Saturday, 4 July 2015

Nature Prints with Clay & Elderflowers

This beautiful nature art created from wild Elderflowers is so simple to make & great for all ages to create together.


To make them we carefully collected a few elderflowers from a nearby woodland & gave each bunch of flowers a gentle shake to remove any insects that may be among the buds. 

We used terracotta clay to make our prints but any clay or salt dough would work well. To create each design we rolled small sections of clay into balls & then gently patted them down to create a round flat surface. We found that fewer flowers left a clearer print in the clay, so used only one small stem for each design.


Using the palm of our hands we gently pressed the flowers into the clay to make the impression, before carefully lifting the flower stem away at the base.



When removing the flower stem some small flowers or buds may remain in the clay, leave these where they are until the clay dries. Once dry you can remove these easily with a pin or sharp pencil without marking the clay.


These beautiful nature prints remind me of trees!


If you'd like to turn your Elderflower Prints into pendants or hanging decorations just make a hole in the clay using a straw & thread string or ribbon through.


Or how about sticking a magnet to the back & turning them into fridge magnets. They make great little gifts & are a gorgeous reminder of summer flowers throughout the year. I can definitely see us making more of these over the Summer on our woodland adventures. 


If you like this you might also like our recipe for homemade Elderflower Cordial 



Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Nature Study & Art Inspired by Poppies

We've been admiring the poppies springing up around our garden & have been captivated by the number of bees that have been drawn to them. It seems that whatever the time of day, even after a rain shower, the bees are eagerly buzzing around these beautiful wild flowers. 


Recently we've had some heavy rain & sadly this knocked over several of the poppies breaking their stems. We thought we'd 'rescue' them & placed them in a vase on the kitchen table. Not only did they look beautiful but they also inspired a little nature study & some water colour art! 


Minnie independently started studying the poppies & commenting on the many shades of pink & red on each of the petals. She removed a couple of flowers from the vase to study them close up & then decided she'd like to draw them.


I have to admit I was a little apprehensive as she started removing the poppies from the vase, but she was completely absorbed in this nature study, carefully studying each poppy from every angle & admiring the patterns & shape each one displayed.


Soon she was sketching individual poppies & then drawing around them. She had her water colour paints at hand ready to add the details later. 


Before adding the paint to her drawings she carefully tested out the colours on a different sheet of paper making sure they were just the right shades for her poppies.


The results were beautiful. This nature inspired activity had given her the creative space to explore these wild flowers at her own pace, & an opportunity to take in all the tiny details of each bloom.


 After feeling rather miffed that the rain had knocked our poppies down I'm now rather thankful that it did. These rain-soaked poppies inspired a child led art activity, & a deeper appreciation for these stunning wild flowers.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

This is the time of year when beautiful white elderflowers are decorating local hedgerows, parks, & roadsides. Not only do these delicate blossoms look pretty & smell gorgeous, they also make the most delicious cordial. And if you make the cordial now & store it correctly it will keep for many months giving you a taste of Summer throughout the year.


At this time of year Elder trees are easy to spot with the many white flower heads hanging from the branches. If you're wanting to make Elderflower Cordial you'll need to collect around 20 or so of these flower heads. Before collecting them it's important to consider a couple of things; are the flowers growing on a wild tree (i.e. not in someones garden!), is the tree away from a main road, flowers covered with traffic pollution obviously aren't ideal to use. 


When we're heading out for a nature walk we usually take a small bag that we can fold up in a pocket just in case we find some elderflowers along the way. When picking the flowers make sure you only collect the fresh white flower heads which have a delicate scent. Any tiny flowers which are brown or have no scent will be no good for making a cordial.

When collecting our flower heads we always make sure there are plenty of other blooms left on the tree for the bees & other wildlife to enjoy.


Ideally your eldeflowers will have lots of yellow pollen which is the key ingredient for our cordial. To prepare the flowers gently shake each flower head to remove any bugs or insects that may be on them. Do not wash the flowers as you'll just be washing the pollen (flavour) away.

