As I post this, we’ve got a magazine photoshoot underway in the local woods, for an activity in the RSPB children’s magazines. We’re always encouraging our young readers to get outside and get creative with lovely, messy things such as mud, stones and things that fall off trees.
Rubbish weather shouldn’t be a barrier to outdoor fun - a bit of fresh air does anyone the world of good, at any time of year. It’s a great time to look down as well as up - as the trees start chucking down all sorts of treasures.
So here are a few fun and totally free ideas to get your tribe out into the glories of autumn.
EMBRACE THE FALLEN
Look down.... (Photo: Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
Conkers: Our town park is full of conkers, which we try to rescue and cherish before the Council leafblowers destroy them all. There’s nothing lovelier in autumn than just rolling a fat, glossy, waxy conker around in the palm of your hand - personally I find it quite relaxing - like nature’s own stress-ball.
Leaves: Meanwhile the leaves blow into piles of crispy golden curls around the park, which the kids are happy to romp through… and sometimes bury themselves in until they disappear entirely. Great time for some family selfies! Or even make some artwork - starting with seeing how many colours you can collect.
Nuts: Have a look around on the ground. There’s been a large gathering of woodpigeons in the middle of my street this week, calmly strutting out of the way of approaching cars before returning to peck at autumn detritus on the tarmac. We quickly deduced that they’ve found fallen beech nuts from an overhanging tree, and are gorging themselves on an autumn feast that’s worth sacrificing their road safety for.
Apples: As anyone nearby can see, I'm not on top of my gardening at the moment, so I’ve allowed my neighbours free scrumping access to the apple-strewn lawn. They’re doing me a favour by helping clear it, while packing their freezers with sauces, cakes and pastries. The birds love it, too - blackbirds, robins and woodpigeons are pecking at them, and the slugs finish off the mushy bits. There’s plenty for everyone, for the compost heap - and still loads for my juicer!
If you have access to an apple tree, get the kids help sort (and eat!) the edible windfalls - and divide the rest between the compost and the bird-feeding area.
Windfalls for me, for him, for the neighbours AND the compost! (Photo: Ray Kennedy, rspb-images.com)
THE REALM ABOVE
Look up... (Photo: Jodie Randall, rspb-images.com)
Count colours: Trees aren’t all about the brown this season. Look up and see if you can find orange, red, dark green… any berries? Get kids to count (and maybe name) different autumn colours. If you know of a good acer collection, they’re giving off the best show of all.
Tree life: Which trees are shedding their leaves the fastest? Can you peer among their half-naked branches and see what’s scampering around? You’ll probably find squirrels stacking their winter larder - look out for different birds: starlings and crows among suburban branches, nuthatches and treecreepers on woodland tree-trunks, maybe even little bats emerging from thick ivy at dusk.
An autumn nuthatch (Photo: Ben Hall, rspb-images.com)
Flocks: I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing a lot of activity above me lately, with all manner of (often unidentifiable) birds swirling around together noisily above our heads, clearly on some sort of seasonal mission. See if you can count them, or work out what they are! Extra points if you spot geese on the move in their classic V-shape formation.
Have fun out there!