The golden glow of Autumn and the impending festivities are long gone and the summer, with its promises of sunshine, picnics and beach trips seems so distant. February half term, at the tail end of winter, can be the hardest one for entertaining the children. But while we wait for the snowdrops to bloom and the world to wake up, here’s some inspiration to get you through.
I absolutely love having my eldest daughter at home from school for the week, but with that also comes the extra chaos, mess and sibling rivalries. For me, getting out the house is essential. Of course the build up to leave our home can feel like pulling teeth. However, once we are outside, there is a shift into calmness, and I find it so much easier to be present. Don’t get me wrong, flopping out in front of another Disney film also features heavily and I often end up feeling broken from carrying my 2 year old when she gives up. But those hours away from the endless to do list piling up around me are precious. I find the quality of the time spent with the kids increases as well. Having children has also made me appreciate where I live so much more. They help me slow down and notice amazing variety of natural environments we can explore.
Rivers - not just for sunny days.
The image that first pops into my head when I think of playing in a river is of a lazy summer afternoon, children barefoot and keeping cool in the water. But playing in rivers doesn’t have to be just for warmer days. Decent wellies, waterproofs and finding a shallow river will have you playing through all the seasons. Safety is important, especially when it comes to water. Ensure the river you choose is gentle flowing and shallow enough for wellies, preferably one you are familiar with. Pay attention to danger signs and keep close to your children at all times. For more on river safety click here. Take changes of clothes just incase, and perhaps a few bowls and containers to allow them to explore the water. Add some spoons for some amazing, and super wet, cookery or potion making.
Museums and visitor centres.
This one sounds like an obvious one, but I do think they both get forgotten about a little bit. If you’re local to Dorchester, I really recommend the Dorset Museum. I’ve been so impressed with them since their refurbishment, there’s now tons of interactive stuff and they’ve held some great exhibitions.
I also recommend checking out your local visitor centres. Locally we’ve got a few centres run by The Wildlife Trust. My closest is The Wild Chesil Centre on Portland, which has displays that actively encourage you to touch and engage with them. The cafe is brilliant (although on the pricier side) and the surrounding beach and lagoon are fun to explore. We’ve also recently discovered The Kingcombe Centre in West Dorset. We went there for an apple pressing workshop where we gathered apples from the orchard and pressed them into apple juice. We also toasted some over a fire with apple and cinnamon - delish! We’re looking forward to going back February half term for a natural art event and to explore the huge reserve some more.
Another visitor centre we love is West Bay Discovery Centre. It’s only small but is packed with information on local history and geology, again with plenty of bits for the kids to do. It’s also pretty much on the beach and so close to a fab park. Obviously my suggestions are very much local to me, but check out your nearest wildlife trusts, museums and visitor centres.
We’ve recently posted a reel on our instagram about nature weaving, using cardboard and string. You can also use a y shaped stick or a frame out of sticks with string wrapped tightly around it. The tightness is definitely important, I’ve made them too loose before and it just becomes a wobbly mess! What I love most about this activity is that it looks so different each time depending on the seasons and where you collect the treasures.
My daughter has had a food flask for a while, but I only invested in one for myself last Autumn, and what a game changer! The novelty of eating hot food outside is yet to wear off on my children. I usually decant theirs into bowls so it cools quickly for little mouths, while I eat mine still piping hot straight from the flask. Some of our favourite flask lunches are soups, pasta and bean based dishes - we’ve also done porridge in there! Bring along some crusty bread, or even warmed sausage rolls in foil and a flask of hot chocolate for the full winter picnic experience.
• Buy the right size for the quantity you need - to help keep your food warm the flask needs to be
filled to it’s max line, so ensure you don’t get one too big!
• Pour a little boiling water into your flask - this will warm the flask so that it doesn’t conduct the
heat away from your food.
• Al dente is key - foods like rice and pasta will all carry on slowly cooking in the flask, so
undercook them slightly. Also, make porridge runnier than you like as oats also keep swelling - take it from someone who has accidentally made porridge cement!
It’s amazing what you can do with just a couple of paintbrushes! Relatively thick ones work best, they’re a great thing to have in your bag for when the perfect nature painting moment arises. Using mud (or water from a puddle/sea/river etc) children can paint on tree trunks, rocks, leaves or even ice! It’s so simple but keeps them entertained for ages.
One of our favourite things to do, these can be tailored to any location. The novelty of a clipboard (or just paper pegged to cardboard) and a mission keeps my children entertained while out and about. We’ve made some scavenger hunt print outs, for you to use or to inspire your own, find the link at the bottom of the page.
I don’t know if this is ‘technically’ poetry, but it definitely gets children thinking in a more poetic way while you walk. It’s such a wonderful way to connect with nature and each other. For younger children a lovely idea is to stop every now and again and list aloud something you notice for each of your senses, for example:
I see... boats the size of dots sitting upon the horizon
I hear... the soft waves lapping against the pebbly shore I smell... the raw pungency of briny sea weed
I feel... the gentle breeze tickling the back of my neck
I taste... the salty sea spray, tantalising my taste buds
Obviously taste can be a bit harder while out and about so you might prefer to leave it out. You could take it in turns for a different sense each time. Young kids will probably use more simplistic words, and one word answers for each sense. But if we use more descriptive words it will start to get them thinking that way too.
For older children they could note down sentences about the things they see and feel as they explore to perhaps compile into something more later. My two are a bit young right now, but I love the idea of the whole family sharing poetry creations after dinner - idealistic perhaps!
Be kind to yourself
There can be so much pressure to be on the go and enjoy every second when we’re off with our kids. Take the time to chill out, have those movie days, those slow mornings - the kids need the rest just as much as us. Things don’t always go to plan, but focus on the good times and adapt the plan when needed. This is definitely something I need to work on myself!
What’s your favourite way to get out in the colder weather with kids?
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve done any of our half term activities.
Thanks for reading!
Download our Scavenger Hunt sheets here