I’m hoping that by the time you read this, Leicester will be out of local lockdown. The thought of spending August stuck in the city, unable to have any days out or a holiday must fill many of you with dread. As much as I love our city, I do long for a yearly trip away to the seaside. I love the sea air, open water swimming, camping under canvas and carefree time with family and friends. A week away in August helps me to unwind and get ready to face autumn with positivity.

I hope each of you gets a break from the monotony of lockdown soon. It’s been a hard ride hasn’t it. We never could have predicted the lockdown would go on for quite this long. It’s still hard to predict what the autumn will bring. I’ve decided that I won’t be returning to running sessions just yet and my business is likely to shift and evolve as I change and grow too. (see the final few paragraphs for details) I’m getting more comfortable with this stange pause we have been in for the past five months, it’s definately given me lots of thinking time and I’m now seeing life in a more positive light and I hope you are too.

This month’s blog post suggests you spot butterflies, toast up some goodies on the campfire, make funny food faces, try making herbal teas and brush up on your knowledge of the plants around you. I hope you find something of interest here to bring some nature-fulled joy to your August days.

August the month of sunflowers and (hopefully) sunshine!

Go on a nature walk – Butterfly spotting

I went on a country walk with my family last week. We followed a footpath along a beautiful hedgerow between two cornfields. This hedgerow was so rich in diversity, with many different trees, bushes and wild flowers. I honestly don’t think an award winning gardener could have designed anything more beautiful. British hedgerows are one of my favourite natural environments. This one was particularly special as it was home to so many moths and butterflies. They emerged in clouds all around us. Landing on our clothes and amazing us with their delicate, intricate colours and patterns. We had never really seen anything quite like it before.

Check out this beauty on the clover

This experience led the kids and I to wonder about the different types of butterflies and moths we saw and we tried to identify some of them. This type of natural learning experience is really valuable and far more memorable than book learning. You can find lots of resourses online, the wildlife trust have a range of useful and free spotter sheets, such as the one below.

A moth camoflaged on my dress!

Extension activities

  1. Try going on a walk especially to spot butterflies and moths.
  2. Think about areas near you that may be good places for sightings. Consider places with lots of wild flowers and beautiful hedgerows.
  3. Have a look on local OS maps and plan your route. Can you plan a circular walk?
  4. Take photos of what you find.
  5. You may also like to photograph the wild flowers you see and add these to your hunt too.
  6. Identify and name your finds once you get home using a spotter sheet, a book or the internet.
  7. Can your photos inspire some artworks too? Do you feel inspired to try some drawing, painting, collage or sculpture based on what you see?
  8. You may also be interested to take part in the Butterfly conservation Big Butterfly count. Choose a day between Friday 17 July and Sunday 9 August and spend 15 minutes spotting butterflies and moths. Record which species you see. You can find out more and send in your findings https://bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org/

Try a forest school activity – Peel a stick and toast a campfire snack

Who doesn’t love a campfire! Sitting around a fire with friends is one of my favourite things to do on a warm evening. There is something timeless and comforting about campfires and the smell of woodsmoke. To elevate this even further, add food and everyone is in heaven!

You can buy kebab sticks to toast bread, marshmallows, sweets or apple slices on a campfire. Or you can get the kids to peel and whittle their own sticks. This keeps them occupied for ages and is a good activity to develop fine motor skills.

Using a potato peeler is a great way to introduce this activity. I’d leave whittling sticks with a knife until your children have been taught how to do this safely at forest school . Knives can be dangerous. But not much can go wrong with a potato peeler, as long as the child remembers to only push the peeler away from them and is sitting down and well supervised throughout. A freshly cut stick works better than older wood, experiment with which sticks peel well.

Whittling the bark away also helps to remove any germs that may be on your stick. Putting them into the fire will help kill any germs too! if you are concerned, wrap tinfoil around your stick before adding the edibles.

As long as they are well supervised, kids can then toast over the fire using their homemade sticks. At forest school, I’ve also made special sticks like in the photo below, that extends the distance from the fire and help keep little hands safe.

Using fire sticks to toast apple pieces over a tiny fire at forest school.

Get creative – Funny faces

Collect natural materials and put them together to make a funny face! This is a simple and fast activity suitable for even very young children. What objects can you use to represent your features? What in nature looks a bit like your eyebrows, your lips, your hair or your nose!

