Nature Raft Race 2018

Posted on August 31st, 2018 - Fiona

It has become a bit of a tradition to hold a grand nature raft race at Coombe Mill on the first week of August. There are always a few scared faces when I suggest what we will be doing for activity hour, however when parents are reassured that the children won’t actually be riding on their homemade rafts parental concerns disperse and everyone looks forward to the event.

Nature Raft Race 2018

 

Creating and Making Nature Rafts

This has to be one of the most eco friendly activities there is. The rules are very simple, everything that goes into building the raft must be found on the farm and belong in nature, so no finding a piece of bailer twine dropped by Farmer Nick to tie things up! Family groups soon formed on the grass with some puzzling over designs while others rushed off to find potential materials. This is one where I can sit back and watch the creativity come together. I am always impressed by the standards of the rafts, creativity used and team work among the groups.

 

 

When everyone had finished I managed to grab a group photo with everyone’s rafts before they were set free in the river.

 

Nature Rafts Made

 

Nature Raft Race Route

We have two bridges at Coombe Mill which make a perfect start and finish line for our races.  However the drop from the starting bridge is quite steep and the first hurdle for our nature rafts. Everyone lined up and with no cheating released their rafts on cue.

 

Nature Raft Race start line

The Race

The biggest problem this year has been the slow speed of the river thanks to the unusually dry summer. It took 15 minutes with a little helping hand from Guy and a couple of parents wading through the water for the rafts to make it to the finishing bridge.  As always there is much running, cheering and searching from the children along the river bank as they all hope theirs will be the winning raft. Finally the first rafts came into view and crossed the line to a waiting audience.

 

Winners Rewarded

Everyone had put so much effort into their rafts I had some certificates on hand covering much more than just the winning raft so everyone was rewarded for something.

 

certificates from the nature raft race

 

Even Guy and Clio hung around for a little river fun after the race ended pulling floating branches from the river. 

 

River fun after the Coombe Mill

 

Despite the slow running river the nature raft race remains one of the most popular activities here. It is not dissimilar to Pooh sticks, just on a giant scale, and that has been going strong for generations!  

Highlights from the 2018 Nature Raft Race

 

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Alpaca craft with real fleece

Posted on August 24th, 2018 - Fiona

We had watched our lovely alpaca Caramel be sheared at the start of the week. This is a once a year event and a bonus for our holiday guests if it falls on their stay. Colin our shearer has come to expect an audience at Coombe Mill and now talks everyone through what will happen and encourages the kids to come forward and watch. We finish with 2 big bags of alpaca fleece for Kay our local crafter. However I like to hold a little back for activity hour here. By the end of the week the kids had almost forgotten alpaca shearing at the start. But it soon came flooding back as I introduced our alpaca craft for the afternoon with the real fleece.

 

Alpaca craft with real fleece

Alpaca craft formed in stages

I had a full house with 15 signed up to join us in making little alpaca. That left me with a few hours to work out how best to make them. I finished up with two designs split by age, a simple flat design for the under 3’s and a 3D Alpaca for the 3 and over. The first job was to search the fairy gardens for sticks to make legs.

 

collecting sticks in the fairy gardens

 

These were poked into a toilet roll, a peg added for a neck and an egg box section tied on for the head.

 

Making alpaca craft from toilet rolls and sticks

 

The children were inpatient to move to the next step of sticking on the fleece but it took a while with so many to get everyone’s alpaca constructed. Finally we were ready and moved over to the grass where one by one I sprayed each with glue and the children stuck on the wool to transform their model into an alpaca.

 

sticking alpaca fleece to craft alpaca

An interactive alpaca quiz

When everyone had completed their alpaca we set them on one side to let the glue dry and the children gathered on the grass for a little fun quiz. I had researched some fun facts and made up some rubbish ones, the kids had to jump left or right depending on which answer they thought was correct. It was a great way to get a little learning in and I’ll use this idea again. We explored alpaca history, habitat and sociology finishing with what they like to eat.

 

Alpaca quiz game for kids

Creating alpaca homes

Armed with their new knowledge the kids were ready to make a home for their alpaca with all their favourite things to eat.

 

Making alpaca world

 

The children were deservedly proud of their finished alpaca in their homes, though I felt sorry for the parents trying to pack them safely into card to go home the next day!

 

Creative Alpaca Craft

Elmer the Elephant Alpaca

With creative minds still running I left the children colouring alpaca that reminded me of Elmer the Elephant!

 

alpaca drawing and colouring

 

I think I may have created the most knowledgeable 2 – 8 year olds on alpaca in the country! The best part was that they loved every minute and never knew they were learning at all.

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Pond life explored creatively

Posted on August 17th, 2018 - Fiona

Activity hour fell on the most beautiful day and I had wondered it all the families staying might just have headed to the beach forgetting to come back and join me. I needn’t have worried; there was a steady gathering of little ones eager to discover pond life with me.   

 

Pond life explored creatively

 

As everyone gathered I explained all the things we were going to do, beginning with a little frog explanation. Our farm path had been overrun with froglets that had fascinated the children, and so exploring the frog life cycle seemed a good starting point.

 

Frog Life cycle explored

 

Next we had a look in our ‘where animals live’ book for photos of animals and creatures we might see around the pond.  

 

Where animals live Book

 

With pond life identification sheets, fishing nets and magnifying glasses we headed over to the top lake on the farm. There is a little slipway there with easy access to the lake and the children cast their nets in to see what they could find.

 

Pond Dipping at Coombe Mill Family Holidays

 

I had a large tub prefiled with lake water at the ready and we added any catches to this from our nets. From the safety of the slipway the children could peer into the tub and study the pond life inside.  We could see water boatmen and smaller creatures darting across the tub.

