Family farm holidays in Cornwall magical for children, toddlers and babies.
Coombe Mill Blog
"Tales from the farmers wife" shares the funny and interesting happenings on our lovely holiday farm with Farmer Nick and our 6 children. A behind the scenes look on balancing family, farming, the holiday business and cooking for all.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Even Guy and Clio hung around for a little river fun after the race ended pulling floating branches from the river.
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!
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 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.
These were poked into a toilet roll, a peg added for a neck and an egg box section tied on for the head.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Elmer the Elephant Alpaca
With creative minds still running I left the children colouring alpaca that reminded me of Elmer the Elephant!
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.
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.
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.
Next we had a look in our ‘where animals live’ book for photos of animals and creatures we might see around the pond.
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.
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.
Damselflies were all around us with their vivid blue bodies hovering over the water and sunning themselves on leaves and rocks.
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.
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.
I was so delighted with the finished result I tried for a team photo before hanging it in our games room.
It was certainly a creative way to explore pond life and a perfect introduction for the children.
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.
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.
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.
The really fun part was painting them. I’d brought out the spray paints to let everyone make their caterpillars unique with splatter colour.
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.
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!
I love to build on an educational theme for our activity hour on the farm. This week was all about shapes with a group of children age 2 to 5. I had some fun ideas prepared to make learning shapes fun. After all, the children were on holiday and coming along for some creative fun and not to feel like they had started school.
Learning shapes and counting
I had a beautiful book on counting, colours and shapes from Phaidon I had reviewed on my Facebook Page and dug it out of our library collection. As we all sat down on my colour in picnic rug I began the book. The children were instantly drawn to the quirky opening of the book and soon they were all helping me turn the pages to identify and count the shapes revealed.
It was clear the children had a good grasp on basic shapes and only a couple of the higher sided shapes were new to them. Everyone loves a little painting fun and while I read the book Clio was setting up paint at the craft table. We gathered round and used potato stamp shapes to print onto corresponding shape worksheets. (These can be found on the education pages of my website).
Re-gathering on the rug the children settled down to listen to a fun story of a circle who took on a life like character and rolled into his fellow shapes creating quite a commotion. This light-hearted tale had the children laughing and totally engaged. It is another gem from Phaidon I can totally recommend.
Identifying shapes in the fairy garden
After sitting so well, the children were more than happy to be on the move for our next task. We were off to the fairy gardens to identify shapes on the fairies new dancing carousel. This was one I had been making in Farmer Nick’s shed from an old chain real painted and wrapped at the middle with Duck Tape Colours to avoid any splinters. I had chosen to decorate it with different coloured painted shapes so it was perfect for today’s theme. The children spotted it as soon as they ran into the gardens and began shouting out all the shapes they could recognise.
Creating Shapes with Nature
While we were in the gardens I showed the children the magic sticking property of sticky weed. They each collected and piece and hunted for colourful flowers for our shapes craft.
Back at the table and rug I handed out cereal boxes cut to size and invited the children to choose some fabric to cover their boxes. We simply cut and stapled the material around the boxes to make a base for the sticky weed.
Then came the fun part; the children created their chosen shape from stickweed and stuck it to the board. If it didn’t work the first time, the stickweed just peeled off and could be stuck down again. We used double sided tape to fill the shapes with the collected colourful flowers. The children loved making them and seeing their shapes take form. The results were colourful and pretty and the shapes clear.
Extra time and extra activities
That was the end of my organised learning shapes activities but the children took things further rolling down the bank like the circle in Circle Rolls. Then they asked for long rectangular strips of material to add to the wishing tree. They made their wish as they hung them and enjoyed a play with the wishing well before feeding the ponies that had come to watch us.
I don’t think anyone left thinking they had been learning anything, but they certainly had!
“Tales from the farmers wife” shares life on our lovely holiday farm with Farmer Nick and our 6 children. Step into our beautiful 30 acres and experience nature close up with farming and educational crafts in stunning North Cornwall. Family, fun and adventure start here.