Extension activities

  1. Set a time limit for collecting the natural items and make it a race.
  2. It may help to draw a face outline for your child to fill in.
  3. Maybe you can do faces for all the family or even do the whole body! Can you do your family pets too?
  4. Can you use only edible leaves, berries and flowers for your funny face and eat it afterwards?
  5. On a rainy day you could do this with foods in your kitchen to encourage your kids to eat a range of fruit and veg. Maybe try mushroom slices for ears, olives for eyes, humous hair or a carrot stick for a nose.
  6. Can you take a selfie with your funny face like the photo above?

Gardening activity – Homegrown herbal teas

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved to make herbal teas and potions in the garden. Some of my earliest memories involve crushing up rose petals and pouring water over them to make tea or perfume. I remember sucking the sweet nectar out of dead nettles and nibbling experimentally on mint leaves.

Teaching yourself and your children some basics about what to touch, play with and eat in the garden is pretty important. Lots of plants are edible and delicious but some are poisionous, so it is important that you arm yourself with some knowledge. I’ve recommended a few good reference books further down this post.

I encourage lots of self-set and freely seeding herbs in my garden. Herbs have many medicinal and edible uses and I’m increasingly fascinated by their power.

We like to make fresh herb tea out of lemon balm, mint or fennel, all of which grow really well in our garden. It’s so easy and great fun to try with your kids. These fresh herb teas tend to be subtle in taste but are pretty, fun and healthy. Make sure you’ve checked that the herbs or flowers you plan to use are suitable and don’t have any containdications that apply to you (For example some are not suitable in pregnancy or if you are breast-feeding)

How to make a herbal tea. Simply, pick your herbs, chop or rip them into pieces and let the fresh herbs seep in boiling water for 5 -10 minutes before straining them out and adding honey or sugar if liked. Alternatively you can dry your herbs in bunches in a cool, dark, well ventilated place to enjoy the herbal goodness for a longer season.

Lemon balm tea with borage flower for decoration.

Ideas for books to read

This month’s book recommendations are for the adults. Following on from the herbal teas post, I thought i’d suggest a few of the reference books. They will help you to learn about edibles you are likely to find in your garden and hedgerows.

Also, if you want help identifying plants, a free app that I use on an almost daily basis is called Candide. If you find a plant you don’t know, you just take a photo in the app on your smart phone and it identifies it for you. I find this a great way to learn and widen my knowledge with ease.

Useful reference book with simple and lovely illustrations
Contains photos and recipes for a wide variety of British plants

A Permaculture principle for August – Creatively use and respond to change

“Vision is not seeing things as they are, but as they will be”

Permaculture association

The natural world is constantly in a state of change. Everything journeys through stages of inspiration, growth, letting go, and transformation. I’ve come to the realisation that our human lives are no different, we need to flow with these changes and not hold on tightly to familiarity, just because we fear change.

2020 is not unfolding as I’d expected. This year has thrown us headlong into unpredicatable change. Best laid plans were rendered useless by the virus and the resulting social changes. I thought my business was sustainable and secure, but I was wrong. All my work depended on gathering groups of people together, so I’ve been unable to work since March. We never could have anticipated that this would happen and it’s been really hard.

There are still so many necessary restrictions in place that massively affect my business. My groups would have to change beyond all recognition in order to be able to run at the moment. Advice for covid-secure activities and equipment for outdoor education is very restrictive. We’d be so limited in group numbers that running parent and child sessions is just not financially viable for me at the moment.

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that I won’t be running regular groups for the duration of this year. I’ve decided it’s best not to rush to return to work until I can so safely with my ethics and integrity intact. I will continue to look at ways I can do this as and when the guidance allows.

This pause does give us a unique opportuity to make changes in our lives. Nature shows us that change is an inevitable part of life. Although it’s taken me a long time to embrace the changes that have occured this year, I’m getting there.

My love of nature, walking and creativity is keeping me busy and sane! My interest in foraging, women’s circles and herbal medicine is growing. I’m studying online and loving it and I’m excited to add this knowledge to my offerings in the future.

I’m feeling like I’m beginning to be able to respond to change in a positive way. The beauty in running my own business, is that it can change and grow. I can change in allignment with my skills and interests as well as responding to the needs of my customers. So please do continue to follow my evolution, I will be continuing these monthly blog posts and I’m sure the future holds many exciting changes for us all.