Living in the 🏔 Pays du Mont-Blanc, we always have some 🌳 woodland or green space nearby, so here are some ideas for 🌳 nature-inspired activities for your next outing!
1. Build a CABANE
We don’t all live near 🌳 woodland with copious branches available to make a solid cabane, but if you do . . . this activity will keep your brood amused for a while!
We built a cabane in the 🌳 woods of La Pesse (above Sallanches) a few years ago, and it is still standing, as we keep adding to it! Look out for it if you are ever there, or leave us a message to say you have been!
This infamous cabane has also been used to imprison poor Grandpa, though he didn’t much mind, as he does love trees and adventure (and he had the company of Kiki the Husky!).
[ ⇒ for more information abou the La Pesse boulder forest, see separate MBFF article here ]
2. ” Let’s go fly a KITE “
This is not an activity that I think of often, but if you have a good stretch of flat land nearby (the parapente landing field in Chamonix or Domancy, where the mongolfières land, for example?), why not take 🪁 a kite out to fly?
Or, you could 🪁 make a kite, as my boys did this summer at our campsite in la Drôme! (📚 book recommendation: have you ever read Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins, 2011)? It is the hilarious tale of Floyd, who gets his 🪁 kite stuck in a tree, and the turn of events thereafter! Now, whenever we get a ball or a frisbee stuck in a tree, my husband always recommends throwing up hilarious items to dislodge it!).
[ ⇒ link to make 🪁 a kite here ]
3. TREE-CLIMBING, BOULDERS & SCRAMBLING
[ DISCLAIMER: always undertake tree-climbing, scrambling or bouldering with due care, and NEVER let children practise this activity unattended. Take proper equipment (bouldering mat, decent shoes) and avoid if wet. ]
Some 🌳 trees are just perfect for climbing, and you can’t get more at one with nature! (the perfect way to hug a tree, without making a big fuss about it!)
There are also many 🧗♂️ erratic granite boulders au Pays du Mont-Blanc, in the Chamonix Valley and in the Arve Valley . . . these are testament to the history of receding glaciers of ancient times. You’ll happen across some of these, perhaps, on your one hour hike from home.
So why not have a scramble or do some bouldering?
We have come across boulders in: Argentière moraine woods, Servoz castle forest, la Pierre d’Orthaz (Chamonix), Combloux, Sallanches (La Pesse, Médonnet), Cordon . . . to name but a few!
4. Create an IMAGINARY WORLD and go EXPLORE !
When it comes to imagination, kids normally beat adults hands down (apart from Grandpa, who we once found sitting on the dining room table with our then 2 year old, as there were 🐍 anacondas swimming in the carpet!). If you’ve ever read Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1943), he explores this theme of imagination especially well with the picture of a boa constrictor having swallowed an elephant (child’s interpretation) v hat (adult’s interpretation).
My boys are very imaginative when it comes to creating an adventure together . . . This summer they waded through 💦 the Arve in Servoz, 💦 the Sallanche in Sallanches, 💦 the Arly in Praz-sur-Arly, all the while imagining themselves as scientists and explorers on 💦 the Amazon river (it’s always the Amazon!), discovering new species.
And so, if you live near 🌳 woodland or forest, tell the kids that they are in 💦 the Amazon, or 🐊 the Pantanal, or the 🐒 African rainforest . . . Or, if you are in a field, pretend you are in a desert . . . You could always study these locations before or after the playtime, to find out more facts about the locations and their inhabitants?
Here at MBFF, we had a subsciption to, and are big fans of 🐯 National Geographic Kids; if you head over the website, you can study different countries and animals and there are lots of games too!
Here are some 📷 photos from exploration of our local woods, 🌳 La Braconne, which were – on that outing – a jungle (a mixture of different world jungles, in order to include a tiger, an elephant and a toucan! – it wasn’t totally accurate for species!).
5. Trace 🐾 ANIMALS
My boys have been on quite a few outings with school, garderie and the 🦌 Centre de la Nature Montagnarde, to trace 🐾 animal prints and search for clues for animal presence! Some of these outings have taken place in ❄️ winter, when they have 🐾 spotted tracks in the snow (here 🏔 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, it is often fun to guess the animal prints from the grand height of a chairlift!).
And my little one went out to learn about beavers this summer with the CNM – he learned lots of facts and found clues to suggest that beavers were nearby: muddy slides to the water, pencil-shaped gnawed wood . . .
My elder son and I also learned about otters on one outing with Asters (💦 the Arve river in Les Praz was used as the hypothetical home of said otters, as they don’t actually live in this river!). We learned to recognise their poo, and other signs of their habitat.
