I am fortunate enough to have visited numerous primary schools and nurseries across England since my 1st ‘Whimsy Wood’ children’s book, ‘Posie Pixie And The Copper Kettle’, was published back in July 2013. I have also visited schools overseas via the amazing technology that is Skype!
My woodland-based books for 5-8 year olds seem to lend themselves well to a classroom situation and I know of a number of schools that have spent the week following my visit, using the Whimsy Wood books in numeracy, literacy and geography lessons, to name but a few.
I naturally tend to use descriptive language, so an activity that can be done with children aged between 5 and 8 years old, would be to ask them to create their own woodland character and then to use 3 adjectives (sometimes called ‘wow words’ in various schools in the UK) to describe their creature. This activity has worked very well in a classroom during school visits.
Usually, I have read part or all of the current Whimsy Wood book to the children before this activity. We’ve then discussed the sort of animals that you would find in a wood (not on a farm, not in a jungle, but a wood!) For the younger children, I have a very special ‘coming to visit a school’ bag, which contains a number of furry woodland toy animals. With this bag, I play a guessing game with the children, where I describe the woodland animal that’s about to come out of the bag and they have to guess which one it is! The result is of course the same, with the children’s imaginations warmed up with thinking about woodland creatures.
I then tend to show the children a few images on my iPad of illustrations containing characters from my Whimsy Wood books and I ask the children how they would describe these characters. The aim is of course to warm up their use of descriptive language. Once we’ve done this, paper and pencils are distributed and the children draw their own woodland character.
Sometimes children would rather create something outside of the confines of the task in hand, which is absolutely fine. I tend to be as flexible as possible with the children I’m visiting, as my real aim is to ignite their imaginations. If they want to draw a knight or a fairy for example then that’s great, because these 2 individuals may be visiting the wood! Likewise, characters from ‘Minecraft’ may have appeared in Whimsy Wood via a secret portal!
Another activity, related to my Whimsy Wood series, is woodland map creating. This is because at the back of every woodland book, there is a map of Whimsy Wood. This map is incomplete and more and more bits get added to the map as you read through the series. We leave the map incomplete so that children can fill in the map, using their imagination and what they have learnt from the story.
Again, this activity may follow a reading of the current Whimsy Wood book. We then talk about the things that you’d see, hear, touch and smell within a wood. As with the previous activity, I am trying to stimulate the children’s imaginations. To help them, I will bring out my ‘magical mystical boxes’! Inside these multi-coloured boxes are various woodland flora and fauna. For example, in one box I have brightly coloured craft feathers (just because we’re discussing items that you’d find in a wood, they don’t all have to be brown and green!) In another I have small, plastic red and white spotty toadstools. I also happen to have a box containing miniature (fairy-sized I should say!) acorns!
This is because I accidentally put a pair of my trousers in the washing machine, following a woodland walk with my family and our trusty dog Huxley. I’d squirrelled away these acorns in my pockets of the aforementioned trousers, forgotten about them, and shoved them into the washing machine…. Hey presto! I had accidentally carried out a science project of my own and shrunk these acorns into their now dainty form!
These woodland items I like the children to pass around between them and again we talk about how these things look and feel. I then explain to the children the importance in using all your senses, whenever you are creating something. Whether it’s a painting, a story or, in this case, a woodland map. By using as many of your senses as possible, you will make your own creation that much more vivid and alive to the viewer or reader.
Finally we talk about the need for a compass on your map and that this drawing is a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the wood. I’ll show them the map at the back of the Whimsy Wood book that we’ve read and I’ll explain that their own woodland map doesn’t have to be of Whimsy Wood. It can be for any wood that they fancy. Perhaps it’s one that they’ve visited with their family, or perhaps it’s an imaginary one with candy floss trees and popcorn hedgerows!
What’s important is that they’ve used their imaginations to transport themselves and created something on paper (being their woodland map or their woodland creature above) from absolutely nothing! Now that is a marvellous achievement for anyone and something indeed to be proud of.
If you’d like to know more about the Whimsy Wood school visits, availability and booking methods, then please choose ‘School Visits’ from the horizontal menu at the top of this page.
Many thanks and wishing you all a wonderfully whimsical weekend!
Sarah Hill, children’s author and creator of The Whimsy Wood Series.