To make the cordial you'll need:
20 - 25 prepared elderflower heads
2 large unwaxed lemons
800g caster sugar
1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid (available from chemists) 
water

Plus 
2 large cooking pans (with lids)
A muslin square
Grater
Ladle
Jug 
3 sterilized glass bottles/containers (We reused some glass lemonade bottles)

To sterilize containers you can either wash them in hot soapy water, rinse them & then place them on a clean baking sheet in an oven (140C or 120C for fan ovens) until completely dry, or sterilize them in a dishwasher.


Method

Add 1.5 litres of cold water to a large pan & bring to the boil.
Finely grate the zest of both lemons (keep the rest of the lemons for later)
Once the water has boiled turn off the heat & add the elderflowers & lemon zest to the water. Remove pan from the oven & place the lid on top. Leave the contents of the pan to infuse overnight.


When you remove the lid from the pan the next day you'll notice the colour of the mixture has changed to a light honey colour. To remove the flowers from the liquid place the muslin square over the empty pan & add the mixture to the muslin using the ladel. 


The flowers should sit in the muslin while the liquid drains through. 


When you have transferred all the clear liquid add the sugar, the juice from the lemons & the citric acid to the pan & simmer the contents for 5-8mins. 

The Elderflower Cordial is now ready to decant into your sterilized bottles. We used a jug to pour the cordial into each of the bottles. The mixture should easily fill three 1 liter bottles with some to spare. 

Once cool store your bottles in the fridge, they should keep there for up to 6 weeks... ours didn't last that long! If you wish to keep the cordial for longer you can freeze it (just the cordial no water) in plastic containers or ice-cube trays & use it when required. We froze some of our homemade cordial last year & enjoyed it over the Winter months as a reminder of Summer. 


To make a refreshing drink just dilute a splash of cordial with chilled water in a glass, & for a treat why not create your own Homemade Sparkling Elderflower by adding carbonated water instead of still. This tasty homemade recipe has been a winner with all ages & just perfect for Summer parties.  


This is a great recipe to make with children (obviously with adult supervision when using the hot liquid) & a lovely reminder of what nature has to offer us if we know where to look. 


Monday, 15 June 2015

Simple Homemade Lavender Cookies

These lavender cookies are refreshingly delicious & super simple to make. Perfect for picnics, bake sales, or to share with friends, just add the cookies to a gift bag & secure with a little ribbon. 


To make these Lavender Cookies you'll need:

150g plain flour
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers (found in baking shops & online) *
50g caster sugar (plus a little for dusting)
100g soft butter

* If you would rather use fresh lavender take 2 sprigs of English lavender & remove the leaves. Add the leaves to the caster sugar & mix together in a food processor.

Method:

1. Add the lavender & softened butter to a mixing bowl & beat well together with a wooden soon. This helps release the flavour of the lavender. (If you would prefer a smooth texture to your cookie add the lavender flowers & sugar to a food processor & blend together rather than beating with the butter).

2. Add the sugar to the butter mixture & beat again.

3. Sift the flour into the bowl & mix together with the other ingredients to form a dough.

4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface & knead with your hands until the dough is smooth.

5. Roll into a sausage shape approx 20cm long, cover with clingfilm & leave in the fridge for 1-2 hours to chill. When the dough is firm remove from fridge.

6. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface & remove the clingfilm. Cut the roll of dough into slices (it should cut into 10-15 slices, just depends how thick you'd like the cookies) & dust with a little sugar.

7. Place the cookies on a greased baking tray & bake in the oven (160°C or 140°C is using a fan oven) for 10-12 mins until golden.


These tasty lavender treats will keep fresh for a week if stored in an airtight container, & can also be frozen once completely cooled. To me they taste of Summer & make a perfect accompaniment to a well deserved afternoon cuppa. Enjoy! 


Friday, 5 June 2015

Grow Your Own Wildflower Rainbow - Perfect for Bees & Butterflies

Over the last few years we've transformed several areas of our garden into wildlife zones. We've created mini meadows, a butterfly garden from reclaimed materials, & hedgehog habitats. Last year we planted a Wildflower Rainbow, & the beauty of this project is that it can be created in any space & will produce the most glorious colours for you & neighbouring bees & butterflies to enjoy. 


