May is my absolute favourite month. I can always find something positive to say about every month (apart from maybe February!) but May holds a really special place in my heart. In May, it is often warm enough to spend whole days outside. BBQ’s and camp-outs can begin and the gardening year ramps up. As May begins, you have all the summer months ahead of you. It feels like a time of unlimited possibilities and nature fuelled joy!
However, let’s be honest for a moment, this year feels very different. We are heading into another month of lockdown and many of us have lost our income, worried about our health, are missing family members isolating elsewhere and some of us have lost loved ones to the virus. It’s such a strange and scary time. I’m still riding a rollercoaster of good and bad days and I expect you are too. My best days are when I can stay away from the media and focus on my loves, my home and my garden. We are getting into a new rhythmn of lazy mornings, school work, bread-making, gardening, wrangling the kids, zoom calls, local walks and tackling long-put off DIY jobs. It could be much much worse.
More than ever before, time in nature calms me, soothes my soul and brings me such joy. Taking my morning coffee into the garden everyday is a ritual that starts my day on a positive note. Watching the sun peep over the fence and the birds visiting the bird feeder helps me to keep my worries in perspective.
Getting my hands into the dirt and just pottering about, weeding, watering and planting really helps too. Gardening is a really hopeful pastime and a show of faith in a positive future. Keep positive my friends.
Activities for this month include; making binoculars, trying sun or shadow pictures, being resourceful in your planting ideas and making bubble wands. I do hope that you will try some of these and I’d love to see what you get up to.
Thanks to everyone who sent me messages and photos of the art, craft and nature activities you got up to during April. I always love to hear from you all and seeing the amazing activities you have been up to.
I also want to say a big thank-you for everyone for being so kind and understanding about cancelled sessions during the shutdown. All refunds have now been issued. We are all in this together, we are all feeling the effect of the financial, mental, physical and practical changes we are forced to make due to the virus. It’s not an easy time, but hopefully you can begin to see some positives too coming out of these dark times.
Go on a nature walk – Bird spotting
I am currently obsessed with watching the visitors to my bird feeders. So many birds visit each day, we have a regular pair of pigeons, along with robins, blue tits and even the occasional gold finch and long tailed tit. An acrobatic troop of squirrels also visit us daily and steal all the bird feed they can before being chased off by my cats.
Observing the natural world in this simple way is a really relaxing pass time and so educational too. To help encourage a love of birds, maybe you’d like to try making some binoculars and taking them out on a bird spotting walk? All you need for this activity is a few toilet roll tubes, coloured paper, old magazines, stickers, a hole punch, some wool, scissors and glue.
How to make your binoculars. Spend some time decorating the tubes with whatever you have to hand. If you don’t fancy collage, then you can paint or draw all over the tubes. Once they are ready, then use tape to attach them together and punch holes for wool to make loop for around your neck.
I encourage parents to make a pair of their own alongside their child. It’s lovely to both be fully engaged in a hands on activity, rather than the parent watching over and ‘helping’ their child. Let them make their own mistakes and express themselves in whatever way they wish.
Then take your binoculars out for a birdwatching walk. As well as being a fun prop, looking through binoculars helps to focus children’s attention. Kids love peeping through something !
- Try making a telescope instead and have a look at far away objects or maybe you can even stay up late and look at the stars and moon!
- Can you write a list of the birds or draw the birds that you spot?
- Put some food out for the birds in your garden and think about what sort of bird you see most often. Which is your favourite?
- Start being aware of bird song you can hear in your garden, out your window or on your walks. Do you recognise any of the songs? Can you identify the bird from its song?
- Search for ‘dawn chorus’ on you tube or Spotify and listen to some wonderful birdsong while you are at home.
Try a forest school activity – Making bubble wands
A fun activity you may like to try this month is making a bubble wand. You will need; short sticks (I use willow but any straight sticks you find would be fine) garden or household wire, pipe-cleaners, wool, beads and bubble mixture. You can adapt the decorating materials to use what you have available.
How to make your wand. Start by cutting about 30cm of wire and making a small loop in the centre of the wire, Make this loop as smooth as possible, any kinks in the wire make it harder to blow successful bubbles. Now take the two ends and thread 5 or 6 beads through, right up to the loop of wire. The beads make it look nice but also stop the wool or pipe-cleaners dipping into your bubble mix each time and soaking up all the bubble mix! Now attach the ends of wire onto your stick by twisting them round. Now use pipe-cleaners or wool to decorate your wand. Dip the loop into bubble mix and try blowing bubbles.
- Experiment with making bigger wands by using a bigger stick and larger loop of wire.
- Have a go at making more than one loop of wire, so that your wand can make multiple bubbles with one blow.
- Think up some different ways of decorating your wands. Can you use paint, collage or stickers? What other decoration ideas do you have?
- Take your wand out to the park with you, watch the bubbles float away, how far do they go before they pop?
- Try this on a windy day and see if the wind can blow the bubbles for you. What happens if you move your arm around? What happens when the wind blows?
- Who can blow the best bubbles in your family? Maybe make a bubble wand each and have a bubble competition!
Get creative – Sun and shadow pictures.
One activity that I love to do with my groups on a sunny day is Sun pictures. I love photography and I love natural objects, this activity combines the two so it is so much fun. It is also a great way to introduce photographic techniques to children and teach about the power of the sun.
