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Your outdoor calendar: October (1)

The days are getting shorter and you can literally feel the seasons changing – but fall is a wonderful time to be outdoors and active! By Julie Montagne



Spring and autumn in the UK promise a lot of rainfall. In order to truly embrace the rain (rather than endure it), planning is required:

  • In small outdoor spaces, shelter from the rain can be essential. I highly recommend investing in a “see through” tarp and a set of bungee cords with hooks, both of which are inexpensive and widely available online. They are transparent and great fun on rainy days. Connect one to high-level hooks on your walls or fences (see January Outdoor Calendar for details) so kids can sit or lie under it and watch the rain splash up close.
  • The clear glass tarp also makes a great “canvas” for oversized painting on wet or dry days, with artwork easily washed off afterwards.
  • Ask parents to donate umbrellas and, if you can, buy some clear ones. Store them as close to the door as possible and encourage kids to “take, play, return” so other kids can use them too.
  • If you’re expecting heavy rain overnight, place whatever containers you can have outside to capture as much rain as possible, ready to play the next day. Start the day by testing the depth of rainfall, starting with a comparison of the tools we use to measure things – for example, will children choose a ruler, a paper measuring tape (eg from Ikea), a roller wheel, a thermometer or a bathroom scale to know the depth of the rain? How could other instruments be used to measure facts about precipitation?
  • I’m a big fan of the Pelican pump buckets – put one outside to catch the rain so the kids can have fun squirting water. They are especially beneficial for babies and toddlers as they can use their palms to press down and pump water successfully – I get mine from HO Plastics.
  • If you have a very small outdoor space, narrow water tanks are available that can be stored in a corner, even if that’s not where your building’s gutters are. Instead, attach a length of gutter just above the water catcher so it can collect its own water supply.

natural learning


Taking a mushroom-searching walk not only provides an immersion in nature, but also an important opportunity to learn about safety when playing in nature. Mushrooms grow in damp places such as wooden floors, on rotting or damp wood, and in grass.

  • If you can, buy a collection of “jeweller’s loupes” – these are small eyepieces used to examine objects very closely.
  • The website hosts observation sheets from Nature Detectives, which include autumn mushrooms and winter twigs.
  • During the month, try to take several walks, in various places, to spot different shapes and colors of mushrooms: look for stands, umbrellas, buttons, funnels and jelly-like shapes, as well as mushrooms with bright colors and well camouflaged. Use the magnifying glasses to examine the mushrooms very closely.
  • It’s easy to grow edible mushrooms indoors or outdoors – kits can be purchased online or at garden centers. As a general rule, the only mushrooms children should touch are those bought or grown in this way; use these mushrooms to examine the structure more closely and make spore prints – and of course, cook them and taste them. Place an expired food such as a slice of bread in a sealed plastic bag. Observe how the moisture in the bag promotes mold growth.
  • The website has an interesting article by Penman and Maiden (2017) documenting how children in a New Zealand kindergarten discovered mushrooms and expressed their learning through visual arts.
  • The nonfiction book Humongous Fungus (Lynne Boddy and Wenjia Tang) is aimed at older children, but younger ones will enjoy the pictures and I learned a lot from it, so it’s now a staple on my reference shelves .

A few talking points:

  • Many species of mushrooms are poisonous, so children should never touch them when they find them ‘in the wild’ – leave positive identifications to the experts!
  • Incorporate the message “leave no trace / tread lightly on the earth” so children remember to leave natural areas as they find them.
  • Why are some mushrooms so dazzling and others so camouflaged?
  • Common names for mushrooms can be quite scary – if you can’t find real examples, show children pictures and ask them if they can figure out why species such as Dead Man’s Fingers, Jelly Ear and Lemon Disco are so called.
  • Enjoy a fairy tale with mushrooms or mushrooms; the ‘classic’ red-headed white-spotted fungus is actually called fly agaric and is common in autumn – find it under birch trees.
  • Make clay mushrooms and document your discoveries outdoors with photographs and drawings.



