February half term is nearly upon us and whilst the temperatures are still pretty low, there’s plenty of free, outdoor fun to be had to fill your days and wear out energetic children.
I’ve listed some of my favourite ideas below and don’t forget to check out the Baby Routes calendar for outdoor/ nature events and family fun happening near you.
As for us? Well, we have our not-so-little girl’s fourth birthday to celebrate, which we will be doing by, you guessed it, wrapping up warm and heading outdoors for birthday celebrations in the fresh air. Now for the minor matter of creating a hedgehog, wild-woods, rabbit burrow, gruffalo-ish Wind-in-the-Willows cake complete with snow and real wind blowing across it (noone can say Beth doesn’t have creative vision). Help please?!
Walk amongst snow drops
Down here in the south the delicate white heads of snow drops are bobbing into view along many a hedgerow now. Whilst the odd clump of snow drops is a welcome reminder that winter is on its way out, there are many places where snow drops spread as far as the eye can see.
Some kids will love the floral displays, others will just enjoy being out and about with the bonus of being in a setting the adults appreciate too. Many places are also wise to the popularity of their snow drop landscapes and you can often find a hot beverage or slice of cake on offer to round off you walk!
For some of the best spots across the country, take a look at these suggestions from The Telegraph or from the National Trust. Local papers, library noticeboards, church websites or other community hubs are a good place to find information about spectacular places to see carpets of snow drops in your immediate area.
Visit a wildlife pond
February is the time when the natural world is beginning to show signs of waking up after winter and our native amphibians are no exception. Depending on how mild the weather is, February is often the time when frogs and toads begin to make their journeys back to ponds to breed. In the case of toads, this can cover some substantial distance as they prefer to return to the same ponds every year and can travel a fair distance from these over the course of the year. When they do get back to those ponds, if you head out at dusk with a torch you will likely be rewarded with plenty of sightings and some loud croaking!
Check out your local ponds (try your local nature reserve if you’ve not got one in a local park or garden) for the first signs of amphibian activity. If you’ve got older children (sometimes they have to be teenagers for safety reasons) then why not help out your local toad patrol to help returning toads back to their breeding grounds and avoid ending their migratory journey under the tyres of a car at crossing hot-spots.
Look for signs of spring
If you need a focus for getting outdoors then challenge your kids with finding as many signs of spring as possible on your next walk. From catkins, leaf buds and bulbs springing up from the ground to the more obvious sound of bird song and increased signs of animal activity, there’s plenty to see and hear and keep little ones busy on a nature walk.
For older children, why not get involved in a little citizen science by recording any signs of spring on the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar? All data collected from across the country is used to help inform on changes to the climate, environment and to identify any challenges posed to the natural world by these.
Take up stargazing
Whilst most of us are glad to see the days lengthening at long last, the final long nights of winter combined with relaxed bedtimes during half term make this a great time to get kids interested in the night sky.
We’ve had some brilliant cold spells here recently which coincide with immaculately clear nights and the moon will be waning during half term, bringing the stars even more into focus.
You will need to wait for the next clear night, wrap up warm, grab a groundsheet, blankets, large flask of hot chocolate and head to a dark space near you. The further from the glare of street lights, the more stars you will see. If you’ve got a telescope or camera and tripod then you can take a closer look or the kids can try out some night-sky photography. A star chart and compass will come in handy if you want to try your hand at identifying the constellations and planets you can see.
Try the Dark Skies Discovery website for inspiration on places to go or organisations near you that might run family events or offer stargazing facilities. The BBC Stargazing Live activity pack is handy if you want some activity ideas, or we love the 100 Things to Spot in the Night Sky Usborne Spotters Cards which shows you what you can see during the year, how to find them and more info on different constellations and planets.
Celebrate Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year celebrations conveniently coincide with half term this year. With street parades, dragon dancing and all manner of loud and colourful celebrations taking place in the open air across most of the UK’s largest cities, it’s well worth checking out what’s happening near you to welcome in the Year of the Dog. We visited London’s celebrations last year and the children absolutely loved it and best of all, apart from a very reasonably priced Chinese feast for lunch, the parades are usually absolutely free to attend. This year London’s celebrations are taking place on the 18th February with similar festivals happening across the country. Just make sure you get there early to bag the best viewing spot!
Make your Garden Wildlife Friendly
February is the perfect time to get out into the garden and have a sort-out before spring bounces in.
Now is the last possible time to put up a bird nesting box (making your own is a great activity for older kids). It’s also the perfect time to clean out and top-up bird feeders, clean bird-baths and to make sure there is unfrozen water available for wildlife visiting your garden.
