Henry and Heidi lr
Henry and Heidi Saunders at Wildlife Tots
By Tim Saunders
“Look at that little toad,” says Henry (2) during our trip to Wildlife Tots at Swanwick Nature Reserve in Hampshire.
I go along with our three children to the sessions, which run from 1030am to 12noon every week during the summer holidays.
At the start we are invited to pick flowers and pop them into a plastic cup after which course leader Craig from Hampshire Wildlife Trust adds some special potion. We then pour it out onto the grass. At which point little Henry cries because he wants to keep it. On another occasion each child is given a bucket and asked to look for shiny, soft or hard items.
Harriett (7) and Heidi (5) spot some of their school friends, which makes it even more enjoyable for them.
The weather is glorious and we go for a walk around the nature reserve, heading for the woods where there are some activities. “It’s all about letting the children decide what to do,” says one of the volunteers.
“Why are there so many logs?” chips in one of the children to which Craig replies, “Because this is a nature reserve we like to keep the wood that we cut down for the wild beasts to live in.”
As the light shimmers on the leaves of the trees the children roam free watched over by parents, grandparents and carers.
Harriett and Heidi enjoy creating a picture of a tree with bits of bark and leaves while Henry munches his apple. I have to carry him quite a bit, as usual but he then chooses to get down and do some exploring. While some children start climbing Henry heads for the toy birds and foxes where he is encouraged to place them in the landscape and make dens and nests out of leaves and twigs.
It’s a great way of discovering nature and during the session wild mini beasts like beetles, earwigs, slugs and snails are found. “Look at this violet ground beetle,” says Craig who has captured one in a specimen jar for closer examination. “Look at its shiny violet edges.”
It’s interesting to see how a centipede can be so still as to appear dead and then all of a sudden it moves to hide under a leaf. In the hot weather we are told that such creatures are drawn to shady more damp areas so become even more difficult to track. There’s such a rich variety of wildlife to see including a plethora of butterflies.
It’s a very peaceful area. Other activities include printmaking, which the children really love: placing some luscious greenery such as fern or ivy on a white cloth, folding it over and then hitting it repeatedly with a wooden hammer. Apparently this idea comes from Japan and it’s very effective. There’s a bucket of clay soil from the reserve and Harriett and I get stuck in creating a fox and a flower, which we push on the bark of a nearby tree – great fun. Then there’s making pictures with hoops or simply playing with them, whatever the children decide to do. Henry is drawn to the toy dinosaurs that he plays with happily.
On another occasion the rain is persistent with continual downpours but this doesn’t prevent a thoroughly enjoyable trek in the woods where we all play with water and see a frog.
Throughout these sessions the children’s behaviour is good and the hour-and-a-half slot is just the right amount of time to keep their attention.
It typically ends with a story and then a song about what we have done. It is only when we arrive home that behaviour deteriorates and we’re back to normal!
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