We often spend time outdoors going for a walk in the countryside. It’s often a walk in the woods or within the estate of a National Trust property. My son is learning on every adventure we have. I probably don’t actually acknowledge just how much he’s taking in, if I’m honest. As you will already know from my last post, we are working with Persil this month to come up with lessons to take outside and embracing dirt along the way, in celebration of Outdoor Classroom Day, taking place on 17th May. Just as I do, Persil believes that every child should have the opportunity to learn and develop through outdoor play and exploration. Their goal is to get all families to #EmbraceDirt and experience life, with all its messiness. It’s something that was a fundamental part of my own childhood, and something I have always strived to provide for my son too. As in previous years, Persil are supporting the global movement, Outdoor Classroom Day. The worldwide programme aims to inspire and celebrate outdoor learning and play and on 17th May millions of children in schools around the world will take their lessons outside and celebrate outdoor play and learning. We want to make outdoors part of every day – and elevate the importance of outdoors time to families and communities. So in preparation for the big day, we spent time at the weekend celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk.
I’m really lucky that my son enjoys walking, but he still needs lots of interest along the way and hopefully an opportunity to pick up a stick or two as we go. I’d picked up a book about circular walks in our area from a local bookshop a while ago and thought he’d really enjoy a couple of them. Both involved canals and would give us a great opportunity to learn about like along the canal, and the nature that would surround us. It would also give me an opportunity to teach my son how to read an Ordnance Survey map for the first time. I gave him the book to look at and asked him which of the five-mile walks he fancied trying out. He made his selection and off we went.
He knew the starting point for the walk and soon found that on the map and we talked about the route we’d be taking for our adventure. I explained to him how roads and railway lines were identified on maps as well as points of interest. Celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk would see us following a route on a map, and he was in charge of making sure we didn’t get lost!
As the route was actually split over two different Ordnance Survey maps, I’d already decided that we’d use the OS map provided in the walking book I’d bought, but wanted my son to see a full size map to get a better understanding of the outlying area.
With suncream applied and provisions in his backpack it was time to spend time celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk. As we followed the map and instructions my son would have to look out for a quarry, weirs, canal locks, a railway line, bridges, farms, forks in the road, an Earth Station (more on that later) and even a failed road. He loves taking charge, and telling me where we’re going next, so this was a fun challenge in itself for him.
It’s made me realise that we should use OS maps more when we are out and about on our local adventures. I have the maps at home but have only really used them when I’ve been out walking by myself. It’s time to teach my son to navigate with a map as he really enjoyed this first time, and it made him look at the landscape around him more.
With it being Spring the hedgerows were full of colour and we used an identification book we’ve had for a while to make sure we knew what flowers we were looking at along our walk. We found some we already knew like buttercups, bluebells and primroses, some we’d seen before but hadn’t identified like periwinkle, greater stickwort and oxlip,
and one that left my son asking why green alkanet has blue flowers. Good question and one that Google might have to help Mummy answer later.
Of course my son loves dandelions and I don’t think he’ll ever see them as ‘just a weed’. We’re at that time when there are some dandelions in flower and some showing their seed heads. My son has loved telling the time by blowing the seeds off the head, since he was very little. Just as I did as a child. But these days, he also realises that the wind carries these seeds through the air, they fall to the ground and germinate and another dandelion will grow. The circle of life in one simple weed.
You can’t go for a country walk without meeting the odd stinging nettle or two. My son already knows that nettles can actually be used to make nettle soup, he didn’t like it quite as much as I did. He’s also learned before about different ways that you can deal with them if they sting you, but the good old dock leaf is still his favourite and he made sure he’d found one for his bag, just in case it was needed.
There was also time for a bit of leaf identification as we spent time celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk. We talked about the Horse Chestnut tree and the conkers that we will enjoy hunting for later in the year, the great Sycamore tree that will release its ‘helicopter’ seeds and the stalwart of the hedgerow, the Hawthorn, with its bright white flowers.
Celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk on a beautiful, sunny Spring morning was really good fun, we chatted away, took in the scenery and just enjoyed being outdoors.
We live in a part of the country where the Oxford canal is never far away, I guess we take it for granted really. With a child who loves engineering we’ve spent a lot of time explaining to him how locks work, and that they were used to transport goods around the country long before his beloved steam trains arrived in the Industrial Revolution.
Our walk was the perfect time to revisit what he’s learned before and check his understanding. As luck would have it we timed our arrival at Pigeon Lock perfectly, as he got to see one boat going upstream and one coming down and how the locks would work to move the boats between the water levels on the canal.
I’ve spent time around canals all my life really, and even at the age of 50, I love to watch canal boats move through locks. it never ceases to amaze me what a wonderful piece of engineering they really are.
My son was fascinated to learn that although a lot of canal boats these days are used for pleasure trips and weekend fun, there are people who actually choose to live on them, rather than to live in a house. We talked about a couple of the ladies on my photography course who do just that, as we walked past one of the local marinas.
We also got to see the local dry dock where boats can be repaired and restored. He’d seen the boatyard in Banbury before, but never one that wasn’t close to a town centre.
Whilst I’d got a good idea in my head about what we’d see and be able to talk about as we spent time celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk, there were a number of added opportunities for learning that were a surprise.
We discovered sluice gates that controlled the flow of water by one of the weirs. You can imagine how much my engineer in the making enjoyed figuring out how they worked.
We saw a couple of beehives in the garden of a cottage which led on to how the bees will be busy pollinating the flowers in the weeks to come, and how honeycomb would be produced in the beehives.
We even came across the Enslow Marsh Sedgebed, which is one of the largest in Oxfordshire. It’s a rare type of swamp habitat which floods seasonally and was a first for both of us to see.
We even got to see a couple of tractors working in the fields, much to my son’s delight. Although the highlight was actually getting to see a hay baling machine at work, not something we’d associate with happening in May normally!
Although we’ve never walked this particular walk before, we were both aware of the general area as we drive along the outlying roads all the time. We’ve often talked about the weird ‘satellite dishes’ we can see from the road, and on this walk we actually got as close as you can to them. The walk took us up a failed road, something else my son hadn’t heard of before, that was mentioned on our instructions. The road clearly hadn’t been resurfaced in years and was suitable only for walking, but it took us around the boundary of Whitehill Earth Station. The satellite ground station is owned by Vodaphone and we talked about communications and how satellites were used to transmit and track telecom signals.
No walk is complete for us without sticks, and an abundance of mud meant we also stopped for a bit of stick art time.
Whilst getting artistic down in the mud my eagle-eyed nature lover discovered something moving. Mummy look at this!
My son always loves finding mini beasts and sending photos to his Gramps, an amateur Entomologist, to identify for us. So we had a close look at our caterpillar friend, before returning him to where my son had found him. An email has now been sent to Spain so Gramps can tell us both what caterpillar this is and what it will turn into. More learning to come.
We saw so many Orange Tip butterflies on our walk, none stopped still long enough for my 55mm camera lens to catch. So we were interested to learn if this is one of their caterpillars or something else. As it turns out the encyclopedia that is my father informed us that it was actually the caterpillar of a moth, and could possibly be a Large Yellow Underwing.
We’d taken in so much as we spent time celebrating Outdoor Classroom Day with a five-mile walk, ahead of 17th May and the day itself. My son is at an age where he absorbs information like a sponge, asks lots of questions and is learning all the time, but whilst just having fun. In a few hours we’d covered such a variety of topics, walked up an appetite for lunch and spent quality time together. Just perfect.
I’ve been encouraging all of my friends to tell their schools about getting involved with the Outdoor Classroom Day on 17th May. But as families it’s something we can all embrace and you can get involved by signing up on the Persil Embrace Dirt page. I’d love to hear about what you and your schools are planning and please come back to the blog on Outdoor Classroom Day to see how we will be celebrating here.
disclosure: this is a sponsored post in association with Persil, but my thoughts remain my own honest opinions