Your outdoor calendar: May 2022

Julie Mountain
Thursday, April 28, 2022

Spring has sprung! The natural world is overflowing with joy, so make the most of the bounty on your doorstep, says Julie Mountain



Opportunities for children to move up and down in space are a critical element of developing the vestibular system. Jasmine Pasch calls this movement in the vertical plane ‘Boing’ – from her ‘Boing, Whoosh, RolyPoly’ tactic – and if you don’t have equipment to provide this physical challenge, here a few ideas for temporary and portable solutions:

  • Collect large loose parts and encourage children to build upwards with crates, hollow blocks, planks, tyres and pallets. Use bungees and string to hold everything together.
  • I’ve recently discovered the perfect pallet for young children: a miniature sized one that vehicle engines are delivered on. Ask local garages and mechanics to save them for you – they are the exact size and weight for small hands to transport.
  • Bounce along paving slabs or chalked shapes on the ground; jump from piled-up crates; hang by the arms and then drop to the ground from horizontal poles or tree branches.
  • If you have a sound external wall, consider bolting climbing holds to it to create a traversing route.
  • Make steps into slopes and ramps using planks of wood to give children ‘whooshing’ opportunities – that’s movement in the horizontal plane.




  • 19 May is Global Outdoor Classroom Day. The website, www.outdoor, has hundreds of suggestions for activities from all around the world, showcasing diverse cultures, projects and ecosystems. Many are STEM-focused.
  • Look up into trees for birds’ nests, then collects thin sticks from the ground – with the winds of April just behind us, there should be lots – and use them to weave your own nests. Silver-birch twigs are especially good for this, with multiple thin, wiry, flexible branches. Birds are not the only animals that build nests, and nests are not only constructed with twigs – explore what else the word ‘nest’ might mean.
  • If you have access to a pond or stream, look out for the chrysalises of dragonflies. Dragonfly nymphs crawl out of the water onto reeds and emerge from their cases to dry their wings. The chrysalis is left behind and is fascinating to inspect close up.

Understanding the world


Celebrate high spring with crowns and masks made from found objects harvested from nature.

As a rule, picking wildflowers is discouraged and uprooting whole plants is against the law in the UK, but small quantities for personal use is generally acceptable.

Before finding blooms and leaves for decorating crowns, talk to children about why there is a law to protect plants; for example:

  • They don’t belong to us and taking without asking is stealing.
  • Some are rare, only grow in certain places and can’t easily be replaced.
  • If everyone helped themselves to plants, they can’t reproduce and could become extinct.
  • Plants are a fundamental component in the Earth’s biodiversity and in local ecosystems, providing food for insects and animals and returning nutrients into the ground. Wholesale removal can have catastrophic effects – show children pictures of devastated rainforests as an example of what happens when humans take what they want without considering the consequences.

If you have flowering plants in your own garden, discuss why it might be OK to pick these. If there were a big patch of daffodils in the park, how many would it be OK to pick – ten? Half of them? Children are likely to know about conservation when it comes to animals, but many adults are unaware of similar regulations around plants, flowers and fungi, so use the collection of natural materials for crafts as a springboard to discussion.

Once you have agreed which flowers and leaves are acceptable to collect, stick them to cardboard masks and crowns to celebrate the renewal and rebirth that springtime represents.

Active stories

Julia Donaldson’s book Poems to Perform is all about imagination and movement – every one of the dozens of verses in this collection begs to be acted out, and many work wonderfully outdoors. You'll find a poem to suit any occasion or time of year, making this book fantastic value for money.

Marilyn Singer’s poem, Edges, is a super movement rhyme:

’I like to walk the edges –

the curbs, the rims the little ledges

I am careful not to tilt,

to stumble, slump or wilt,

I pay attention to my feet

so that every step is neat,

I am dancing in the air

but I never leave the street.’

Cicely M Barker’s Flower Fairy books were lavishly illustrated and these can now be found online. Her poem about the Elder Tree is short and one to enjoy while collecting armfuls of elderflowers. Elderflowers press well between sheets of paper. Press a few bunches for a couple of weeks and then use the dried bracts to create illustrations for the May Flower Fairy poem.

Communication and language

Dance is a traditional method of communication, and humans aren’t the only creatures that communicate thoughts, feelings or demands through movement – think of boxing-mad March hares; strutting, displaying peacocks; and tail slapping whales. While standing or sitting outdoors, help children recall words that represent springtime, rebirth, growth – look around at the natural environment for inspiration and invent movements that illuminate them. Children will be able to imagine themselves as a sunflower, growing from an underground seed through to a tall, strong, elegant plant and create movements that speak of these actions.

Other words or phrases might be more challenging to turn into dance movements, but here are some ideas to start with: scudding clouds; gentle breeze; swishing grass; bounding rabbits; fresh rain; falling blossom.

Try to link each movement to make a short performance that tells a story about springtime. Can the dancers’ audience guess what each movement represents?

Planning ahead…

  • The longest day – the summer equinox is on 21 June this year – is an opportunity to invite parents into the setting to play outdoors with their children. Show parents and carers how capable and physical their children are when playing outdoors; talk about and demonstrate how their child’s core skills are enhanced through active, imaginative outdoor play. Next month, I�ll have a few suggestions for celebrating the equinox outdoors.
  • Explore sustainability and environmental issues on United Nations World Environment Day, on 5 June.

Natural learning

Shrubby elder trees are full of blossom and new shoots. Last May’s Outdoor Calendar included instructions for making elderflower cordial on a campfire (, but there is much more to the elder tree. Many myths and legends are associated with it, some rather negative, but it is often thought of as an indicator of summer: the season starts with elder blossom.

Many elder crafts begin with removing the pith from the core of the new shoots and last year’s growth. It can easily be pushed out using a tent peg or bamboo skewer, and children will be delighted if their pith comes out in one long piece, like a pale, soft worm!

  • Cut short lengths of elder, remove the pith and thread wool or twine through the pieces to make an elder bead necklace or bracelet. Children might like to decorate their elder beads, or gently rub the bark off to reveal the new, lime-green growth.
  • Make an articulated elder puppet with one small piece of elder for a head, a longer piece for a body and two shorter pieces for each arm and each leg. Remove the pith from each piece and thread through with wire so that the puppets can be posed.
  • In the Harry Potter world, the most powerful wand, which legend claimed was fashioned by Death himself, was the Elder Wand. Older elder stems are easy to whittle into a wand with a vegetable peeler, and the bark on brand new growth is so soft it can almost be rubbed or sanded off.
  • Cut a 30cm length of thicker, older elder stems and use a palm drill to make a hole through the ends. Thread and tie ribbon through each hole to create dancing ribbons.

Nursery World Awards 2022: Entries are open for the Nursery World Enabling Environment award. Find out more at

May top tips

May is a very busy time in the wildlife calendar and there is much children can do to support biodiversity:

  • Allow weeds to grow in a few places – many insects lay their eggs there.
  • Make mini-wildlife habitats with piles of stones, dead wood or leaves.
  • Feed the birds – but remember to place mealworms and other protein-rich titbits above ground so that they aren’t eaten by ground dwellers.
  • If you haven’t been able to grow soft fruits or veggies from seed, source seedlings (buy them as ‘plugs’ or ask parents to share some of their surplus) and plant them in raised beds, planting boxes or hanging baskets. Although the likelihood of frost has abated, it’s still worth protecting young plants with a mulch – straw, woodchip, leaf litter – around their roots.
  • Even if you already have water butts at your setting, leave buckets outdoors in the evenings to collect overnight rainwater.
  • Make a watering can for every child by poking holes in the lid of a plastic milk bottle.
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