Do Squirrels Like Sweets?

© Paul Whippey (Own work) – via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s philosophical question – Do Squirrels like sweets?  Okay, so this may be a bit heavy for a Sunday afternoon, but bear with me …

I was sitting doing some peaceful colouring at the kitchen table with my 2.5 year old son, when a red blur streaked past the window arresting the attention of us both.  We looked up the garden.  Nothing there.  We peered around the wall.  Nope, nothing there either.  Joe scratched his head.  He wondered if it was the deer we saw yesterday, lazily chewing dandelion stalks up the field until Joe gave a friendly but loud shout of “Hello Deer!”, and scared the poor creature half to death.  It bounced its way back into the forest in a blink.  Joe cried.

With his interest piqued again today, and keen to make amends to the terrified deer, my boy was not to be deterred from his quest to find the red streak.  So, rainbow picture abandoned, we embarked on a tour of the garden and land.  Minutes later, whilst he and I were knee deep investigating a particularly large molehill, Ella appeared breathlessly from the terrace full of excitement about the red squirrel she had just encountered en route to the front of the house.  From her account of the meeting the unfortunate squirrel was apparently subjected to an equally loud exclamation of some form, and set off for cover in a similar manner to the deer.  In any event, mystery solved.

“It’s a squirrel Joe!  A Squirrel!” she cried.

Joe didn’t look convinced.

“We need to make it a bed a give it some food,” announced my girl, ever the homemaker.

“Can’t me chase it?” asked Joe.

“No, that will scare it,” counselled Ella.

“Oh,” said Joe, beaten.

I left them to it, Ella marshalling Joe into finding grass and leaves for a soft bed, and collecting freshly fallen walnuts from around the two trees that annually shed their crop on our field.  In the early years here we used to collect, dry, store and eat them.  Then we realised that each year the crop was so large we were ending up with a growing (and wasteful) stockpile, so we now only harvest a few kilos each year, and leave the rest to the wildlife.  This keeps the squirrels very busy, and the children entertained.  But that was 12 months ago now, and they have forgotten all over again.

I supplied bowls for water, and shelled walnuts “in case the little squirrels don’t have sharp enough teeth, Mummy.”

All thoughts of the deer forgotten, they worked industriously, and both finally appeared in the kitchen, cheeks glowing with the freshness of the wet autumn day and muddy wellies tracking their progress across the floor.

“Come and look!” said Ella.  So I did.  I found a delightful little haven nestled between two planters.

“The squirrels in our garden are very lucky,” I said.  They beamed.

“I think they need sweets, to give them energy,” attempted Ella.  Nothing to do at all with the fact that this would necessitate breaking open the candy tub, from which she and her patient little brother would surely deserve a treat for being SO nice to the squirrels.  It was nearly lunchtime.

“No,” I said, decisively.  “Squirrels don’t like sweeties.”

“How do you know Mummy?” was the reply ….

Well, actually I don’t.  And I’m not likely to find out anytime soon, as the lunchtime deadline held fast, despite the hard-done-to protestations.

But her question did get me thinking …..!

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Bows and Arrows

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As a budget conscious parent I’m always on the lookout for fun things to do with the children that don’t cost anything. The natural world has a lot to offer, and as we mooched about the site on a recent camping trip, an idea presented itself ….

We were collecting twigs for a campfire, and as we scanned the sun-bleached grass for suitable tinder wood my mind began to play tricks – were the twigs lying randomly on the ground, or was there an order to their arrangement?

After going slightly cross-eyed, I vaguely recalled reading ages ago of some psychological research around the idea that the brain seeks to find familiar shapes out of random forms – it’s one of the reasons why cloud watching works so well.

In seeking order from the twig-collection my brain was finding apparent pathways, and it struck me we could make a simple treasure trail.

So we arranged arrows every few paces on the ground, in a meandering path around the site, and the children had great fun following it (well, Joe, 2, tried to dismantle it, but was eventually dissuaded from his task with the lure of a mid-afternoon snack!).

Not satisfied with just a trail, my daughter decided that it must lead to some treasure.  So we hunted for precious things that would make suitable booty.  A pale flat stone, a feather and a perfect blade of yellow hay caught her imagination.  A stray red strand of thin plastic, which I think was originally a tie for a bin bag, made the perfect ribbon and bow for our parcel.

Trail and treasure complete, we had a fun hour hiding, tracing, and discovering … a game that was repeated with multiple changes of route and secret hiding places for the treasure.

Clouds, Illusions I Recall …

© Oslovite (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

As the kangaroo morphed into a whale the giggling got the better of us.  What had started as a mist had now turned into Moby Dick, and was threatening to swallow the house.  The children screamed in delight ……

We were cloud watching, lying in a row on the grass in the front garden.  I’m certain the passing neighbour thought we were quite bonkers.

Keep a close eye on the heavens and watch for moisture-laden blue-sky days where clouds start to form.  The stories that grow as the clouds take form can be as fantastic and as wild as your imagination.  The story can happily end there, or these tales of the tallest kind can be later recalled and blown once more into shape:

  • With card, glue and some cotton wool you can recreate your cloud shapes on the kitchen table
  • White pastels smudged onto blue card can bring out the artist in a child of any age
  • For older children the stories can be retold, written out, and illustrations created to make your very own story book – if you bind it through holes with string you can add to it another day when the skies come alive with stories once more

Hunting for Fairies

I find nothing fires the imagination of my 5 year old daughter more than the idea of magic.  Anything that you can’t pin down, and which allows your imagination to run wild and my girl is away in her head, creating and exploring worlds that have no earthly existence, but which to her are so very real.  Fairies fit into this idea very nicely.  You can’t see them, so you cannot say they do not exist.  They might.  And the thrill of this can keep her occupied for hours.