Instead of having a very neat & formal flowerbed underneath our living room window we decided to go wild & use this space to grow our Wildflower Rainbow. After carefully digging over the soil we sprinkled over our selection of seeds. 


We planted a variety of seeds in order to create our rainbow colours including; cornflowers, marigolds, chamomile, borag, red campion, scabious all of which we knew would benefit bees & butterflies. Alongside these we used a couple of packets of mixed seeds (a wildflower garden mix & mixed native seeds) as well as some special poppies (the Victoria Cross Poppy & Flanders Poppy Seeds) both commemorating WW1. 

If you're unsure of which seeds to plant to attract bees & butterflies check out this perfect for pollinators list from the RHS, or look for packets of wildflower seeds that have a label indicating they attract wildlife.


Once all the seeds were sown we gave them all a good water & left nature to it. We planted these seeds at the beginning of September last year & by May this year they were flourishing beautifully! If you would like a Wildflower Rainbow in your garden this Summer there is still just enough time if you plant those seeds now. 


 We've been enjoying the jewel-like colours daily, & Minnie has been eagerly spotting the new plants as they appear, estimating & predicting when the budding flower heads will burst open. 


In another small area of our garden we have a 'grow your own' patch with strawberries, raspberries, herbs, & a small selection of veg, & we've recently noticed how many bees have been buzzing around & collecting the pollen from the flowering plants. It's been great to see the different areas of the garden being used by the bees & observing the variety of pollen the different plants produce. A clear favourite for the bees in our Wildflower Rainbow has been the borag, but they have been frequently visiting our poppies too, often visibly covered in the flower pollen. 



This Wildflower Rainbow has also provided us with a tranquil space where we just stop what we're doing & observe the bees & other wildlife enjoying the plants. It's offered us a place to pause in the business of a day to just stop & appreciate what nature offers. 


You can check out how bee friendly your garden is by using the bee kind tool set up by The Bumblebee Conservation Trust


If you'd like to plant a Wildflower Rainbow but have limited outdoor space, why not plant a smaller version in a flower pot or some small tubs, the bees are sure to appreciate them. Wherever you grow your Wildflower Rainbow, I hope you enjoy it as much as we've enjoyed ours. 



Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Edible Math Activity - Owl Snacks

This edible maths activity invites children to have fun making, exploring, & eating some simple maths facts! Perfect for snack time, an after school treat, or as part of a maths session, these yummy savoury owls allow children to investigate a number of maths concepts.


To make one owl snack you'll need:
1 round cracker
1 thin slice of cheese/cheese square
1 small banana (peeled & chopped)
1 carrot (peeled & sliced in rounds)
Slice of apple (cut in half)
2 grapes (both cut in half)
1 small round double edge cookie cutter with plain & fluted edges (scone cutter)
A child's knife

(I found it easier to prepare & chop all the ingredients before offering them to the children.) 

To create the body for the owl use the plain edge of the cookie cutter to cut out a circle from the cheese slice & then place this on top of the cracker. This offers a neat opportunity to explore shape & the children can be invited to find the other circular shaped ingredients (the sliced banana, chopped grapes & carrot).


To make the owl's feet use the fluted edge of the cookie cutter to cut the slice of carrot in half, & then position the feet at the bottom of the cracker. This offers a little opportunity to explore fractions & again children can explore which other ingredients have been cut in half (grapes, slice of apple). 


Add the banana slices & grapes to the cracker to create the eyes, & the apple slices to the sides to create the wings. To complete the owl invite the children to cut a small triangle from a slice of carrot to make a beak & then place it on top of the cheese. Voila! One little owl is ready to go! 


These tasty owl snacks can help kids explore maths in a number of ways, they could:

*  Add the items together as they make their individual owl.
*  Before making their owls order the ingredients in increasing/decreasing size
*  Group the ingredients into similar shape or size
*  Count in twos (or should that be twoos!) as the ingredients are added to the cracker
    (2 grapes + 2 banana slices + 2 apple slices etc.)
*  Make predictions & explore subtraction by removing & eating different ingredients!
    How many items did you start with? How many will be left when you eat the wings, or feet etc?
*  If making these in a group, children could add all the owls together, or work out how many wings,     eyes etc there are in the group.
*  Explore symmetry
*  Explore fractions by eating only half the owl (a tough one as these owls a rather yummy!)

