It might seem a little bare out there but Nature doesn’t stop in winter and this can be a great time to get out into the countryside with the kids. There’s a lot going on they can’t see but with encouragement, you can open their eyes and show them a whole new and exciting world.
As you walk in the park or in the woods, ask the children where animals such as hedgehogs and dormice go? They are sleeping in their winter retreats and even the idea will incite children’s imaginations as they imagine animal families huddled together, sleeping through the winter. – Field-mice too, will be sleeping in their mossy nests for a lot of the time.
Under the ground, worms and moles will be burrowing more deeply in the earth than they do in the summer, to get away from the frost and snow. And even though a lot of the land is stark, you might let the children know that bulbs of bluebells, snowdrops and Lent lilies will be putting out their first roots and shoots, ready for the springtime to come along.
Leaves have fallen off the trees and this lets us see the structure of their branches. In December, many berries such as holly and the white snow-berries on their bare twigs will be ripe. Ivy, which flowers in December, gives a rich supply of honey to insects that have survived the autumn.
If the children look closely at the ivy, they might see a few green berries forming amongst the flowers. These will ripen to a dark purple colour and in March, they will be eaten by mistle-thrushes.
Some trees are evergreen, keeping their leaves in winter. The Scots pine has leaves like long needles and they have a lovely scent when they fall. The forest ants use them for building their nests.
Yew trees are often found in old churchyards. The leaves of the yew are poisonous and cattle and ponies should not be allowed to eat them. Their red and purple berries that look like tiny jam-tarts are also poisonous.
Holly and Mistletoe
In the holly trees, fieldfares, redwings and mistle-thrushes will feed off the red berries. And on some trees, such as poplars and apple trees, mistletoe will sometimes grow. – How mistletoe comes to grow on trees, nobody knows for sure. If your children can find out how mistletoe germinates, they will be discovering one of Nature’s secrets!
There is so much going on in nature that might excite and delight the kids, this winter.