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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Sometimes a book comes my way that inspires a whole range of activities for me here on the farm. A pile of Leaves from Phaidon.com is one such book. The concept is very simple, but then the best ones always are. Each page builds on the one before to form a pile of leaves. With the arrival of autumn this felt like the perfect time to be searching for fallen leaves and creating fun crafts with them too.
Reading a pile of Leaves
We began our activity session reading the lovely “A Pile of Leaves” book. It is all pictures apart from the leaf identification at the back so left me plenty of scope to talk with the children about autumn and the falling leaves.
A little preview of the book:
Under the old Oak Tree
Coombe Mill has an abundance of lovely old oak trees which are scattering their acorns all around. We took some collecting tubs and began searching for fallen acorns, shells and leaves to create our own autumn stone sculptures. The children found plenty on the floor of the car park and inside the fairy garden.
Leaf and Acorn Autumn Sculptures
Once back at the craft table I mixed a stiff flour and water paste for the children to use to stick their acorns and leaves into their chosen designs on beach pebbles. The beach pebbles I collected the previous week down at the secret beach with my own kids knowing I’d find a good use for them. It was sticky messy fun that inspired creativity without being complex. With a range of 1 – 3 year old’s, this was just what I needed.
Painting a pile of leaves
The children were thrilled with the results and despite their young age keen to do more. I broke out the paints and we painted leaves and printed them with overlapping edges to make a pile of leaves effect just like the book.
It was a beautiful September afternoon and the children had coped so well with all the crafts considering their age. It felt only right to practice a little rolling down the hill, tumbling a falling just like leaves from the trees being blown in the wind.
Meanwhile their crafts dried off in the sun
Outdoor classroom style learning like this is perfect for preschoolers. We had a lovely afternoon studying leaves and nature without anyone feeling pressure to do anything but have fun.
Recreate A pile of leaves sculpture and painting at home
This would be a fun and educational activity to recreate from a country walk.
What you’ll Need
Collected seasonal leaves and nature
Large flat pebble
flour and water paste
Paint and paper
Balance (not all things will stack or stick to the paste and pebble if they are too large or unbalanced)
The opportunity to discuss leaf types and changes with seasons
What do you do to entertain an eager group of children age 3 to 12 on a soggy Friday afternoon? I had struggled all week to come up with something and knew the forecast was at best mixed. I dug back in my mind for inspiration from birthday parties with my own children here on the farm over the years and decided the three things that were always most popular were water fights, DIY piñata making and treasure hunts. I ruled out the water fight with the different age ranges and thought on the other two. Finally I decided on the Piñata but with a twist, instead of using recycled materials as we had in the past, we would use nature. It all fell into place in my mind as I created an example nature piñata to show the children.
Setting the nature piñatas challenge
I split the group into two teams with a mix of ages, girls and boys. Each were given a sealed box with sweets inside and a long piece of string out of one end, a pair of scissors and a length of wool. I showed them the example nature piñata I had made and challenged them to go between the rain showers in search of nature to do the same or better. As an extra incentive to make them try their hardest to make them secure I told them they would swap piñatas at the end and have to try and crack open the other team’s work.
Collaboration and team work
It took a little while for the teams to begin to work effectively, but with a few tips and pointers they began to organise themselves. Some ran off gathering resources while others considered how best to secure them with the limited resources available. The more they worked together and listened to one another the better the progress. It became quite frantic and competitive as each watched the other team and I began to count down the time to stop building.
I hung the finished nature piñatas up from the games room veranda.
Then the children had to think how they were going to knock them down. A stick was the obvious nature choice and they dashed off in search of the biggest they could manage. Just to spice it up again I made them give their chosen stick to the opposite team to use, though we swapped half way to ensure no one had an unfair advantage.
Ready to play
Excitement was bubbling by this point but the children all lined up for the agreed 3 whacks each before moving to the back of the queue. This rule was essential so that no one was excitedly standing in whacking range!
The nature surrounding the boxes held fast for a good few minutes before the boxes were finally reached and hacked and the sweets came thumbing out. With a little reminder to share with their team mates the team leaders ensured everyone in the team had their share of sweets.