And so, next time that you head out on your nature walk, look for 🐾 footprints in the mud, animal poo (and I’m not talking about dog poo, this is pretty ubiquitous!) and other clues to an animal’s presence!
Here are a couple of charts, with all sorts of 🐾 animal prints (local forest dwellers, and more exotic animals too). You could always created your own prints in the mud, if you are imagining that you are in a faraway jungle!
And here are some more clues to the presence of certain forest animals:
[ ⇒ link to studying footprints and traces here ]
6. Learn your 🌳 TREES & 🍂 LEAVES or 🍄 MUSHROOMS
If you have older children, perhaps you’ll want to take this opportunity to learn to recognise 🌳 local trees and 🌿 plants and 🍄 mushrooms? For tree spotting, you’ll need to learn to recognise both 🌳 the tree and 🍂 its leaf (and berries, pine-cone, etc . . .) look at 🌳 tree and 🍂 leaf (if necessary, I could always give you Grandpa’s phone number; he does love to chat about trees – but you’ll need a good hour!).
[ ⇒ link to identifying trees with the Woodland Trust here or Pegs and Pitches here ]
🌳 identfying broad-leaves (English names):
🌳 identfying feuillus (broad leaves, French names):
🌲 identifying pines (conifères):
🍁 Little Pine Learners (USA) suggests making cards, so that smaller children can recognise some of their local trees by their 🍁 leaves:
[ DISCLAIMER: if identifying 🍄 mushrooms, then remember that the majority are poisonous, so explain this to small children, so that they do not touch them (or taste them)! ]
7. LISTEN to sounds of nature
I remember being on a family walk a few years ago, around 💦 Lac de Passy, and we had ventured into the woods, where my big boy (about 5 years old then) had been with his class the week before. He decided to be our guide, and he asked us to shut out eyes and listen to the sounds around us!
It was a lovely complicit moment, and it took me back to an experience I’d had about 15 years before in 🇨🇷 Costa Rica. Our group of volunteers was out in the jungle overnight, learning jungle craft! We’d set up our hammocks, made 🔥 campfires and 🥘 cooked dinner, and then we walked about 5minutes away from camp. We were asked to stand in silence. What could we hear? Suddenly a tree fell down not far from our group; that was a sound of nature that none of our group will forget, I’m sure (nobody was hurt!).
It will often surprise you what you hear out in nature, even if you think you are far away from urbanisation – 🐦 birds, woodpeckers, 💦 water, but also: 🚙 cars, 🚁 a motorbike, a 🏍 drone buzzing overhead (none of which I am keen to hear when out in nature!).
Sounds of 💦 La Combe Noire waterfall in Les Contamines-Montjoie:
8. Do a SCAVENGER HUNT or TICK-LIST
🍁 Autumn is the perfect time of year to head out on a scavenger hunt, and you can prepare ✅ a tick-list for your children, suited to their age:
- 🌹 flora: 🍁 autumn leaf; 🌳 oak tree; 🌲 spruce tree; bark; pine cone and pine needles; acorn; 🌰 chestnut; 🍄 mushroom; 🌿 grass . . .
- 🦌 fauna: 🐿 squirrel; 🐌 snail; 🐜 ant; 🐦 bird; 🦅 birds of prey; 🕷 spider & 🕸 spider web; 🦎 lizard . . .
- 🐮 farm animals (if you know you’ll pass them): 🐄 cows, 🐐 goats, 🐑 sheep, geese, 🦆 ducks, 🐓 chickens . . .
- urbanisation: a stone; 🚦 a traffic light; bench; 🍬 sweet-wrapper (!), dog poo (!) . . .
You can be as general or specific as you please, depending on the age of your children, and older kids could even make up their own lists.
✅ different types of tick-lists:
🔤 an ALPHABET scavenger hunt – an autumn-themed alphabet, in French or English, or both . . .
A – acorn;
B – berry, bird, bench;
C – chestnut, car;
🎨 a colour ticklist – my younger son and I do this when we are in the car 🌈 ” I spy, with my little eye, something that is GREEN “:
💙 BLUE –
💚 GREEN –
❤️ RED –
🍄 descriptive scavenger hunts – see website Little Green Explorers for some lists to print, or think up your own;
📷 a PHOTO HUNT tick-list – let each person use 📷 a camera (or share, if you don’t have enough!). Give your group a list of items to photograph (help younger children with this). We did this on an autumn walk along the Sentier des Arpelières in Crest-Voland, when my boys were less than enthusiastic to get going and ” marvel at the autumn colours “! This activity really helped.
