Butterfly Swatch

I recently treated myself to a ‘Butterfly swatch book’ from the wonderful Woodland Trust.  DSCF0338

It has the details of the 28 species of butterfly most likely to be found in woodland.  There is a separate card for each butterfly with a full colour illustration on the front and details of habitat, diet and behaviour on the back.


The cards can be fanned out so that the details of several butterflies can be seen at once.  I tried it out on my walk yesterday and, as well as an orange tip managed to see these butterflies

However, I was dissapointed not to find details if the other butterlies that I saw (red admirals and peacocks).  I realise that this is because they are less likely to be seen in woodland.  However, these are some of the butterflies most likely to be seen by a child using this book so it was a pity that they weren’t there.

This slight dissapointment apart, I think that this would be very easily accesible to young children.  It was a good size to hold in the hand and the images could be quickly flicked through to find the an image to match the butterfly that one has just seen.  This made it easier to use than a more conventional field guide and a great introduction to identifying wildlife.

Outdoor Adventure Kits

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I was recently asked by a colleague what I thought a useful primary ‘nature kit’ should contain.

Firstly, I think that it is worth spending time considering the container.  It needs to be easily carried by children and conveniently stored in the classroom.  I think that the ideal container depends upon the circumstances.  For example, I often used small tub trugs to take out with enough equipment for a group of children to use.

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The carrying can be shared by two children carrying a handle each and the equipment is readily accessible once outside.

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However, most of the time I used back packs like the ones shown above as they could be left permanently packed and children were able to access them indpendently when they felt inclined.  The bee themed bag is actually a lunch box which I used to make a nature pack that encouraged children to observe bees in the school environment.

Rather than giving children clip boards I put small notebooks and card index cards in the kits.  Children were generally keen to record their observations in this way.  It is also worth including a book with plain paper and encouraging children to make observational drawings of what they see.  Parcel labels are also useful to encourage children to label any plant specimens that they collect.

The reference materials included in the kits depends upon the focus of the adventure.  These keys cost £3 from Gatekeeper Guides.  The books would have cost £4 new although I paid a lot less for these secondhand.  Including text in this way can be a very motivating way of encouraging children to read for a purpose.

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Now what can this plant be?

It is worth giving children something to collect their specimens in.

On the left are some small plastic bottles.  On the right a pooter to safely collect small mini-beasts without harming them.  However, it is worth reminding children that any animals caught should only be looked at for a brief time and then returned to where they were found.  They should not be brought indoors unless you have given children permission and steps have been taken to ensure that the tiny creatures will be safe and well for the time they are indoors.

Little plastic bags can be obtained cheaply from craft suppliers.  The small brown envelopes are for cash and much cheaper than packets bought especially for storing seeds.  Both are useful for collecting plant specimens although the paper envelopes are better for long term storage and have the advantage that they can be written on.

Magnifying glasses and binoculars have the advantage that using them makes one feel like a ‘real scientist’, as well as being useful in their own right.  Do remember to spend time teaching children how to use them though; otherwise they are likely to use them as role play props rather than for their primary purpose.

Scissors can be used for obtaining small plant samples; make sure that children know that samples really should be very small!  Tweezers are useful for handling delicate materials without damaging them.

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Paint charts in shades of green encourage children to look closely at the world around them as they try and find the exact shade of green of a leaf that they are looking at.

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Strips of double sided tape mounted on card cut into ‘book marks’ enables small samples of plant material to be collected.  The changing nature of the samples makes a useful starting point to talking about the changing seasons.  They keep for a long time.  The one shown above was made over a year ago.

If you have access to cameras for children to use these make a valuable addition to the back packs too, although we only ever had one camera in class to be shared between adults and children!

What would you put in a nature back pack for your children.  I would love to hear your suggestions.


Feeding Plants!


Last week I planted out some broad bean plants.  They were getting too big for their pots and really needed to be moved to their permanent home.


They had strong roots which had grown beyond the pot in search of ……                                      Well, what were they in search of?  We might say that they were in search of nutrition, or even food, but is that true?  Sure, as well as using their roots to draw up water plants take up vital minerals and micronutrients through their roots.  However, we know that a plant’s main source of nutrition is sunlight; they make their own food.  Nevertheless, for the last few weeks I have been adding a liquid fertiliser every so often as I watered them to keep them healthy until they were planted out.  When I did this I would talk about ‘feeding’ them, or used the term ‘liquid feed’.  In fact, although the plants would have developed yellow leaves and grown more slowly if I had not ‘fed’ them this would have been due to the lack of micronutrients rather than food, just as we would become ill if we did not have enough of the right sort of vitamins even if we had enough food overall.

When I am working with children I am aware that they frequently have a misconception that plants get food through their roots, and realise that the language that I (and others) use does nothing to help them learn that plants are ‘primary producers’ as they do not need to rely on another living thing as a food source in the way that animals and fungi do. I try and choose my words carefully, but no doubt from time to time children will hear me talking about feeding my plants!  As educators I think that we need to be aware that the way  we use language can make it harder for children to learn what they need to know.

