Who remembers playing conkers at school? I do, vividly! Every September in the school playground we would gather around excitedly and hold our annual competition. My secret weapon was my sister’s clear nail varnish, I’d put at least four, carefully applied coats on my biggest conker - ready for battle! Sadly, I never won, but it didn’t matter, the ritual, the excitement and anticipation of taking part was the fun part. However, some years ago conker competitions were deemed too dangerous by some and many schools banned the humble conker contest…. Boo!
But the good news is, they’re back! It seems that experts have now realised that children need resilience and to take some risks in order to develop important life skills. And it’s not just the competitive element, children are missing out on the searching and collecting of conkers, which present brilliant opportunities to learn about and connect with nature.
As a childcare professional, I am on a quest to bring conkers to the attention of a new generation with some amazing conker games and ideas!
But first, let’s get out there and find them… This is one all the family can join in, take some bags or small buckets out with you and go a hunting for the Horse Chestnut tree. Top Tip: take a picture of one so the children know what to look for or look online before you go, the Woodland Trust has a great info page all about the horse chestnut tree! Conkers like to hide under the fallen leaves of the trees so encourage your child to get down and dirty in pursuit of hidden treasure. There’s no better way to spend an autumnal morning or afternoon in the great outdoors!
Once you have your stash, there are tons of games you can play, here are just a few ideas:
- Throw a conker. Set up a target at different distances and give each child 5 conkers to try to hit each target, great for hand and eye coordination.
- Squirrel food pile. Teach your children about the importance of conkers as a food source for squirrels and other animals, discuss how they store their food ready for them to hibernate, ask them to stock pile for the squirrel and maybe if you have time hide to see if you are lucky enough to see one take a conker from your pile.
- Conker sculpture. Get creative and challenge the children to make a conker sculpture. They can use the shells and leaves too to make it more interesting, perhaps creating a woodland creature or a piece of modern art! Take them home to do if it’s chilly or make it there and then in the woods, use mud to stick them together.
- Conker Championships. Once at home each of you chooses your favourite conker, mum or dad to drill a hole in the centre, the string should be slightly shorter than the length of your forearm, thread through the hole and knot on one end. Now you’re ready to start, take turns at trying to hit your opponent’s conker, every time you hit their conker you gain a point and the one with the most points within a minute wins!
My job here is done!
One note of caution, teach children to never put conkers in their mouth and always wash their hands after playing with them.