If you think you might have hedgehogs nearby then this is a great time to make a hedgehog nesting box and to put out some food for any hibernating hogs waking up early from their winter slumbers.
Other great ways to help wildlife are to make a small wildlife pond (an old sink or even a bucket is better than nothing), make a bug hotel or designate a ‘wild patch’ in your garden where the grass is left longer and undisturbed.
If your garden consists of a balcony or a pot or two outside your front door there’s still ways to help encourage and help wildlife. Head to the garden center and invest in some early pollinator friendly plants (hellebore, snowdrops, crocus and heathers are good bets (check for pollinator symbols) or you can find some inspiration here) for the kids to plant up in pots. Early spring is a really hard time for our already under-threat pollinators, as food sources are few and far between so every little helps. Don’t think that you can’t encourage birds either – you’d be surprised by how bold birds can be given some time to get used to new feeders. It’s worth experimenting with a feeder tied to a garden cane poked in a plant pot or try a window feeder.
Valentines Day Outdoor Crafts
Turn your back on the commercial side of Valentines Day and look outside for inspiration for your own homemade love tokens instead. Kids will enjoy making collages from leaves, twigs, bark or pressed spring flowers to stick onto homemade cards, giving them a focus for some fresh-air time.
If the weather is warm enough then take their painting or colouring crayons outside to practice some nature art. Painting outdoors is a novelty many kids will leap at and it saves you extra clear-up.
Whilst picnics are generally the domain of warmer months, kids love the adventure of taking their meals outside at any time of year. If you’re feeling adventurous then why not have a camp fire and toast muffins, marshmallows or cook some supper outdoors. If you’re looking for a simpler option then how about baking some potatoes at home and wrapping in foil or making up a flask of soup and then head out to the garden or nearest woods with a groundsheet and enjoy eating outdoors. You could even throw in a little den building
Take in a murmuration of starlings
Watching the starlings gather in huge groups at sunset is one of my favourite British natural phenomenon and one that kids of all ages seem to love too. Thousands of birds gather to roost in huge groups across the country, darkening the skies as they swoop in formation before plunging at some secret signal down to their roost every night. February is one of the last chances you will get to see this spectacle before the birds return to their breeding grounds in northern Europe so grab the chance whilst you still can.
If sunset doesn’t work for your family schedule then consider getting up early – the starlings bursting up from their roost at dawn is just as spectacular a sight, although you get less show-time for your efforts – once they are up, they are off for the day. To find out where you can see them near you, try the RSPB site.
Find a new park or walking route
February is still considered by quite a few people as still too chilly for parks. Whilst this can be true, if you’re dressed up warmly then it’s actually a great time as there is less queuing for the play equipment! Why not challenge the family over half term to check-out a few totally new parks, nature reserves, woodlands or green spaces in your neighbourhood or try out a new walking route or few. By the time the warmer months come around, you’ll be clued up on all the best outdoor spots nearby and have plenty of options to get outside and explore away from the crowds.
Have a spring clean
Following David Attenborough’s call to arms in the fight against marine plastic in Blue Planet II last year, I’ve noticed a renewed environmental drive across social media and news channels and plenty of people making more environmentally aware choices.
Why not give the kids a project over half term to get a little closer in tune with their immediate environment? We have invested in a pair of litter grabbers in our house and have started doing litter picking on our walks. The older girls are visibly proud of their efforts as we pass the results of their hard work each day and it has given them a closer connection and made them more observant of their immediate environment. It’s a great time for litter picks too, to clear away rubbish before the plants start growing quickly again.
Of course, this activity isn’t always suitable for kids, especially very young ones, but there are plenty of other ways they can get stuck in to learning about creating a more sustainable world and doing their bit for the environment.
It could be something as simple as collecting rainwater in a bucket for watering houseplants with, making a household recycling reference poster, making a map of plants and wildlife on their street (there’s more than you think) or planting a fruit bush/tree (now’s the last chance for bare-root plants) to grow your own organic produce or for older school children you could take inspiration from these WWF environmental project ideas.
Make a nature display
You know all those stones, sticks, leaves, pine-cones and feathers your kids come home loaded with (although my pockets also seem to fall victim)? Why not create a dedicated nature tray or display for them for winter and then update it as spring swings in? Over the year children enjoy recording the change in season by updating their nature displays and seeing how the objects change as the weather warms up. You could include a jam jar vase for any little clippings – ours currently contains primroses and white heather from the garden, or use it as a place to display any animal track casts you’ve made.