Sunpaper is available to buy online, you can usually find it via Amazon or from the online arts company called Specialist crafts. If you can’t get sun paper, don’t worry, I’ll explain an alternative activity as well using just paper, pencils and the light from the sun.
Sun pictures- You will need; a sunny and still day. Sun paper, natural objects, a bowl and water.
How to make a sun picture. Go on a nature walk and look for objects with interesting shapes. Try to focus on shape and choose leaves, flowers, grasses, shells etc with interesting outlines. Find the objects you want to use and take them home.
Find a sunny place outdoors out of any breeze. You really need to choose a still day for this activity. It can be really frustrating if an unexpected gust of wind blows your paper over and destroys your picture!
The sunpaper reacts to light, so be ready to ask quickly as soon as you take the sunpaper out of its special bag or box. Place the paper down in a sunny spot and put your found objects onto it. You will see the deep blue of the paper fading towards a lighter blue or white over a few minutes. After about 2 or 3 minutes, the colour should stop fading and you can quickly take the objects off and put your paper into your bowl of water.
Place this bowl out of the sun now and leave it for 5 minutes or longer. Then put your paper somewhere to dry and you will see the colours have changed again.
Alternative activity – If you don’t have sun-paper, you can also explore the power of the sun by making shadow drawings.
How to make a shadow drawing – Choose a sunny day, grab some paper and pens and some toys with interesting and striking outlines. Wooden or plastic toy animals are great. Place your objects so that their shadows fall onto your paper. Try drawing around the shadows. Try colouring in the shadows. Chat about how shadows are made. Maybe try this at a few different times of day and explore how the shadows change and how this is linked to where the sun is.
- Talk about what has happened to the paper and why the power of the sun helped you make a picture.
- Sun-pictures make great gifts for people you love. Try framing your favourite creation or make it into a card to put on your wall or give as a present.
- Can you use your objects to create a scene? A house, a beach or a tree?
- Maybe you’d like to try using objects to make your name or another word? Find sticks to make straight lines, bits of curved leaves for the curly shapes or circular objects for the letter O. Try out some ideas first before placing on the sun-paper.
- Talk about the power of the sun. What changes do we see on our skin as the sun reaches it? Why do you think this is? Try this a few times using different found objects. Which give the best effect?
- Start noticing where the sun rises and sinks in your garden and how this changes throughout the year.
Ideas for linked books to read
This month I have two book recommendations, both about sticks! Kids love sticks and they are easily accessible on your daily walk or from your garden. Sticks can inspire so much imaginary play. These books will help give you a few more ideas too.
Gardening activity – How to keep gardening when you can’t visit the garden centre!
During lockdown all garden centres are closed, so I’m finding myself having to be more resourceful with my planting ideas! I am using up all my old packets of seeds, transplanting self-set seedlings around the garden, valuing the compost from my compost bins and planting seeds in whatever containers I can find.
I’ve enjoyed being resourceful, planting seeds into things I’d normally put into my recycling. I’ve used tin cans, tetrapacks, buckets and old wooden drawers. You can use just about anything as long as you can make some drainage holes in the bottom or sides of your container.
One top tip if you are using tin cans, is to punch drainage holes into the sides of the can rather than the bottom of the can. That way the cans can drain, but also hold some water. This is vital as these small containers can dry out very quickly. Rememeber to move your plants on to larger containers or into the garden when they are established.
A Permaculture principle to reflect on for May – Use small, slow solutions.
The Permaculture principle of ‘Use small and slow solutions’ was one of the principles that resonated most strongly with me when I first heard it on my first permaculture course back in January 2012. The Permaculture association expands on this principle by adding “Use local resources and responses and manageable scale”
This resonates lots for the current climate. Many of us have turned to local veg box schemes, are relying on and helping our neighbours more than ever and are thinking far more about our local resources and responses.
I have been a hugely impatient person all my life. If I have an idea, I like to put it action immediately. I hated to wait, so I was always dashing ahead of myself, like a bull in a china shop, making mistakes and muddling my way through. I feel that Permaculture (and maybe growing up) have taught me the benefits of stopping, thinking, planning and then acting.
Have a cuppa, observe, think, discuss, make plans, write lists, then only spring into action when the ground work is completed and the time is right.
An example of ‘Use small and slow solutions’ which is often quoted is that of planting a tree. Rather than planting your tree immediately, put it into a big pot, move it around your garden for a few days, weeks, months or even years, until you find a spot with the right aspect, soil, space and aesthetics. Previously I would be out in the garden repeatedly digging holes, uprooting my tree and wrecking my garden. Now-a-days, I aspire to using the pot method, although I do freely admit to still having an impulsive streak!
I think this principle can be of great help to us at the moment during our paused lives during lockdown. Rather than thinking big and trying to find all encompassing solutions to the problems we face, instead start small.
What small thing can you do today to help yourself and your family and your community? Can you just plant one pot of seeds, tidy one drawer, send one email for work? How can you reward yourself for going slow? What rewards does going slow offer you? How can you encourage rest and reflection and slowness into your life?
Stepping off the treadmill of the linear, masculine, work focused energy for a while may illuminate a new path for you that you were previously too fast and busy to notice. Nature is all about cyclical, repetitive, gentle motion. Observing the ways that nature makes progress has taught me so much about better ways of living my life.
Have a wonderful May everyone. Don’t forget to keep in touch and let me know what you have been up to with your wild learning and creative play.
Much love Emily xx