing a creative approach. At the centre of the natural learning ethos lies the importance of caring for yourself, for each other and for the world around us. Find the A, B and C here.

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D is for Discovery
Leave out an item to be discovered to prompt natural curiosity– a map, a photograph, an old camera, a broken item that can be taken apart or fixed, a poem, a picture of a bug, a piece of sport equipment, some fabric squares… any object can spark some interest and take you into a new conversation or creation. Great items that may be unfamiliar to children (borrowed or picked up second hand) like a typewriter, pasta maker or slide projector, left out to be discovered set the creative cogs turning.

 

E is for Everyone
Having an audience is an important motivator so get others involved: family, friends and neighbours. Share learning you have done together, telephoning, asking others to set challenges and reporting back the next day, send a photo postcard by email or snail mail, put a poster in your window or on your gate. Taking part in events and awards – OPAL science data collections, Blue Peter badge applications, poetry competitions, National days – provide their own motivation and audience. Writing a letter to your favourite author or a postcard to a friend overseas can provide exciting replies.

F is for Flexibility
Some kind of routine is important, but with flexibility for when an unexpected turn is taken, learning goes off in a new direction, the weather changes or a plan goes pear-shaped. Times to eat, sleep, relax, walk and tidy up give structure and a daily music time to sing or listen to a song and reading time on a comfy chair punctuate the day. Timetables can help if you like coloured felt tips, but can give an unrealistic sense of how much can be achieved in one day. Let the learning provide the pace, which will be different for everyone and allows more of the important, unplanned learning to seep in.

Next time: Games, Happy, Individual
Louise has taught in classrooms of all shapes and sizes, as a primary school teacher, forest school leader and trainer, outdoor learning consultant and researcher. She writes resources and stories for outdoor and woodland learning adventures using the natural learning ethos.

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.

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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?