Exploring trees and woods – Activities and ideas

For day 24 of 30 days wild we explore a woodland, splashed in steams, built dens, made tree spirits, collected leaves for crafts and did some bark rubbing.

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Trees are such an important and vital part of our ecosystem, they create oxygen, soak up carbon dioxide, prevent soil erosion, retain nutrients in the soil and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Thousands of different species depend on trees from birds, mammals and invertebrates to reptiles, fungi, mosses and lichens.

Even when a tree dies it still plays a vital role in the ecosystem. The dead wood creates nitrogen for the soil and provides habitats for a variety of animals.

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Some trees can live for a very long time, the oldest living tree in the world is an ancient Bristlecone Pine called Methuselah which is thought to be 4765 years old. To give you can idea of how old  that is, the tree would have been alive when Woolly Mammoths existed. The oldest tree in the UK is a Fortingall Yew which is estimated to be around 3,000 years old. You can find more about ancient trees by visiting the OldList which is an interesting database of all the ancient trees in the world.

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Trees are great fun to explore with children, from the trunks, branches, bark and leaves. to the fruit, nuts and seeds. They are wonderful diverse, tactile, sensory and engaging. We love going on nature walks and collecting leaves, twigs, conkers and acorns for crafts and activities.

The Woodland Trust have some fantastic, free tree identification guides that you can download here to help you identify the different types of trees you find.

You can find a variety of different tree related activities that children of all ages will enjoy below. ( I also have more to add to so check back soon)

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Leaf characters

A simple activity but fun activity where you turn fallen leaves into funny or interesting characters by giving them faces and different expressions using pen or paint. The children will love decorating the leaves and role playing with them afterwards. It’s also a a great opportunity to talk about emotions with children of all ages.

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Woodland figures

You can also use thick branches to make woodland figures. You can either carefully sand, carve or paint the surface at one of the branch to create a surface to the paint or draw your faces on. How about hiding your figures in the woods for others to find.

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Leaf art and land art

A great indoor or outdoor activity that encourages creativity and fine motor skills. Leaf art is fun for all ages and abilities.

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All you need is some fallen leaves. (we went on nature walks to find ours.) The leaves could be all the same type or range of different colours and shapes.  You can also use other natural materials like sticks, stones, acorns and pine cones.

It’s easy to make simple patterns and shapes with leaves and sticks like spirals, hearts and smiley faces. Or you could be more adventurous and try to make a picture or story scene. How about making a stick and leaf butterfly or a leafy caterpillar.

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Separating the leaves into the different colours before you start gives you a good opportunity to talk about how and why leaves change colours with the seasons. For example leaves are green because of the chlorophyll in the cells which is busy turning sunlight into food. In autumn the leaves stop producing chlorophyll so the colour changes from green to brown as the chlorophyll disappears.

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Once you have finished you could glue the leaves onto paper or card or take a photograph so you can enjoy them for longer. The possibilities are endless, all you need is some imagination and leaves.

Leaf lion mask

All you need to make a leaf lion mask is some recycled cardboard, double sided tape or glue and some leaves.

Simply cut a circular shape out of the cardboard and draw on a simple lion face. Then stick or glue leaves all around the circle to form a leafy mane. The children can then have fun using the mask in role play games or you could use it as a decoration or prop.

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We hate to waste anything and recycling and reusing materials is one of many small things we can all do to help the environment. So instead of chucking used cardboard boxes we like to find ways to use them in crafts and activities.

Bark and leaf rubbing

A great activity for at home or on the go. Simply find some interesting bark or leaves and then place a sheet of paper over the surface. Using the side of a a crayon or piece of chalk carefully rub over the surface of the paper to pick up the textures and patterns of the bark or leaves underneath.

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Den building

A childhood favourite and a fantastic way to develop problem solving, communication, team work and fine motor skills in children of all ages. All you need for this is some long tree branches, but you could also use old blankets or sheets to turn your den into a fort as well.

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When they have finished building thier dens the children can then enjoy camping out in them and enjoy role play and pretend play. How about making a pretend campfire to go with then den using sticks and twigs. (just don’t actually set light to it and remember to take the campfire apart when you are done so no one else is tempted to set fire to it)

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Tree spirits and guardians of the wood

It you have some clay you can have fun making tree spirits or guardians of the wood using natural clay and any natural materials you can collect and find. (Please don’t use salt dough or play dough for this instead as both contain high volumes of salt which is toxic to trees, plants and wildlife)

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You start by pressing some natural clay onto a tree trunk or log. You can then shape the clay into a face or animal, adding details and decorations using any natural materials you can find.

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You could use leaves, stones, grass, bark, twigs, fallen fruit, pine cones, acorns and flowers. *But pretty please don’t pick any wild flowers, only collect ones you have grown yourself or fallen ones you find on the floor.

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When you have finished just simply leave the clay faces to dry on the trunk of the tree. They should last as long as the weather is dry. When they do eventually disintegrate then the clay and nature materials will naturally biodegrade back into the soil.

Tree collages

All you need to make a tree collage is some recycled cardboard, double sided tape or glue and some leaves.  Simply draw or cut a tree shape on or out of the cardboard. Then stick or glue any leaves, bark or twigs you have collected onto the tree shape.

