It’s now October and the horse chestnut trees have started to drop the conkers for us to collect and enjoy. ‘Conker picking’ has always been a sort of annual event for us. We’ve taken J to the same three trees ever since he was old enough to walk.
This year there was a huge abundance of conkers. We ventured out with J and my niece (leaving Baby F in the warm with Daddy) and started collecting. I took one bag for the conkers and one for rain coats…well we ended up with TWO huge bags of conkers. I did say “you can choose one more conker” several times and each time this resulted in underhanded tactics to try and fool me, haha.
The questions was ‘what do we do with all of these little round brown things?’. So I thought I’d share what we got up this year, and some ideas from previous collections.
- Conker Rolling
This activity is a great one for both messy fans (my 11 year old niece) and non-messy fans alike (my 4 year old son). You simply get a tray or tub and line it with paper. Then you can either roll a conker in the paint and place on the paper, or put a blob of paint in the conkers and place conker on the blob (the option my son took as he has touching paint). Then have fun tipping the tray different directions to make the conkers roll across the paper. We used two at a time and the children help one end each.
If you use multiple colours you can explore ‘colour mixing’ and have fun guessing what new colours it will make, the patterns that it leaves etc. If you don’t fancy using paper (either you’ve run out or you are being extra eco-friendly and don’t want to use the paper) then you can just do it straight on the tray and give it a wash when you’re done. Personally we used paper and as well as me keeping one of them, we have given the paintings to family to keep.
2. Large scale scenes
This one is great if you want to do something creative but not messy based. As well as the conkers we collected leaves, fallen branches, petals from rose bush, sycamore seeds and sticks. I laid out a white sheet and we created our own image of the conker tree. It’s great for creative thinking, positional awareness and language (eg: the conkers are at ‘the bottom’, the leaves go ‘above the sticks’ etc) and working together on one idea.
I will admit that J got into a bit of a cycle and spent most it arranging the conkers and putting them into ‘groups’ rather than focus on creating a picture. J is autistic and so being creative isn’t something that always comes naturally to him. He prefers arrangements, order and sorting. But, he knew it was a conker tree picture and he joined in talking about what we had seen. It was still creative in terms of using his own ideas. His cousin spent more time creating the tree shape and being a bit more ‘abstract’ in his thinking.
3. Conker Painting
Conkers are a great source of ‘arts and crafts’. I’ve seen people make models with cocktail sticks to ‘stick’ the conkers together, glue on eyes and hair etc. My niece just wanted to paint them. We used paint sticks as the more watery paint did keep sliding off the conkers. She spent ages just colouring them and decided each conkers colour represented a different youtube vlogger that she admired.
Once you’ve painted your conkers you can use them for lots of fun activities. For example if you paint them with characters you can use them in small play, or paint them as cakes and you’ve got a pretend bakery. They don’t just have to be painted and then left to rot away.
4. Numerals and literacy
As a ‘teacher mum’ I do admit to including literacy and numeracy into most activities. But I like to think I make them fun and hands on. I painted each conker with numerals 1-10, and then 20 and 30. I also painted some with the first 6 letters of Jolly Phonics and Letters and Sounds (DfE) (s, a, t, i, p , n). My plan is for us to explore these in different ways:
- Ordering the numbers from lowest to highest, then highest to lowest.
- Selecting a random starting number and then counting on from there (rather than always starting at 0 or 1).
- Adding more conkers and making them into piles and using the numbered conkers to label how many in that group.
- Hide the conkers and then J has to go find them. The numerals mean we know how many we have to find, and know if we’ve found them all (and which are missing and still to find).
- Placing the letters to make CVC words (Constanent-vowel-constanent eg: s-a-t, t-a-p).
- Lucky dip where we pull conker out of a bag and have to find something in the room which belongs with that letter.
- Competition to see who came name the most things that start with that letter (winner gets the last biscuit *wink*).
If you look on websites such as pinterest, there are tons of ideas for conker based learning games.
5. Conker life cycle
We found conkers in different stages and I took this opportunity for us to put them in order of sequence so we started with the fallen branch and leaves (we never pull of branches from trees), then the conker in its shell (we took turns in gently feeling it and talking about texture, why it has the prickles etc), then the shell opening (we felt the inside and how its different to the outside) and then the conker itself (we talked about it being the ‘seed’ and it can be planted to grow new trees).
There are videos on youtube and books you can get from libraries which have life cycles in them. It’s interesting to see the changes in nature and talk about growth the change.
6. Exploration bowls/baskets
Treasure baskets/sensory baskets/heuristic play baskets…whatever you call them children often feel a pull towards a tub, box, tray, basket full of things to fiddle with and explore. Over the years I’ve created quite a few different baskets and change them with the seasons.
For J, being the older of my boys, I placed a magnifying glass, tweezers and pots alongside the tubs of conkers, leaves, sycamore seeds so he can spend time investigating them. I’m on hand to introduce new language, ask questions, answer questions (and quickly google answers I don’t know) and show an interest.
For Baby F, I am more careful of the choking risk. I do let him explore the ‘real world’ and make sure I have 1:1 time where I can monitor him constantly and distract him from popping the conkers in his mouth. He was interested in the basket and was grabbing the conkers, trying to tip the bowl out, scrunching the leaves, holding the sticks etc. I would pass things to him, to get him to practise reaching out and grabbing.
7. Conker Racing
If you have a spare tube (eg: kitchen roll and toilet roll tube) then you can have conker races. This is a simple one and great for toddlers. Simply hold the tube at an angle, pop the conker in and watch it roll out the other end and see how far it goes. If you want to make this more indepth for older children than maybe put down a tape measure and you can look at which number it lands near.
8. Size and comparison
A good maths based activity is to spend time sorting the conkers. You can sort into group by size, or place them in a long line. Encourage comparison based words such as ‘biggest’, ‘bigger than’, ‘smallest’, ‘smaller then’ etc. We made piles based on which were our favourite conkers and compared why we had chosen them. I liked the perfectly round ones, J likes the biggest ones. It was great to use different language as well as building on the social skill of recognising others have different ways of thinking and different views.
9. More arts and crafts
We are still not done with our conker exploration. I will add more of what we get up to over on our Instagram page and on our Pinterest. In the meantime I have started a pinterest board with some conker activities I have found which I think look like fun. It’s great being able to find what activities have worked for others and get inspiration. I’d love to know if there’s any activities you recommend? Let me know in the comments of get in touch on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
If you still find yourself with far too many left over, then offer them to your child’s childminder, preschool, school etc. Often education settings or even groups like Brownies are after conkers to use for projects in the classroom so it’s worth offering. J’s school have got a big bag on its way Monday.