The long summer holidays are nearly here but what to do with the kids that doesn't involve spending pennies? Peel them away from their screens and get them outdoors to discover bearded dragons and snakelock anemones...
Gorgie City Farm
Visiting Gorgie City Farm is a great way to engage children with nature and see farm animals they wouldn't usually encounter. “It's a very calm and relaxing place to visit, and it's quite a small site so it's perfect for little legs. We have our goats on goat mountain, our iconic red tractor that children love to climb on, a wildlife garden, a sensory garden, goats, sheep, cattle, and lots of pigs. We have our furry favourites and we have dragons but they don't breathe fire, they're bearded dragons. Just now we have goat kids and lambs, and in a few weeks we will hopefully have some new micro pigs (also known as teacup pigs) on site. This will be the only place in Scotland where you can see them and hopefully kids will have the opportunity to handle them,” said Sarah Campbell, Development and Fundraising Manager. Gorgie City Farm is free to visit but they appreciate donations.
Build a mud kitchen
Getting children to play with mud works wonders for their immune systems. Building a mud kitchen in your garden can involve anything from a bowl full of mud with some old kitchen implements to a full-scale home-made outdoor kitchen. Dig in the kitchen drawer and discover some old wooden spoons, and look in the recycling for safe play containers to fill with mud. They'll love making messy mud pies. “Mud kitchens are a great way for children to express their creativity, develop sensory and mathematical skills. The world we live in today is very clean and sanitized which is contributing to an increase in childhood allergies. Exposing children to mud and dirt builds their immune system so it is actually good for them too,” says Emma Grover, an early years practitioner.
Milsey Bay near the Seabird Centre at North Berwick is a popular spot for building sandcastles and exploring the rock pools. Children are fascinated by overturning rocks in search of strange sea creatures from starfish to tiny crabs. Sea anemone such as the purple Snakelock Anemone are best not to touch because they sting. Be careful to put rocks back carefully and ensure children wear non-slippy footwear. The water pool built into the rocks at North Berwick is a safe play for sailing wee boats, playing and paddling. Even better, encourage your children to build a boat from recycled paper lunch boxes, cocktail sticks and whatever they can find for sails. A wee bird tells me chicken skin works remarkably well as a diminutive sail.
Meadows play park
If you can't face the journey to the sea, you need go no further than the Meadows play park. Pack up the old bucket and spade and head to the to this enormous play park where toddlers can take off their shoes and play contentedly in the sand play area with sand cannisters on pulleys and sand slides. In summer the water play equipment is filled with water to play with too. The Meadows is one the the biggest play parks in the city and it has a huge range of play equipment for a variety of ages.
Foraging for elderflower
June is the season for elderflower which grows abundantly on trees in woodland and hedgerows. Look out for creamy white flowers hanging in flat clusters and pick them when it's sunny for the best flavour. Kids love finding their own ingredients. Take them home and pop them in a pot with sugar and lemons and water and let them simmer. They'll be thrilled with this summery-tasting cordial, all the better for being home-made. Other flowers including honeysuckle and roses can be used to make tea, cordials, sorbets or jams and jellies, but make sure they are wild and haven't been sprayed with pesticides.
Paddling in the Braid Burn
Under the bridge near to the Agassiz Rock is the perfect shallow spot for children to take their shoes and socks off for a paddle in dappled shade. It's a sheltered spot in the valley bottom of the stunning Hermitage of Braid Nature Reserve. Bring a picnic because it's a long walk to the nearest shop. There is a cafe at the Morningside end but it's a long walk for short legs. You can drive some way along the Blackford Glen Road to make the walk shorter. Nearby there are horses too.
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is a fantastic place for small children to run free. The only trouble is stopping them climbing the trees or picking the flowers. The duck pond is a favourite spot with children as is the cafe play area. This summer they're also running The Lost Words Family Trail (priced £2) where you can discover the secret lives of plants and animals and create your own spells. The Lost Words exhibition is on at Inverleith House in the Botanics and it's free.