The underrated joys of exploration

Today's children spend all too much time travelling, and all too little exploring. Which is why a simple trip to the countryside, conducted in a spirit of relaxed curiosity, can prove surprisingly instructive. And if the weather makes that an unattractive option, try the kitchen instead
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1 Taking a stroll

With children making many journeys by car, they often don't have a sense of the local environment beyond their usual routes. Taking them for a walk can give your children a whole new perspective.

Most towns, villages and cities have information about local trails or walks, or try your local bookshop. You should be able to find several that are circular, and short enough for young children.

When you've found a suitable walk, talk your child through the places you pass through. What kind of landscape are you in? Is it a town, village, city, countryside or a mixture? Is there any public transport where you are walking? What places does this area most remind you of and why?

Talk about where you are as part of a larger area – for example, a suburb of a city, or part of a county, or an area of the country, such as the West Country. These may seem basic concepts, but many children do not have a clear idea of the sort of environment they live in compared with other parts of the country.

2 Going with the flow

One fun activity for children of this age is to follow the course of a river, or even walk along the bed of a shallow stream.

At this age, children are expected to learn about their natural environment in some detail, and rivers and streams provide a rich source of information. Summer is the ideal time for this, because the water is likely to be shallower.

Start as far up the river or stream as possible. Discuss the things you see as you go along. Is the water flowing fast? If so, it's likely to have steep sides where the water has cut into the land. Does the river slow down? This happens where the land is flatter. Does it meander? This tends to occur where a river bypasses hillocks.

You could also look for evidence of flooding, such as debris like twigs along the bank, which indicate that the water level has been higher at some time. You can work out the speed of the river by dropping in a stick and timing it over a certain distance. Does it make a difference where you throw it? You should find that the water moves faster on the outside of the curve.

3 When in Rome

At Key Stage Two, children learn how Britain has been shaped by the different peoples who have lived here, including, of course, the Romans. Children are often fascinated by the way the Romans wrote. Paper and ink were expensive, so the Romans had their own reusable way of making everyday notes. Here's how you can replicate this.

First, gently heat two wax candles in a foil dish in the oven, keeping it on a low heat. While these are melting, place some newspaper on a table and place on it a piece of flat wood or hardboard about 10cm by 10cm. When the wax has melted, pour it over the wood, trying to get as even a covering as possible. You now have your writing tablet, and you can use a twig or piece of metal to write on it.

The beauty of wax is that when you have filled the tablet, you can reuse it by simply rubbing over it with something smooth to restore the surface. If your child is feeling particularly keen, you could then set them some wax sums, all in Roman numerals of course. Remember that one is I, five is V, 10 is X, 50 is L, and 100 is C.

4 Repasts from the past

Cooking is all the rage these days, but there have been culinary books around for years. Marguerite Patten and Elizabeth David have shifted thousands of their respective books over the decades, and the Victorians were keen cooks themselves.

Find a Victorian recipe book such as Mrs Beeton's Book of Cookery and Household Management; if you haven't got one on your shelves, you could try the local bookshop. Get your child to choose a meal from those on offer. You can talk about the ingredients that the Victorians used – likely to be locally grown fruit and vegetables, and domestically reared meat and dairy produce. Ask your child why they didn't use many of today's exotic ingredients, which will lead you into a discussion of the problems of preservation and transport.

Talk about the British Empire and how we imported commodities such as tea and spices from places like India, and how these were usually dried. You could compare this with today's age of refrigeration and air-freight. Cook the meal and enjoy it. The Victorians enjoyed things like roast beef and bread-and-butter pudding, as we still do today.

For more of a challenge, you could do the same for, say, a typical Roman meal – you can find the details of what they ate in an encyclopedia. It may surprise your child to discover that the Romans had neither sugar, potatoes or tomatoes – staple ingredients that we all now take for granted.