 

Studying pond life in a tub

 

Damselflies were all around us with their vivid blue bodies hovering over the water and sunning themselves on leaves and rocks.

 

Damselfly by the Coombe Mill Lake

 

When everyone had tired of seeing the activity on the water we began to fill our collecting trays with nature around the lake. Only foxgloves were off limits as they are poisonous to eat and little ones have a habit of putting fingers in their mouths. These were the prettiest flowers around the pond but we found plenty more things to fill our tubs.

 

collecting nature around the Coombe Mill Lake  

 

Back over the river I taped a giant piece of plain wallpaper to the path and asked the children to re create the lake and it’s surrounding using the paints and the nature they had collected.  Even though the ages went from under 2 to 7 everyone joined in and creativity flowed.

 

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I was so delighted with the finished result I tried for a team photo before hanging it in our games room.

 

Team pond life collage

 

It was certainly a creative way to explore pond life and a perfect introduction for the children.

 

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Studying Caterpillars and Butterflies for The Big Butterfly Count

Posted on August 10th, 2018 - Fiona

In mid July when the buddleias are at their peak, the butterflies flock around the farm. We have the most beautiful bush up behind our Pencarrow lodge with a perfume so sweet and distinctive. An unappreciative Farmer Nick was about to chop it down as it isn’t so easy to mow around, but I was up in arms as the butterflies adore it and I had plans for our activity hour around the scented bush. Thankfully I won, the bush remained and we had a beautiful afternoon butterfly hunting there for the Big Butterfly Count.

 

Studying Caterpillars and Butterflies as part of the Big Butterfly Count

Butterfly Watch for The Big butterfly Count 

We talked about how shy butterflies can be and the need to creep up to the bushes to spot the different varieties. We had been on stealth patrol earlier in the day and taken photos of all the different butterfly types landing on the Buddleia and surrounding ground. These were complied in a table with labels for the children to tick off when they saw them. The children did a great job on all but being very quiet and managed to spot them all. I was slightly concerned about the lack of Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral this year, though there were lots of Silver-washed Argynnis Paphia which I’d not seen in the past and the Common Blue and Small White are reappearing in numbers again.

 

Big Butterfly Count at Coombe Mill

Creative Caterpillars

Butterflies spotted, the children were keen to see what crafts I had planned for them. I wanted to vary things from our butterfly studies in previous years and came up with something quite original. We began by making caterpillars from card circles and pine cones joined with paper clips and wool.

 

Making caterpillars

 

The really fun part was painting them. I’d brought out the spray paints to let everyone make their caterpillars unique with splatter colour.

 

Spray painting DIY home made caterpillars

Butterflies on boards

While the caterpillars dried in the afternoon sun we turned our attention to butterfly boards. My big bag of material scraps was used to create colourful butterflies. Simple rounds or rectangles were pinched in the middle and stapled onto cardboard. A felt pen completed the butterfly bodies and antenna. The results were quick and impressive which was perfect for the time we had.

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It was a lovely way to look at butterfly varieties, talk about their lifespan, habitat and create our own crafty butterfly varieties.  If you fancy joining in The Big Butterfly Count it is running till 20th August and there are some great downloadable identification sheets. I wish I’d checked this out before making my own!   

The Big Butterfly Count and Crafts:

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Campfire and bark rafts down the welly walk.

Posted on August 3rd, 2018 - Fiona

So what to do with a group of preschoolers at the end of a week on holiday in the heat wave? The group was boy heavy and I knew crafts in the sun weren’t going to excite them. They needed to be active and somewhere cool. I knew just the place where we could light a campfire, make and sail bark rafts and be at one with nature. 

 

Campfire and bark rafts down the welly walk.

 

I prepared a back pack with everything we would need and we headed off to the farm to follow the Welly Walk Trail.

 

Welly Walk adventure

Bark Rafts

A walk is always more fun with a little challenge. In this case the children were looking out for a tree with loose bark, a twig and a large leaf to make little sailing rafts. I have to say credit for the idea goes to an Instagram photo from Louise George.

 

Welly walk collecting bark and spotting frogs

 

The children hung onto their raft pieces as they came through the bamboo tunnel out into the open clearing at the end of the welly walk.

 

Bamboo Tunnel on Welly Walk

 

Here we assembled our rafts and floated them in the stream under the shade of the trees. It is such a beautiful cool place to be on a hot day.

 

Sailing Bark rafts at Coombe Mill

Many faces of an old oak tree

Next we made nature faces on the tree with pieces of air dry clay as the base. Sticks, moss, acorn shells and leaves gave the faces their unique features.

 

tree faces

Campfire

The children settled to a little colouring of our lovely picnic blanket and bag while we lit the campfire. I must say in all the time I’ve been making campfires this was by far the easiest thanks to the long dry spell we had been enjoying.

 

Campfire and colouring

 

The sight of the marshmallow packet soon had pens being dropped and children crowding round.  There is nothing quite like a campfire to spark imagination. One little one told me as he left this was the highlight of his week!

 

All that marshmallow eating is thirsty work. Thankfully I had anticipated this and brought squash and cups along.

 

Drinks in the shade on the Coombe Mill Welly Walk

Catch those bubbles

Revived the children jumped up to chase bubbles.

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While the Grandparents sat and watched the stream

 

Grandparents watching the stream

 

There was even time for a little turn on the rope swing before heading back for the evening train ride.

 

rope swing on the Coombe Mill Welly Walk

 

It was a perfect way to spend a hot afternoon shaded from the heat of the sun on holiday. The cooling stream for a little paddle when needed was an added bonus.