It turned into one of my most fun activity sessions and in the excitement of it all no one cared about the showers, though having the veranda to build under was certainly a help.
Recreate Nature Piñatas at Home
This would be a fun activity to recreate with a group of children for a play date or birthday party.
What you’ll Need
Nature collected from a walk keeping flexibility in mind to wrap.
A measured length of string at least a meter long
A box with wrapped sweets inside and a good length of string secured around it.
Every year when blackberry season comes round I can’t resist a little baking fun with the kids here. However I have made our yummy blackberry muffins so many times I was keen to try something new. My other easy to make recipe is biscuits and I figured a few blackberries squished in would add a new dimension to a classic recipe. To this we added a little fun pencil making and blackberry juice ink for some creative nature writing.
Before any of the activities could start we needed to go blackberry picking. I knew all the best places that had escaped Farmer Nick’s careful pruning this summer and we headed off with collecting punnets.
We washed the blackberries. Next the children helped to shape the dough into rounds and place them on baking trays before pressing blackberries into the dough balls.
Making blackberry biscuits
Our mix made 2 large trays which went into the oven to cook.
While the biscuits cooked, we put the rest of the blackberries through my old fashioned hand held cheese grater to create blackberry ink.
Sticky fingers were washed and the children ran off to find sticks they could turn into pencils in the fairy gardens.
Decorating pencils was great fun. We used coloured floristry ribbon and wool and then took them to Theo who whittled the ends with his penknife into a nib for writing. The smaller sticks fitted into a pencil sharpener which was even easier.
Blackberry writing on recipe cards
Then came the fun part; Everyone took a piece of card and stuck the biscuit recipe in the centre, before dipping the decorated pencil nibs in the blackberry ink to add writing and pictures. Some ribbon around the edge completed the cards and made a lovely keepsake and holder for the pencils.
The only thing left to do was to sit back and sample our blackberry biscuits.
Recreate Blackberry biscuits and stick pencil writing at home
This would be a fun and educational activity to recreate from a family blackberry picking walk.
What you’ll Need
Blackberries and a pencil shaped stick collected from a walk
Biscuit ingredients: Flour, butter, sugar
Something to squish the blackberries for ink (we used an old fashioned cheese grater)
Sharp knife or pencil sharpener for the stick.
Card to write on (we used a cereal box cut up)
Cooking health and safety and lessons
The opportunity to explore writing through the ages
I had one of those sun and showers afternoons where everyone was on site and looking for something to entertain the children. Suddenly sign up for my Activity Hour soared, but I had predicted this and was ready with a great activity that would work from little ones to teens. Creative nature boards in stick frames gave enough scope for everyone to make them as detailed and bespoke as they chose. The idea was to collect the things that reminded them of the nature around them at Coombe Mill, strung together in DIY frames decorated in their own personal styles and colours.
As we all gathered and I explained what we would be making the heavens opened. Undeterred we headed out in search of sticks to form our frames. The Fairy Gardens was a popular hunting ground as the canopy of trees kept us sheltered from the rain and there were plenty of fallen branches ideal for what we needed.
Stick Picture Frames
Back under the veranda of the games room we began to form frames from our sticks overlapped in a criss-cross design and tied up with wool. The older ones could do these themselves while the little ones needed help.
If help was needed forming the frames, it certainly didn’t extend to decorating them. From the very youngest there was a clear direction on colours and patterns for decorating the frames. It was a great way for everyone to add their own individuality to their frames.
The nature boards were cut from cereal boxes, with a whole punch on each side through which wool was thread and tied to the stick frames.
Finally there was a break in the rain and everyone dashed off in search of colourful memories of Coombe Mill to decorate their boards.
We used double sided tape for the children to fix their nature into position and felt tip pens for any writing.
I was thrilled with the results from all the children. It was a lovely use of a showery afternoon on the farm with some great keepsakes to take home.
Recreate a Nature Board in Stick Frame at Home
This would be a lovely activity to recreate from a day out in the countryside at any time of year.
What you’ll Need
Nature collected from a walk
String, tape and hole punch
Cardboard (we used cut up cereal boxes)
Colourful ribbon (optional)
The opportunity to discover nature in any one season
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!
“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.