9. Prepare a TREASURE HUNT, or do a PARCOURS d’ORIENTATION or GEOCACHING !
🗺 homemade treasure hunts – I honestly marvel at the treasure hunts that parents prepare for their kids’ birthdays! I’ve yet to sort out a proper one for my own children, but I’m thinking about it! You’ll need to find a confined space that you can draw, indicating features . . . and then set out ahead to leave the indices!
🧭 parcours d’orientation & jeux de piste – the Chamonix Valley has several superb parcours d’orientation & jeux de piste (see here) so if you live there, it is likely that one is within 1km from your home!
See MBFF articles here:
- 🧭 10 ideas for JEUX de PISTE & CHASSES au TRESOR au Pays du Mont-Blanc,
- 🍁Autumn Leaf orienteering (Lac de Chavant, Les Houches);
- 🧭 Baby Cham goes orienteering (Bois du Bouchet, Chamonix);
📱 Géocaching – we were late to this game, and actually discovered it through 🗺🧭 Cluses Arve & Montagnes! There are several géocaches in the Pays du Mont-Blanc , which you find with a GPS localiser that you’ll just need to download to your phone . . . and then head out with a fully-charged phone and pencil! ©
10. Get CREATIVE !
I find it funny that this is a term that my kids use so readily: 🎨 LandArt – didn’t we just used to call it art, nature art, play?
Now, there are books about 🎨 LandArt, and amazing creations to be witnessed: sand sculptures, rock art, leaf mandalas . . . Luckily, on our 1 hour jaunt out and about, there are plenty of easier options!
Why create ephemeral art? It is fun and “in the moment“. It may bring a passer-by joy a few minutes later . . . you can always take 📷 a pic to immortalise your work!
Here are some ideas:
- 🍁 leaf mandalas:
[ ⇒ see here for article with more ideas ]
- pine cone art or other items: stones on a river bed, acorns, chestnuts . . .)
- 🎨 ephemeral tableau art – this was an activity my elder son did at the Jardin des Cimes on a school outing:
Collect leaves and autumn nature for artwork at home
🍂 nature mobiles – all you’ll need for this is some branches, string or wool, and nature items collected: bark, pine cones, acorns, chestnuts, leaves . . . There are different types of mobiles: one branch; 3 branches (horizontol); 3 or 4 branches tied together . . .
My boys and I created mobiles this summer, on our campsite: we went out to look for nature items, and then we made our mobiles (I got so into making mine, I almost forgot that my boys needed help!). I absolutely love our creations, and I’ve hung them from our staircase and outside on our terrace! (yes, those are our spiral stairs; remember Daddy MBFF is an architect!).
And our cat rather likes our mobiles too!
🍂 nature dream-catchers – my elder son created a dream-catcher last summer with the fabulous Les Ptits Experts de la Nature!
🍁 fresh leaf and pine art – lots of ideas from Little Pine Learners . . .
Here are some ideas for pine needle art . . . (ideas from Little Pine Learners):
🌷 pressed flower and 🍁 leaf art – I’ll be honest, I have pressed a lot of leaves, and then I’ve just forgotten about them until I open a thick book one day and they fall out and break! But, if your remember about your pressed flowers and leaves, then you can produce some lovely art!
- 💡 leaf lanterns (note: use an electric candle, not an actual candle!):
- waxy leaves:
- 🔖 bookmarks – see here for more information;
rock painting – there is a group on FB for the Pays du Mont-Blanc called MBFF Happy Rocks . . . MBFF has left quite a few rocks out there, but they’ve either not been found or they’ve been found, yet we’ve not heard about it! There was one successful spotting at the Cascade du Dard for another MBFF Happy Rock though! Maybe now is the time to get inspired! It is so lovely to come across a rock!
More 💡 IDEAS: websites
If you need 💡 more ideas for your jaunts to your local woods, or out and about, perhaps you’ll find some inspiration on these websites and FB pages:
- La Salamandre and Petite Salamandre magazines – website & FB page (also, often available at médiathèques and bibliothèques);
- Wakou magazine (4 to 8 years) – website & FB page (also, often available at médiathèques and bibliothèques);
- Wapiti magazine (7 to 12 years) – website & FB page (also, often available at médiathèques and bibliothèques);
- ONF (Office Nationale des Forêts) – website & FB page;
- ASTERS: Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels Haute-Savoie – website & FB page;
- Maison du Salève – this superb écomusée has made its current forest exhibition accessible online, with some informatiove videos! / see here;
- Fête de la Nature – website & FB page;
- National Geographic Kids – website & FB page;
- Woodland Trust – website & FB page;
- Little Pine Learners – website & FB page;