  • As Halloween approaches, ask parents if they’ll donate a pumpkin to the decor – access to a dozen or more pumpkins introduces a whole new set of play possibilities compared to just one or two. Consider setting up different scenarios every few days – for example, including lots of pumpkins in a store roleplay area; add measuring and weighing equipment to the pumpkin collection; use building tools and resources to reshape pumpkins or create structures with them; scrape the middles to make buckets; cut one in half, one in four, one in three, etc. to encourage children to correctly “rebuild” them into whole pumpkins.
  • Begin the structural framework for an ambitious den in October. Ideally, choose very large fallen branches to create a rigid frame, then start weaving smaller branches to reinforce and fill in the gaps. A truly fantastic stick den can take a year or more to really build properly. Get the kids involved in choosing a location, planning the shape, collecting sticks, and finding the best spot for each. It’s not cheating to reinforce with string or screws.

active stories

To support mushroom explorations, try an abridged Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland hardback book, such as the funky modern illustrated version by Carly Gledhill for very young audiences, or the equally delightful Step into Alice in Wonderland. Wonderland illustrated by Cynthia Alonso – this book also has moving parts on every page.

plan ahead

Fire has been essential to human survival for millennia, and its cultural and social importance has resonated through countless dark winters in northern Europe. While there are many traditional fire and light festivals in the fall and winter, regular and simple “because we can” fireside sessions in your environment are a special way to bring children together, d ‘hear about traditions and beliefs and incorporate key safety messages.

You don’t need to have a forestry school or a bushcraft qualification to start a fire in your surroundings, whatever you’ve been told. What you need is permission from your landlord/land manager; a robust and thorough assessment of benefits and risks in place; and a suitable place where the fire can be brought under control and where children can enjoy and use it safely. Weekly fireside gatherings will help advance children’s knowledge of fire safety and ensure that, for adults, fire risk assessments become common sense, common practice.


  • Identify a place to dig or place a fire pit, with enough space for a group to sit far enough away to avoid sparks but close enough to enjoy the heat.
  • Research risk-benefit assessments for campfires – I have a template you can adapt and there are plenty of them online – and think about the particular circumstances of your environment. For example, the age or ability of the children; water source.
  • Secure a storage area for all fire safety equipment, ideally very close to the fireplace itself, to reduce the risk of forgetting something.

springboards of creativity

Use the shades of autumn to explore children’s understanding of color palettes:

  • Make wreaths, bracelets or autumn masks: a simple strip of cardboard covered with double-sided tape will allow children to collect light objects such as leaves, boxes of nuts and flowers. It’s quite a challenge to make a “tree” out of found tree pieces too!
  • Create a rainbow or shadow palette with a natural treasure. In the fall, blues and purples are hard to find in nature, but not impossible. Species such as periwinkle, hebe and ceanothus are relatively common, but you may need to bring a plant into the environment garden – it would be worth buying one to plant, or ask a relative to donate cuttings so that you have “blue” flowers afterwards. the autumns.
  • Explore the plumage of garden birds that spend autumn in the UK. How well camouflaged can they be at this time of year? What are the differences between male and female birds of a species?
  • In the Mud Lab/Kitchen, experiment with different autumnal mixtures to make potions, invent new earthy smells and create colors that evoke the season.

October’s top tips

  • October is a great time to prune invasive plants, prune them into shape, and prune species that like to conserve energy through the winter – the growing season is now over, so it’s safe to prune almost anything. Don’t forget to compost the cuttings – if you don’t have a compost bin, stacking everything in a corner will also work – over time everything will rot.
  • After tidying up, plant new spring bulbs. They are often available very cheaply in October, or ask parents and guardians to donate a few if they are buying for themselves or dividing their own garden bulbs. Plant the bulbs in clumps around the garden for a cheerful display; they’re so easy to plant – pointed tip up, twice as deep as they are long – that anyone can get started.

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