However you use these, I hope you enjoy discovering & eating lots of maths facts! 


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Elmer the Elephant Lantern - made from a Milk Bottle!

These Elmer Lanterns brighten up any space with their colourful design & make great night lights for children's bedrooms. Made from a clean plastic milk bottle they're also frugal & fun for kids to make.


We've been fans of 'Elmer the Elephant' books by David McKee for awhile, & love Elmer's quirky fun-loving character. His bold patchwork design lends itself to so many projects & this lantern craft is ideal for celebrating all the wonderful colours of Elmer.

To make a basic elephant shape we cut a milk bottle in half & used the top section for the body.
I then cut 2cm from the handle so this was slightly shorter then the rest of the bottle. This will be the elephant's trunk! To create the legs I cut an arch shape on opposite sides of the bottle (as in the pic below), & a smaller one just under the handle. 


To complete Elmer we gave him a little tail by cutting 2 small triangular shapes out of the back section.


Then it was time to decorate! We used a selection of coloured tissue paper squares, PVA glue/school glue  & a paintbrush. Minnie generously applied the glue with the paintbrush & then added her choice of colours. She made sure every part of the bottle was covered with the tissue paper & enjoyed discovering the many colours she could make by overlapping different papers.


She finished by painting a layer of PVA glue all over the elephant  & left it to dry in the sunshine. If you're doing this project indoors I'd leave the elephants to stand overnight just to make sure they were completely dry.


Once dry you can add a few details. We added googly eyes & a few sequins. As you can see this was a popular activity & it didn't take long before another elephant was created.


And then more joined the herd! The neat thing about this project is that plastic milk bottles of any size can be used, we discovered that a 1 pint milk bottle creates a very cute baby elephant.

Using a variety of different sized bottles offers children an opportunity to sequence the elephants & arrange them in order of size. It also offers lots of scope for imaginative play, & a chance to think about family groups, & habitat.


To make our Elmer Lanterns we added a led tealight to the centre of each elephant & secured with blu tack/sticky tac beneath the lid of the bottle.


Once the tealight is switched on Elmer's rainbow colours glow beautifully, and when the tealight is switched off Elmer becomes a neat toy to play with again. 

Wouldn't these make a great addition to a play den, or as a table decoration for an outdoor evening meal with the family. But perhaps they'd work best as a reading light for someone curled up enjoying an Elmer classic or two.


And just in case you were wondering what we did with the bottom sections of all the milk bottles, we turned them into DIY planters!






Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Finding Fairy Paper from Forest Trees - Nature Play

Have you ever found fairy paper on a nature walk? Chances are if you've gone on a woodland walk you've strolled straight past it. Here's a little clue to help you spot it when you're next out & about.


Beneath the ferns lying on the forest floor this magical fairy paper is just waiting to be found. But where does this fairy paper come from? 


From the magnificent silver birch! These trees can be easily identified by their tall thin tree trunks which are covered in a smooth, light coloured bark. The leaves provide a large delicate canopy, & during April-May you'll spot catkins hanging from the long thin branches.

Not only do these trees offer beautiful colours & amazing textures for children to explore, but the bark creates natural fairy paper as the tree sheds its many layers.


If you look carefully around the base of a silver birch tree the light coloured strips of 'fairy paper' can easily be found nearby. 


If you're lucky you might even find an old branch lying around & you can peel away the 'paper' for yourself.  We don't recommend peeling it away from a growing tree trunk as this could harm the tree.


This nature based activity is full of wonder & imagination & could be used in a number of ways.

* You could set out on a fairy paper hunt
* See how many strips of fairy paper you could find 
* When you find the paper you could look carefully to see if you can find any fairy writing 
* Take a look around for any fairy houses hidden near where you found the fairy paper 
* Explore the texture & properties of the fragile bark. Why does the tree shed its bark?
* Consider which insects or birds may use the tree bark & the rest of the tree
* Encourage the children to think about where our everyday paper comes from. 




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