Irish nature lover and home educator Maireen has written a lovely post describing what she brings along for a nature walk. She has included some of her beautiful photographs of her family on a nature walk. You can see more of her photos on her Instagram.
Maireen lives with her long-suffering husband, their two little girls and a motley collection of animals in the sunny southeast of Ireland where the family have been trying to carve out a little corner of heaven on their acre of land.
Maireen spent her early years in the West Indies before the pull of home drew her dad to bring the family to Ireland. Since getting over the disappointment of not having a white Christmas, she has grown to love Ireland and call it home. A semiretired architect by profession, she dreams of building a homestead with a beautiful cottage garden populated by hens, ducks, bees, pigs and goats. She is an avid dabbler in arts and crafts but sadly has more unfinished projects to her name than she would care to admit.
She learns alongside her children through nature, good books, random experiments and lots of art. One day she threatens to write a book about all the mistakes she has made on this journey but, in the meantime, she enjoys time in her garden, good coffee, and baking.
What’s in our bag when we go out for a nature walk?
I suffer a bit from analysis paralysis. I get overwhelmed by all the things I might need and then stress out trying to pack the kitchen sink and get everyone dressed and out the door. Or else I panic because I am late, again, and leave the house woefully under-prepared. I once brought the girls out for a walk in the local woods and arrived to find the two-year-old was barefoot and no wellies in the car. Fortunately, I had a wrap in the car but to be fair to her, she did most of the walk barefoot.
After many disasters, I think I have our nature walk bag sorted. Let’s talk clothes first though. Because here in Ireland, you need to be dressed for the weather, otherwise, it makes for a miserable experience for all. I love Lidl for waterproofs. Their ski gear for winter just needs to be ironed after washing to reactivate the waterproofing. Summer waterproofs only go up to age 8 but after that you can use the adult’s small size which comes out with hiking gear usually. Legs are elasticated so you can just tuck them up or roll them up to adjust the size. When funds are available I would love to splash out on some of the sets from Puddle Ducks.
Don’t forget a pair of waterproof trousers for yourself. I find when I am cold and wet, my patience runs thin. Even just being able to keep the wind off you will help enormously with staying warm and dry. I got these in our local sports outlet on sale and find them really comfortable.
So assuming I have managed to get everyone dressed and all the last minute toilet runs are done, my next challenge has been how to pare down what’s in the backpack. Can I just pause and say that the most important thing is just to get out. Even if it was a battle leaving the house and I had nothing else packed to bring except the clothes on our back and wellies on their feet, then it’s still a win. We have had some wonderful outings just throwing ourselves out the door. But it’s nice too to bring a few extras. It makes me feel more accomplished as a mammy sometimes.
One of our best buys has been these little bug catchers. They have two magnifying lenses in the cover and a scale etched into the base of the container. We have been able to get some wonderful photos by placing the camera lens up to the double layer of magnifying lenses. They are small enough to pack and have withstood the enthusiastic attentions of a two year old. They are one of the most used nature study resources and also one of the cheapest. (Little Bug Catchers at ArtnHobby, Amazon UK)
For things that can’t be caught or need to be viewed in situ, we got little handheld magnifying lenses. They aren’t the best but for out and about, I opted for something that would take a bit more hardship. We have a proper lens at home and that’s used carefully under supervision as my crew are still young.
Recently, we purchased a selection of swatches from Biodiversity Ireland. The girls like to pick one each and bring them along. But our aim on a nature walk is to look, find and observe, not necessarily to identify. So these can just as easily be left at home but make a nice addition on occasion.
Once we get out and about and find a spot to sit for a while, we have an explore. The girls will often pull out their sketchbooks and start painting. Sketchbooks are such personal things that it really comes down to taste. I love holding books – the feel of the paper in hand, its colour, the way it is bound – but maybe that’s just me. The sketchbooks we have gotten and liked have been Talens or Hahnemuhle. The heavier the paper, the better it is for taking water whether its paints or applying to watercolour pencils so look for 200gsm (although for smallies I use a lighter weight of 140gsm which still takes a bit of hardship). I prefer A5 landscape bound sketchbooks
A4 is too big to carry around and an A4 blank page is a daunting thing to fill and A6 can be too small to work detail into. I know too that some prefer spiral bound as its easier to support on your lap when out and about. I find white paper better for working watercolours onto but the cappuccino or toned paper notebooks are wonderful for colouring pencil work and have the added bonus of not being as glare inducing on bright sunny days. It really is a try it and see with sketchbooks.
- Hahnemuehle A5 Landscape at Amazon UK
- Talens A5 Landscape 200g at Amazon UK
- Talens A5 Landscape 160g at Amazon UK
We have tried a lot of watercolour pan sets. I find as a general rule that the watercolour sets advertised for children aren’t great. They don’t give a richness of colour and are often chalky and don’t go onto the page easily. It makes the whole process very frustrating for all involved. The exception to that being Giotto watercolours. Although my paints are generally hijacked so I gave up bringing an extra set and we just take one pan set and share. Currently we have a travel set of Koi watercolours which are fantastic. But if you can’t get them, the Cotman sketchers set from Windsor Newton are great (Different Strokes, Amazon UK) as are the Faber Castell pan set both of which come with a small brush (Different Strokes, Amazon UK).
As we share one paint set, I throw a few extra paintbrushes in. These are a lovely set allowing for detail work or bigger coverage.
But the best weapon in my armoury for nature walks are snacks. A flask of hot chocolate for little people and a coffee for mammy are invaluable.