Play time: outdoor activities for kids
As the school holidays loom, it’s time for children to get back to nature. Samantha Laurie highlights some great opportunities for outdoor play. PLUS how kids can get their act together in theatreland
Deep in the woodland of Winkworth Arboretum, near Godalming, there is a small clearing with the smoky remains of a campfire circle and a dozen small shelters of sticks and bark.
“Hazel,” nods my guide, Jon Millington. “Perfect for den building…and whistle making.”
Tucked away from the bluebell and orchid-fringed pathways, this is home to a new type of children’s holiday camp – one based entirely outdoors where campfires, camouflage, blindfold trails, mud masks and tracking are the order of the day.
Wild Learning runs day camps for 5-12 year olds at five sites, including Winkworth, Claremont Landscape Garden, near Esher, and Holmwood Common, near Dorking. Only the most extreme weather leads to cancellation.
“Rain is good,” insists Jon. “Rain just means more mudslides and better shelters. We show them that it’s not the weather, but your reaction to it, that determines how much fun you can have.”
The camps are based on an adapted version of Forest Schools, a Scandinavian teaching approach most common in early years settings. Typically, it entails a six-week programme whereby children visit a local wild place once a week, gradually becoming familiar with it. Ideally, they continue to visit through different seasons.
Getting parents behind the idea is critical, says environmental educationalist, Cath Mukhopadhyay, who runs workshops for parents and children on Ham Common and in Richmond Park.
“Lots of parents are quite removed from nature. They don’t like the insects and bugs, or the dirt, and they pass that on to their children. If you can just get them over that, they really see the benefits,” she insists.
Outdoor play tops the agenda for the National Trust too. This summer it launches a roving team of super-rangers to teach children traditional play skills, such as tree climbing, stone-skimming and den building, across its various sites.
“It’s not so much what children know about nature,” says Jon Millington. “It’s what happens to them when they’re in it. We need to show them how to enjoy the natural world.
“Who is going to care for our woodlands and forests in the future if today’s kids have never played in them?”
Wild Learning in Godalming runs holiday clubs and ‘wild’ birthday parties for learning with the opportunity to get very muddy. Children aged 5 to 12 can do a day, a few days, or a week of running around outside. Activities include learning about knots, making wattle fences and constructing shelters. They promise that every day will be different and parents regularly praise them for sending their children home completely exhausted. Their family days are the two weekend days from 10 to 4 and cost £25 per person. A standard day at holiday camp runs from 10.15am to 4pm for £35, or extended to 5.50pm for £7.50 extra. Book three or more places for discounts. Visit: wild-learning.net
Eastwood Nursery School in Roehampton, one of the most established urban forest schools in the country, is running a Forest School summer play scheme throughout the holidays at Richmond Park and in the grounds of Roehampton Univeristy. Children will spend most of the day outside and activities include camp fires, pond dipping, nature arts and crafts, tree climbing and wading in the river. Visit: urbanforestschool.co.uk.
Kingston Forest School runs a two-hour under 5′s Forest School Tots session at either 10am or 1pm on Tuesdays from September 4 with parents/carers accompanying children. Its Saturday Forest School Club for 5-8 years old at 10.00am to 12noon starts on September 8. Forest school leader Cath Mukhopadhyay will be running a Woodland Wander session on Sunday September 16 starting at Ham Nature Reserve (at the end of Latchmere Lane) at 10.15pm to encourage families to discover and identify flora and fauna and to learn practical skills. Cost £10 per person, £20 for family of three.
Join Surrey Wildlife Trust for a three-mile guided walk for families on Wisley Common, Ockham and Chatley Heath with survival games and den-building on Thursday August 2. The walk is from 10am-1pm and the meeting point is Pond Car Park, Old Lane. The Trust also runs environmental birthday parties for children on Saturdays and during the school holidays at its education centre in Nower Wood, Leatherhead. The themed parties for 5-10 year olds include bushcraft, treasure hunts, minibeast hunts and woodland survival and cost £12.50 per child with a minimum of 10 children. Call 01372 379 509. Visit: surreywildlifetrust.org
A South Nuffield Farmer has recently converted his farm in Nutfield into a conservation area and is offering free educational trips to local groups. Visitors to Bower Hill Farm can enjoy tractor rides, pond dipping and a picnic by the lakes. More educationally focused trips can include studying natural habitats and life cycles, even recording data. To book, call Guy Amos on 01737 822 639. For more details on the educational trips, visit: bowerhillfarm.co.uk
It’s looking good in theatreland. Box office records, a glut of critically acclaimed plays and the emergence of a new theatregoer with a seemingly insatiable appetite for the West End experience: the child.
Big hitters like Wizard of Oz and Shrek the Musical are keeping the tills ringing. Yet it wasn’t like this a decade ago – and Teddington resident, Emma de Souza has played no small part in the turnaround.
It’s 15 years since Emma, from The Society of London Theatre, pitched a novel idea to her members: a summer week of discounted tickets for children, plus backstage activities to help them taste the excitement of a live West End show.
“I was in Evita when I was very little,” she enthuses: “The sheer thrill and wonder of being part of a big show like that is something I want children to experience.”
It was an uphill struggle, but eventually she persuaded the producers of An Inspector Calls to offer a walk-on part to a participating child. Kids Week was born. This year it runs for the entire month of August. One child under 16 can go free with every adult to over 38 shows, with two further child tickets at half price.
But the real excitement comes with the programme of events free to kids with show tickets: vocal workshops on the set of We Will Rock You; dance sessions from the choreographers of Ragtime the Musical; a Q&A talk about War Horse with its author Michael Morpurgo; a backstage tour of the Spamalot set; a puppet workshop at The Lion King. And there are workshops on poster design, lighting and theatre marketing too. On with the show!
Tickets will be released gradually through kidsweek.co.uk