In the second part of our series on summer holiday learning opportunities, Hanna Prince looks at how to keep kids engaged with practical, creative and hands-on activities. Learning needn’t end when the holidays begin. The focus on maths and literacy in schools means that children don’t always get the opportunity to explore other topics – and summer is the perfect time to give their natural interests free reign. Whether you’re nurturing a budding artist, a sports fanatic or the next Bear Grylls, here’s how to broaden their horizons and weave extra-curricular education into your summer routine.
Learning can be as simple as just getting outside. Why not start a nature diary or a scrapbook that you can add to as the summer progresses? You might like to focus on flowers – press them, label them (there are apps that will accurately identify plants if your botany knowledge is shaky) and observe their life cycle from shoot to seed. You could even try identifying the different parts of the flower and discuss pollination or seed dispersal. If you do the same walk regularly, find a favourite tree and create a page for it in your scrapbook. What kind of tree is it? What wildlife can you find living in and around it?
If your kids are more into hands-on learning than observation, try your hand at foraging. From the obvious (blackberries, dandelions, wild strawberries) to the surprising (fat hen, meadowsweet, hawthorn, nettle) it’s amazing how many plants and trees are edible or have medicinal properties. You’ll need a good foraging guide,and it goes without saying never to eat anything you haven’t positively identified – there are several summer foraging courses on offer in Sussex if you need a knowledgeable introduction.
Relaxed summer bedtimes also create opportunities for evening wildlife-watching expeditions. As the light fades, set up camp in the garden or in a local field and keep your eyes peeled for owls. Four types of owl species call Sussex home, but the two you’re most likely to spot are barn owls (look out for ghostly white shapes hunting over fields) and tawny owls (listen for the ‘twit-twoo’ duet). Later in the evening, nocturnal animals will begin to emerge. Find your local badger sett and create a hide downwind – you’ll be able to spot the residents as they emerge after dusk and begin bustling about. Bats, deer and foxes are also more active after dark.
For pretty much guaranteed wildlife spotting, head to the coast with a bucket and a net. Rockpooling hotspots include Birling Gap, Hope Gap, the area between Brighton Marina and Rottingdean, and around Worthing Pier. You can add an educational element by keeping finds in an observation tray and using a field guide to ID them. If you have a microscope at home, take back a jam jar of rock pool water and check for microorganisms. Use a tally chart to identify your finds and use it to prompt discussion on food chains, ecosystems and tides.
With technology a tempting distraction, it’s not always easy to keep kids active during the summer holidays. The solution is to find a sport that appeals enough to beat the draw of the tablet. There are holiday clubs on offer around Sussex focussing on most mainstream sports – football, tennis, cricket, gymnastics – but you could also try exploring a new sport as a family. Think outside the box – why not contact your local archery club (www.archerygb.org/clubs/find-a-club), try your hand at orienteering (www.britishorienteering.org.uk/find_a_club) or draft in the dog and do a flyball taster session (www.flyball.org.uk)? Kids who hate sports but love video games might be tempted off the couch with the promise of some LARP (that’s live action role play), where you act out an adventure from your favourite game or movie.
Summer sports needn’t be expensive or involve travelling long distances. Plenty of Sussex parks have outdoor gyms or athletics areas open to all. You can recreate a school sports day at home, at the park or even on the beach using just a few simple props. Compete in sprinting, hurdles, long jump, bean bag tossing, tug of war and sack racing, with medals and ice creams on offer for the winners. Or organise a game of rounders or croquet with family and friends.
Maybe this summer is the time to sample something more adventurous? Climbing and bouldering are both great summer sports – free, once you’ve had an instructor show you the basics and got familiar with rope work. Most people choose to start off indoors, but there are some fantastic outdoor climbing venues around Sussex, the largest and most popular being Harrison’s Rocks near Groomsbridge. If nobody in your family has a head for heights, hiking challenges can be almost as adventurous. Sussex boasts some of the best long-distance walks in the country, so why not try packing your camping stuff and hiking (or bikepacking) the 100-mile South Downs Way or the 610-mile Monarch’s Way?
Kids’ creativity can be given free reign during the summer. A great way to keep them inspired is to practice ‘strewing’ – a new educational craze that’s taken the internet by storm. The idea is to collect items that you think might be of interest and leave them in strategic places around the house where your kids are sure to discover them. For primary-age kids, that might include books, board games, crayons and paper, craft packs, sticker books and puzzles. For older kids, science kits, a new diary, oil paints, poetry books and blank comic strips – or whatever you think might spark a creative project.
Finally, why not plan a few artistic days out into your summer schedule? As well as plenty of art galleries, you’ll find some intriguing outdoor sculpture trails scattered across Sussex – try the Heathlands Sculpture Trail, which links seven heathland sites across the South Downs National Park. Even a day at the beach can be a creative endeavour. Create your own sand sculpture series, host a family sandcastle-building competition or collect shells for collages. Proof, if you needed it, that learning really is everywhere.