Programme Outline

The programme begins in the classroom/nursery space.

A worried riverbank ranger, Ruby, is looking for Portly, the baby otter, who is missing from home. Ruby meets the children as she searches with her trusty magnifying glass and binoculars. She shows them some of the animals and plants that she looks after down by the river and asks them to check for clues and footprints from Portly. Ruby decides to return to the riverbank and asks the children to join her on her search. She shows them a map of where she patrols and leads them from the classroom to the hall or performance space where the drama continues.

The children are introduced to the world of the riverbank before searching for footprints and clues. Amongst the clues they find is a nest. The children speculate on who it might belong to and why the eggs inside are broken. Ruby and her helpers attempt to cross the river but the bridge has been washed away in a storm so together they construct a new one in order to explore the far side of the riverbank. On reaching the far side they begin to search for clues of Portly’s whereabouts before finding more evidence of the storms affect on the riverbank.

They explore a fallen magpies nest and discuss where the treasure inside might have come from before collecting materials and making a new home for a hedgehog to hibernate in. There is still no sign of the baby otter, Portly, so Ruby decides to ask Joe the boatman if they can hire his boat. While she walks upstream to find him the children have a break after agreeing to meet Ruby at the widest part of the river in a little while.

When the children meet Ruby after a short break they climb aboard Joe’s boat, The Piper.  Onboard the new crew must work out how to move the boat and travel downstream to search for Portly. On their journey they experience feeding the ducks, singing a song, taking the boat over the rough rocks before becoming stuck in the mud next to Wild Wood.

The boat is stuck in the mud and can go no further so Ruby and her team of helpers jump back onto the riverbank once more and search Wild Wood as darkness descends. In the woods they eventually discover Portly hiding in the leaves. Ruby helps the children to find out why the baby otter decided to go off on her own and asks them to think about what she could do next time to stay safe on her adventures.

The drama ends with the children jumping across the stranded boat to the other side of the river to walk back to school/nursery and leaving Ruby to take Portly home to her mum.


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Aim & Outcomes


Using “The Wind in the Willows” as a stimulus By the River Bank will explore the tensions between adventure and security, risk and safety to create new stories.


Children will:

  • Learn about the natural world
  • Explore safe risk taking
  • Engage in imaginative role play
  • Take part in problem solving activities
  • Experience a rich language environment


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Kenneth Grahame (1859 -1932)

Kenneth Grahame (1859 -1932) and The Wind in the Willows

The stories of Toad, Mole and Ratty that make up The Wind in the Willows were written by Kenneth Grahame in a series of letters to his son, Alistair. Grahame had already been making up adventures for these characters as bedtime stories for Alistair as early as 1904 but they weren’t published as The Wind in the Willows until 1908.

The stories were not well received initially but grew in popularity after President Theodore Roosevelt asked that it be published in America.

They were inspired by Grahame’s own childhood when he lived as a boy with his grandmother on the banks of the river Thames. They celebrate the simple pleasures of walking, boating, eating and fire sides. They reflect Grahame’s dislike of the modern mechanical age and present an idyllic vision of England that was probably already dated when he first told the stories if it ever really existed. They sit in an uncomfortable paradox between the lure of adventure that the open road and wide world presents and safety and comfort of home.


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Here are a selection of picture books for using with nursery and reception children that exploring the UK’s natural world and its animals.

  • Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go by Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup
  • Nature’s Day by Kay Maguire and Danielle Kroll
  • A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld
  • A Little Guide to Trees (Eden Project) by Charlotte Voake
  • The Tale of Jeremy Vole (Riverbank Stories) by Stephen Lawhead

Here are a selection of other books you might like to explore

  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Published by Puffin classics, ISBN: 978-0-141-32113-4
    A good edition with some useful additional information and follow up activities at the back
  • Wild Wood by Jan Needle. Published by Adlib scholastic, ISBN: 0-590-55356-9
    An alternative view of the story told from point of view of the weasels stoats and ferrets.
  • Paths to the River Bank. Published by Blandford, ISBN: 0-7137 2072-7
    A collection of writings by Kenneth Graham that expand, illuminate and inform some of the themes in “The Wind in the Willows”



Click on the green headings to access the links to these useful resources.

Nurturestore – This website provides lot of ideas for nature activities for Early Year and Reception classes.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – The RSPB website has some great ideas suitable for Nursery or reception children for making homes and shelters for wildlife, bug hunting and identifying animals.

Canals & Rivers trust – This charity protects over 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales. Their website has details of free canal trails to explore with children in Urban Birmingham.

The Wildlife Trust – The Wildlife Trusts care for nature reserves, from remote woods and rivers to inner city nature parks, and most people live within a few miles of one of these special places.  Their website has a wealth of activities for families to engage with urban nature.



The River’s Journey from the source to the estuary. Includes the different ways humans use the river. Created as part of a Year 7 geography homework. Covers the journey of a river from source to mouth, ideal for use in schools and for children.


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Directed by Frances Land
Performed by Juliet Fry

Based on the well loved story The Wind in the Willows written by Kenneth Graham
Set and costume designed and made by Rosie Lunney

With special thanks to Liz Vass and Ruth Morgan from Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Online resources created by Juliet FryMalcolm Jennings & Kirsty McTighe


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