INSPIRATION – conkers
What is a conker, where do you find them and what can you do with them?
Age Range: all ages
Duration: all day
Location: park/green space
Time Of Day: any time
Category: art & creating growing & gardens sustainability & nature
Conker is the name used to refer to the fruit of the horse chestnut tree (aesculus hippocastanum). Often these trees grow to 25m tall, with a massive domed crown. The bark, grey in colour, is interesting and often flakes away in large pieces. Its limbs look twisted and can snap off when large.
Leaves are large, up to 25cm long, stalked and composed of up to 7 leaflets.
Horse chestnuts have large creamy-white blooms in the spring which are popular with insects, particularly bees. They are followed by spiky green seedpods developing over the summer, then in the autumn have shiny brown conkers bursting out of the seedpods which have turned from green to yellow and brown.
Horse chestnuts arrived in the UK in the late 16th century and there are now a couple of million trees in the UK. Almost half are infected by an invasive moth larvae know as the horse chestnut leaf miner. They burrow into the leaf turning the leaf brown and effecting the amount of food the tree can absorb by burrowing into and damaging the leaves.
Collecting conkers on an autumnal day is a wonderful experience – searching for and identifying the correct trees, then scouting around for the shiny jewels from nature. The deep child-led exploration and discovery that occurs for children all ages can be phenomenal.
There are a myriad of ways to take the simple pleasures of collecting conkers further and follow a child’s interests. In this activity post we have put together some simple and some more technical ‘seed’ ideas to plant in the minds of curious children.
Conkers is one of the words highlighted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words book. How can these stunning orbs become lost from our children’s vocabulary? It seems inconceivable, so let’s help people remember how wonderful conkers are by engaging in many different ways.
- ideally collect conkers that will mainly fall onto the ground where they are unlikely to grow, such as paths, roads
- assess how abundant you feel the source is
- look at our Tips for foraging.
- many of your conkers could be returned back to where you found them after you have finished playing with them
Health & safety considerations
- standard risk benefit assessment in line with your operating procedures/policies
- a few particular considerations for collecting conkers are:- the journey to collection area (traffic/woodland path hazards etc.), collection site (dogs & faeces/public/vehicles/tree) and choke hazard
A selection of ideas and resources to kick start and complement your child-led conker activities.
Conker clay or land art
Collect lots of conkers and other resources and let the creativity begin!
Add conkers to your work bench as a seasonal resource to explore and get creative with.
Conkers up close
Explore the beautiful patterns on the conker shell – follow the swirls and watch how the light reflects.
Go on a conker hunt, then provide some magnifying glasses and and see what happens.
If weather appropriate, provide note and sketch books and see what words are used and what creative pictures are drawn.
Such a simple thing, but to count and sort your conkers is an amazing way to learn whilst exploring your bounty.
Horse Chestnut identification
Explore the differences between sweet chestnut and horse chestnut trees and fruits.
Muddy Faces also has lots of resources to help with identification:-
Use acrylic pens to decorate your conkers.
Once you have drilled the conkers see what the children do with some string. Stiffen the string using tape to help thread it through the conkers..