We hear a lot in the press during the summer holidays about lost learning and it seems to be a phrase that has been bandied about a great deal during the past 18 months. I've always thought that it's a bit of a seesaw - some skills and knowledge might take a back seat but others grow and develop. During the holidays children don't have to be reading their school reading books to continue developing their vocabulary. And they don't need to have a weekly spelling test and phonics lessons to practice building words.
There are many ways to develop language and literacy skills outdoors. There are no real downsides, children love being outside, it supports their health and wellbeing and they will be learning without even realising it. Plus, it's usually quite fun for the adults!
So here are my top 10 activities that link language and literacy to the great outdoors:
Water Writing - Take a big pot of water and a bunch of paintbrushes outside and write away! It is basically a mess free activity and children love it because there is no pressure - the writing disappears quickly so they can feel free to experiment with their phonics and spellings to their hearts content.
Nature's ABC - Use sticks, leaves, pebbles, pinecones or whatever else you can find to form letters and words. I love this activity because the letters end up being all different shapes and sizes. It's a reminder to children that writing, too, comes in all shapes and sizes - not uniform like the font on a screen.
Story Stones - Paint pictures and/or words onto large stones and use them to make up stories together. Absolutely anything goes, the more ridiculous the better. You might end up with a story where a spider eats a banana and turns into a daffodil before flying off to build a nest in a tree!
Garden Signs - Ask your children to come up with different names for the plants or parts of your garden. Channel your inner Roald Dahl and you could have snozzcumbers in your veggie patch. You could name the patio after your uncle Pete or a plant pot after your pet! Make some signs using whatever you have to hand and pop them around your garden. If you have visitors you could give them a VIP guided tour!
Story Maps - This is a great activity to do at the park. Draw out landmarks on a piece of paper and use the map to make up a story. You could use We're going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen or The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson as a starting point. You might look a bit crazy squelching through imaginary mud in the park but your kids will love it!
Mud Pie Recipes - Now if there is one thing children love, it's mud. Take some measuring cups or spoons and a bowl outside and get mixing - by writing down the ingredients your children will be able to make that perfect mud pie again and again.
Pixie Post Box - Set up a little post box for the pixies at the bottom of the garden. A recycled cardboard box with a slit cut in the side works really well. My own children used to write notes to the garden fairies and it was magical when the 'fairies' replied to their letters. This offers the opportunity for writing with a purpose and it also helps children to develop their conversational skills.
Journals and Scrapbooks - The key with journals and scrapbooks is to go with the flow - your children are unlikely to want to add something every day. They can add absolutely anything they like: a funny joke, a flower, a photo of a den they have built, a lolly stick from the one day of the holiday when the sun shone (!) or a muddy footprint. It can be a lovely keepsake from the summer, to look back on in the future.
Field Guides - Some children are particularly interested in insects or animals and a field guide is a great way to encourage them to research and note down their observations. Labelled drawings, notes about where and when they made the discovery and information about preferred habitats and behaviour patterns are all possible ideas for field guide entries. But equally, field guides can also be made for trees, plants or flowers. You could take a trip to your local library to find some non- fiction books and search for information on the internet. For some children, this kind of project helps to keep them focused on something specific, especially older children who might become bored as the holidays wear on.
Mystery Investigations - Now, this is an activity which is just as much fun for adults as it is for children! Secretly, set up a mysterious scene in your back garden. You could turn play equipment upside down, tip over some pots or put garden items in unusual places. When your children discover this mystery scene they will want to know how it has happened and this provides so many opportunities for discussion and problem solving. A whole new story is often the outcome of a mystery investigation!