Anytime you are out and about, in your garden or anywhere even slightly green, there is the opportunity to go fairy hunting.  I love opening my own mind in this way, and accessing my inner child.  It is liberating and quite a challenge to set aside the practical mind constraints that the adult world imposes.  Ella at first follows, and them leads in the creativity.  Hers knows no bounds.  We have created a gentle “ting ting ting ting” sound that reflects what she imagines they may sound like when they fly.  And so we stop in the fresh-air silence and listen.  We have heard them, just faintly, many times.  Then they know we are listening, and so they stop.  No, really, they do.

Thinking about their habitat is a lot of fun too.  Wild mushrooms are obviously tables for the fairy dance, and rocks provide hiding places for fairy hide-and-seek.  Acorn cups are the perfect cups and bowls.  Crinkly brown leaves are what the fairies use as confetti, and the lush green ones are perfect for surfing or fairy magic carpets.  Holes in trees are the fairy houses into which we carefully place soft cut grass or heather for their beds, and abandoned rabbit holes show that the fairies have a clever network of underground tunnels that allow them to stay hidden.  They’re not daft these fairies.

At home, our explorations complete, and imaginations exhausted, we take the table from the doll’s house and gently lay acorn cups supported on plasticine upon it.  Filling them with minute drops of water provides a signal to the fairies that they are invited to come and play in the night.  Now she is learning to write, she will often leave a note for them, with instructions on where to sit, or which of her toys they may play with.  From time to time we also leave a real fairy cake.  Both it, and the water, are always gone in the morning.  Eyes tight shut in bed, my girl is convinced she hears them, but never peeps because that would break the spell.

Fairy hunting is great for stretching the imagination of your child.  And yours too.  The real world will interrupt their innocent musings all too soon, so I like to take every chance we have to exercise that sense of wonder in the hope she will carry some of it into her adult life.  Who knows, maybe the fairies will follow?

Capturing Seaside Memories

The summer holidays are a time for making memories, and a visit to the seaside is a treat that many children will treasure forever.  All those experiences of windswept or sunny sand banks, clambering in and around rock pools and dipping toes into chilly waves can leave a delightful and indelible mark on the childhood psyche.

As I write this I’m accessing the faintest hints of memories from many years ago, a tranquil smile on my face and a warm fluffy feeling inside …. leaving home in the dawn hours, crammed into the backseat of the car, wedged in by the cool box not a car seat … slip-sliding with giggles across planks laid on muddy fields outside our tiny caravan home … shell hunting in the rain … burying Dad in the sand … squirming at the feel of slimy seaweed underfoot … buying pink rock from a beachside stall …

My memories.  And now I’m a grown-up I like to help my children make theirs.

My daughter loves collecting pebbles.  The more colourful the better, and if they are smooth and have specks that glisten in the sun she is in heaven.  She also loves shells, and the pearlescent shimmer of the interior that seems to ebb and flow like the tide.  Driftwood, dried seaweed, and crab claws all make lovely additions to the stash.

A beach treasure hunt is a lovely way to take a walk in the salty air, and collect treasure at the same time, but how to make the excitement last?  Here are a few ideas:

© Youssouf Cader | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Youssouf Cader Dreamstime Stock Photos

A Seaside Memory Jar

  • Save some sand in a bag
  • Help your child sort the special items from their collection (there are likely to be a lot of weird and wonderful items in there!), and wash them together in the sea
  • Dry the sand and other items thoroughly at home
  • Find an attractive jar – a mason jar, or jam jar with a colourful lid are ideal – sterilise and dry it completely
  • Empty the sand into the base of the jar to create a mini-beach
  • Arrange the treasures on top
  • Seal the jar – it can be nice to decorate it with a bow, and a sticker to note the date the items were collected

A Memory Box

This is the same idea as the jar, a place to store your seaside gems, but allows you to also add in a few photos, and pictures you child has drawn to reflect the day.  Decorating the box with seaside shapes, starfish, mermaids, sailboats, and so on can make it extra-special.

A Shell Box

  • Collect a good selection of shells from the beach
  • Wash and dry them at home
  • Find a sturdy cardboard box about the size of jewellery box
  • Paint it in seaside colours
  • Glue the shells to the outside
  • Your child can use it as a treasure chest for other items found on the beach, or anything else they choose

A Sand Picture

  • Bring some sand home from the beach and dry it thoroughly
  • Take a large tray, a thick piece of card, and some white PVA glue
  • Choose a seaside theme with your child, and sketch a few simple shapes – a boat, a starfish, a whale, a fish, whatever fires their imagination
  • Daub glue liberally onto the card in the form of the shape you have drawn
  • Sprinkle the sand all over the glue and leave it to dry
  • Shake off the excess sand and there you have a sandy seaside shape
  • A light spray with a fixing agent such as Spray Mount will help to prevent any excess sand falling from the picture over time