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Rainbow stick mobile

To make a Rainbow stick mobile you simply collect and paint 6-7 sticks in the colours of the rainbow. When they are dry you then tie them together using a piece of string, You could even use ribbon or wool to hang strings of seashells underneath to look like raindrops.

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Stick rattles and shakers

You could easily tie a threaded string of shells and stones onto a forked branch/stick to make a stick rattle. This is great fun to play with as it makes a fantastic noise and you can use it in games or as a musical instrument.

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Leaf crowns

The easiest way to make a leaf crown is by using a band of paper or recycled card. Simply cut two strips from the paper or card and attach them together so you have a band long enough to fit your head.

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Place a strip of double sided tape across the band. Then all you need to do is peel the backing off and stick leaves and or flowers to the surface.

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If you leave the double sided tapes backing on, then you can take your bands out about with you on walks. Then you can decorate your crowns on the go using natural materials you find on your walk.

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A slightly more tricky way to make a leaf crown is by threading the leaves onto a long piece of grass, plant stem, string or ribbon. This is more fiddly than the other method and it seems to work best with Autumn leaves. This is also a great way to make leaf bunting.

Pine cone bird feeders

During the cold winter months food can be much harder to find for birds and wildlife. You can help get them through the winter by providing food, water and shelter in your garden. One of the ways we like to help is by making pine cone bird feeders.

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You can collect pine cones on a woodland walk or by looking in your local park. You will also need wild bird seed and string and a source of fat which can be either peanut butter, lard or a vegetarian lard substitute like Trex or Crisco.

Birds need high levels of saturated fat to sustain them during the winter months which is why bird feeders are often made from lard, suet or peanut butter as they are all great sources of saturated fat for birds.

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Simply cover the pine cones in the fat source and then roll them in the wild bird seed until they are fully covered.

Next securely tie a piece of string to the top of your pine cones so you can hang them from a tree for the birds to enjoy.

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Branch and twig broomsticks

Another surprisingly easy thing you can make with your nature finds is a broomstick.

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All you need is a long stick for the broom handle, a cluster of thin and bendy branches for the brush and some string or wire to tie it all together.

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Simply tie the branches to the end of the stick. You could use a nail to fix it more securely in place but this isn’t essential.

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And voila now you have a broomstick to fly on, use in dress up or play games with.

Clay, salt dough and play dough imprints

A great way to explore, patterns, shapes and textures. First collect some natural materials like leaves, stones, grass, bark, twigs, fallen fruit, pine cones, acorns and flowers. *But pretty please don’t pick any wild flowers, only collect ones you have grown yourself or fallen ones you find on the floor.

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Next roll out some clay, salt dough or play dough to imprint onto. Then arrange the leaves and any other natural materials onto  the surface of the clay. Press and smooth them down firmly with your fingers. before rolling over them several times with a rolling pin to make sure they have imbedded in the clay.

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When you carefully peel the natural materials away they should leave a detailed imprint in the surface. Have a look at the different patterns and textures, talk about the structure of leaves and flowers and the patterns you find in nature.

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We turned some of our imprints into bowls by draping them carefully over a bowl and lightly pressing the clay to hug and follow the shape. We left them for about 15-20 mins to firm up slightly before carefully removing the bowl from the pots and leaving them to dry. We also cut round some of our leaf shape imprints and removed the excess clay to make little clay leaves.

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Once you have finished making the  imprints leave them out to naturally dry and harden. You can then paint or decorate them if you like.

Explore a sculpture trails

Many woodlands and forests now have sculpture trails that you can find and follow. You could have a quick search online to see if there are any near you. Or you might even be able to start your own, just remember to get permission from the landowner and never nail anything to a living tree as it damages it and may kill it.

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Plant a tree

Tree seeds take a little patience to grow but it is incredibly rewarding when you manage to grow a little seed into a tree sapling. Here are some tree seeds you csn collect to plant and grow.

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Sycamore seeds – These little helicopter type seeds are great fun to spin and watch twirl as they drop. They also grow really easily into little tree shoots. We often find them out and about growing in unusual places. With a little care and attention you might be able to grow your own sycamore tree sapling.

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Acorns – We have had a lot of success growing oak saplings from acorns and they are very easy to collect and plant, you simply pop them straight into a pot of compost or into the ground and then water and wait a few months to see the first shoots of the sapling beginning to emerge. If you ever find an acorn that looks deformed then this is most likely an oak gall created by a wasp. Some wasps lay their larvae in acorns which causes them to deform as they grow.

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Apples, Pears and Plums – You can pick fresh apples, pears or plums or pick up bruised fruit that’s fallen to the ground. You just then need carefully remove the pips/seeds/stones from the centres of the fruit, and then wash and dry them ready for planting to grow as fruit trees.

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Conkers and Horse chestnuts – Both Conkers and horse chestnuts are protected by a spiky hard casing, so be careful to make sure little hands don’t get prickled when they touch or try to open the cases. The shiny round conkers and horse chestnuts inside are great for playing games with or threading onto string. You can also plant them to grow saplings.

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You can also find lots more fun and easy conker activity ideas here.

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If you like this you might like to try:

Nature art frames

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Citrus peel play shapes

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22 Rainbow crafts, experiments and activity ideas

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17 thoughts on “Exploring trees and woods – Activities and ideas

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