Walnut boat your way to a happy summer holiday

Are you looking for something a bit more unusual to do with your children this summer holiday? For a fun family day out, head to your nearest river or pond and try a spot of walnut boating. Easy and cheap to do, if you’ve ever spent a couple of hours racing twigs underneath a bridge you might find yourself enjoying this one even more than your children.

How to:

You’ll need a collection of unbroken walnut shells. The best way to shell a walnut is to gently push the point of a knife into the darker, less-pointed end of the nut and twist. The kernel can then be removed and eaten. The shelling can comprise part of the activity.

If you don’t have any walnuts, then why not experiment to find something else to use. This can be a great way to get children to explore their surroundings and learn about different materials as they try different things to see if they float.


  • In the centre of the bowl of the empty shell, stick a small ball of beeswax, Plasticine or Blue tack. Insert a small stick as a mast.
  • Pierce a small leaf on the mast as a sail.
  • The little boats can be sailed on puddles or small ponds; you can also attach a cotton thread as a lead*.
  • Bring a spade and ask the children to dig a mini-lake, which can be lined with a large bin bag then filled with water.
  • Have fun at the summer regatta!

*Remember to always be safe when near water with children – don’t take unnecessary risks.


  • Walnuts in their shells
  • Knife
  • Beeswax, Plasticine or Blue tack
  • Cocktail sticks or sticks found in the woods
  • Small leaves
  • Cotton thread (optional)
  • Spades or trowels for children
  • 2 large bin bags (1 spare)
  • Water


  • Make little clay people to go in the boats.
  • Create other boats out of natural materials in your environment, e.g. using bark.
  • This activity is also good in the autumn, as it ties in with the nut-gathering season.
  • Compare how different materials and objects of different weights and shapes float.

Invisible learning

  • Imaginative play: creating mini worlds
  • Volume and buoyancy
  • Natural resources
  • Hand-eye coordination

Top tips

Keep walnut shells in a resource box to bring out when needed. It saves time and increases the flow of a session if they have been prepared beforehand. The masts sometimes fall off. If this happens, encourage the children to find small things in the environment to experiment floating in their boats.” walnut-21-300w

This activity was taken from Learning with Nature: A how-to guide to inspiring children through outdoor games and activities by Marina Robb, Victoria Mew and Anna Richardson. The book contains plenty more activities and games suitable for all  the seasons.

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