Forest Childcare – All about Sycamores

Written by guest blogger Ruth Snowden

Sycamore trees are not native to Britain – they originated in mountainous regions in Central Europe and were introduced here, possibly in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. However, there is a carving in Oxford Cathedral, dated 1282, which suggests that they may have been here for a lot longer.

They are very hardy trees, happily growing in exposed places like Sycamore Gap, and close to the sea where salt winds blow. Because of this they were often planted as shelter belts around farmsteads and you can still spot them there today. You will also find them in parkland and fields, where they are widely used to provide shade and protection for livestock. Look for a large, spreading tree, up to 35 metres in height and sometimes wider than it is tall. The bark is smooth grey, gradually cracking to form small irregular plates on the mature tree. The leaves are broad, with five lobes, dark green above and pale below. In autumn they often develop black spots of fungus, but this does not harm the tree.

Sycamores belong to the maple family. The smaller, native, field maple was often used to make harps, and sycamore wood was widely used to make kitchen furniture, bowls, chopping boards, wooden spoons, and other cooking tools. The tree can easily be coppiced – which means it is cut right back and soon grows lots of new shoots and fresh wood.

Sycamore leaves and keys ready for childminding crafts

The much lamented tree at Sycamore Gap was famous all over the world. Another very famous sycamore is the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ tree in Dorset. Beneath this tree a group of disgruntled farm labourers met in 1834, and their discussions led to the formation of what was probably the first agricultural union. They were transported to Australia as a punishment, but were pardoned two years later and offered passage home.

Sycamores spread very easily because they have ingenious winged seeds or ´keys’, which come in pairs. These are blown off the tree by autumn winds and sail far and wide like little helicopters. If you find a sycamore tree the children will need no encouragement on a windy day to run around and try to catch these as they whirl past. According to the the folk lore of my own childhood, there is a bonus too – if you are skilful enough to catch one, you can make a wish. Unfortunately I can’t tell you if this is true or not, because I have forgotten what my childhood wishes were!

When they have worn themselves out with all that excitement and dashing around, get the children to collect some fallen leaves and sycamore keys and bring them home to make a beautiful autumn collage. Or you can turn a leaf upside down, put a sheet of paper over it, and make a leaf rubbing with wax crayons, showing off the pattern of veins.

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If this has inspired you have a look at the Forest Childcare More Ideas for Forest Childcare All Year Round pack. It contains lots more ideas and information like above as well as additional crafts and resources to help you explore and discover the natural world with your children. You can find more information by following this link:

If you are a childminder, nanny or small early years provider you may also be interested in finding out how to join the Forest Childcare Association and reap the benefits of regular outdoor outings for your children, your business and yourself. For more information and to find out how to join for just £15 use the link below:

5 Nature-Related International Days To Mark With Kids

By Guest Blogger, Elizabeth Borley.

Written 23/02/2023

There are so many benefits to outdoor outings for carers of young children – both for you as a childminder and for the children you care for.

And there’s a lot to be said for familiarity of the same woodland walk.

But if you’re looking for new ideas to expand what you talk about when you’re outdoors, then maybe linking your childcare activities to the many international global awareness days will help you approach outings with fresh eyes.

Here are 5 nature-related international observances that are easy to incorporate into your childminding practice.

1. World Wildlife Day

When: 3 March

World Wildlife Day is an opportunity to be thankful for the diversity we find in nature. It creates a talking point for how we live with and interact with nature, and how we use the natural resources around us.

What to do

Who lives here?

Go for a nature walk. Spot minibeasts and find the habitats they live in. Talk about the different bird species you can see and hear.

Make posters of your favourite animals and talk about how important it is to look after the nature around us.

This is quite a well-known and popular event, so you might find local groups doing something like a litter pick that you can join in with (or why not organise your own?).

2. International Day of Forests

When: 21 March

International Day of Forests is the perfect moment to take the children in your care out to the woods! It’s a day that emphasises sustainable forestry and the management of woodlands as being crucial to well-being – something that Forest Childcare Association members won’t need convincing about.

What to do

Take a tree identification guide printable out on a walk and see what species you can find in your local woodland.

Make bark rubbings. Try to find the largest leaf. Talk about the trees that lose their leaves and the ones that keep them during the winter.

Look for evidence of things that live in and use the forests, like animal footprints and droppings, nests and minibeast homes. Talk about how we use the forest for walks and exploring.

3. World Water Day

When: 22 March

World Water Day is really close to International Day of Forests, so it might not make sense to mark them both in the same week with the children you childmind. You can always do an activity related to a global awareness day at some point in the same month if you can’t manage to tie it in with the exact day.

This event focuses attention on fresh water (so not oceans). It’s about raising awareness of the need for sustainable management of water resources.

What to do

Make a rain gauge from a bottle and put it outside. How much water can you collect while the children are with you?

Invite the children to make their own flavoured water to drink: add raspberries, cucumber, mint or orange slices to a glass of water.

Visit a reservoir or put your wellies on and splash in a stream! Talk about what lives in the water and how water is used.

4. World Migratory Bird Day

When: 13 May and 14 October

World Migratory Bird Day is marked twice in a year, so if you miss the opportunity to do something related in May, you can catch up in October! Different birds migrate to different places at different times of the year, so there are two moments annually for focused activities.

It’s a day to raise awareness of the need to conserve the habitats of migratory birds and the threats facing them.

What to do

Go bird watching! Find a hide at your local nature reserve and break out the binoculars. Look at library books that are a guide to the different species of birds and see which ones you can spot.

If you can’t get to a nature reserve, you can lie in the garden or in a park and look at birds flying overhead.

Draw pictures of birds, look at their flight paths on a map and talk about where they migrate to and why they go. How many countries do they cross?

5. World Soil Day

When: 5 December

Need something to do during December? How about marking World Soil Day?

Soil is essential for so many things: growing food for humans, sustaining plant life, as a habitat for worms and minibeasts and much more. The day is all about raising awareness of the nutrients in soil and how poor soil management strips out what is naturally occurring, leading to nutrient loss and lower quality food for us all.

What to do

The obvious thing to do today is go and play in the mud! Make mud pies and sculptures, splash in muddy puddles, dig holes and get dirty!

For a cleaner alternative, plant some seeds. Broad beans and onion seeds are good for this time of year, or look for quick growing hardy salad leaves like lamb’s lettuce. Alternatively, just ditch the soil and go for a classic runner bean in a jam jar or some cress!

You could also visit a local farm and talk about how they use the soil for growing crops.

Make it your own

You don’t have to mark an awareness day on the actual day. If it’s easier for you and the children you mind, find an alternative moment to do some of these activities, or create your own.

There are awareness days every month, so if you would like some new ideas for activities to do with your children that get them outdoors, take some inspiration from the international events calendars on the UN and UNESCO websites.

About the author

Elizabeth Borley is a member of the Forest Childcare Association and administrator at The Practical Forest School, a Sussex-based provider of afterschool clubs and in-school forest school activities.

Forest Childcare Association

The Forest Childcare Association is a best practice initiative for childcare providers who want to demonstrate their commitment to taking small children outdoors on a regular basis. By making a commitment to regular outdoor outings you can make a discernible difference to your children AND your business. When you join you will receive a Forest Childcare Starter Pack containing training information as well as business tools, a certificate to display and 50 Crafts and Activities to get you started.

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