September 7, 2018

What is a conker, where do you find them and what can you do with them?

Author: Muddy Faces

Age Range: all ages

Duration: all day

Location: park/green space

Time Of Day: any time

Season: autumn

Tags: autumn, conker, dexterity, inspiration, natural materials, numeracy, palm drill

Category: art & creating growing & gardens inspirations 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 chestnut tree

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.

Horse Chestnut Leaf
Conker Blossom


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.

Environmental considerations

  • 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

Conker inspiration

A selection of ideas and resources to kick start and complement your child-led conker activities.

Autumn mobiles

With gathered natural materials

tiered conker and leaf mobile on string with child

Conker clay or land art

Collect lots of conkers and other resources and let the creativity begin!

clay face with conker eyes

Conker person

Connect the conkers and create a person, creature or shape.

conker person sat on a stick

Conker projects

Add conkers to your work bench as a seasonal resource to explore and get creative with.

conker creature

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.

Split conker close up in hand

Counting conkers

Such a simple thing, but to count and sort your conkers is an amazing way to learn whilst exploring your bounty.

conkers lined up 1- 5 abacus
3 conkers with numerals 1,2,3 written on

Drilling conkers

Look at our step-by-step conker drilling guide

child using a palm drill to drill hole in conker

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:-

horse chestnut leaf, leaf identification chart, horse chestnut in casing, 2 wooden trail discs with horse chestnut leaf and nut

Painting conkers

Use acrylic pens to decorate your conkers.

boy writing on conker with acrylic pen
conker selection with flowers and bees drawn on with acrylic pen

Planting Conkers

Support the population of horse chestnut trees and help to ensure plenty of conkers for future generations. Follow our tree planting guide.

Play conkers

There are rules, tips and more on the World Championship Conkers website.

conker on a string with arm in view

Threading 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..

string of conkers held by child