In other news, as I promised I would three weeks ago, I have finally got around to drawing a name from a hat (March has been an incredibly hectic month).  Tracy you are the lucky winner of The Stick Book and I will be in touch with you to arrange giving you your prize.


Newly planted broadbeans ready to start photosynthesising



Birthorpe Walk 053.JPGJust lately I have spent a lot of time looking up at the sky, and noticing how differnt it looks from day to day and from moment to moment.

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I remember a colleague at my old school who took her whole Y2 class outside to lay on the playgound and watch the clouds.  More recently a colleague in my new work place told me about a lesson when she did exactly the same with her Y5 class.

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And yet I have worked with other people who say things like

“We haven’t got time to be faffing about like that; there is so much curriculum to cover!”

So sad!  I have tried to say to these people

“You haven’t go time not to be faffing around like this when there is so much curriculum to cover!”

But my arguments fall on deaf ears.  And I do understand where these sentiments come from.  People who work in schools feel under incredible pressure to cover a vast amount of material.

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It is no wonder that people feel pressurised to find materials that cover the learning objectives as exactly as possible. That way no time is wasted teaching anything that doesn’t need to be covered.  It does seem common sense that if one concentrates on what needs to be taught it is likely to be taught more exactly and thoroughly than if one is diverted by other things.

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However, lessons mapped exactly to the learning objectives can often be dry and uninspiring.  The curriculum may be faithfully covered but it may not be reliably learned.  Lessons that go off on tangents and follow the interests of children and teachers or which respond to the world around are much more likely to be memorable.  They are also likely to make connections with learner’s current understanding; learning is likely to be deeper and more meaningful.

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My colleague’s class of Y2s after spending time watching clouds, watching a dvd about the water cycle, watching a kettle boil and taking part in a drama activity about the water cycle went on to write some of the best science writing I have ever seen from such young children.  Not just one or two children in the class; nearly every child produced a piece of work of which they and their teacher could be justifiably proud.  This was not only in terms of their science learning but their English too.  In fact a science subject leader who had come to work with me asked if the literacy subject leader from her school could come and spend some time with us as well.

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My colleague wasn’t only deviating slightly from the curriculum; she was completely off piste!  The water cycle was definitely not on the Y2 curriculum.  And yet the children’s education would have been much poorer if she had not taken that risk; not taken the time to really explore something that fascinated both her and the class.

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My colleague was an extremely experienced teacher and had been teaching for more than thirty years.  No doubt this gave her the confidence to teach in a way that she knew would work whatever current curriculum guidelines might suggest.  However, I believe that all teachers, and their pupils, could learn from her experience.


This is rhubarb ready to be harvested; you can be sure that we had a delicious rhubarb crumble for tea last night!  The reason that the rhubarb sticks in the forcer are so much taller and brighter coloured than the rhubarb in the open ground is that it has been stretching to reach the light.  Also, without light chlorophyll can’t develop in the leaves so there is no green to mask the bright red of the stalk or the yellow in the leaves.  Rhubarb is a very low maintenance crop to grow.  Even if children don’t cook it in school they might be able to sell it to their families.  I have also heard that the roots make a great natural dye ……more of this in a future post.

However, of more interest to me at the moment is the way that it can be forced.  The same has happened to the rhubarb as happened to the grass which  I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

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And also happened to these seedlings which I put in the airing cupboard to germinate but forgot to take out straight away.

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Encouraging children to talk about what has happened in all of these instances and why the plants are so pale and ‘stretched’ (the scientific term is etiolated) would be a great way to assess their understanding of what plants need to be healthy and why.  It would also help to reinforce the message that rhubarb and grass are plants too!  So often children think that plants include flowering herbaceous plants but forget that vegetables, trees and grass are plants too.

Give Away!

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I am going to have a blog give-away!  On the 7th March there will be a draw and the winner will receive a copy of this wonderful book.  It is crammed full of ideas of things that you can do with that most wonderful of toys ….. a stick.

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What a fab den!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a copy is to leave a comment on one of my blog posts.  That’s it, all you will have to do then is cross your fingers.

I will then use my randomised name generator (aka ‘the hat’) to choose one person to receive  a copy of their very own.

Sorry Dad, I am afraid that family members will not be eligible!


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Just a small selection of some of the ideas inside this inspirational book

Good Luck!

Journey Sticks

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A journey stick is a short piece of stick with elastic bands wrapped around it.  While children are outside, perhaps on a nature ramble, they can collect tiny samples of what they find and tuck them under the elastic.  The value of this is that it prompts children to talk about where they have been and what they have done afterwards.  Without this physical prompt younger children will often need a lot of adult support to talk about what they have done.

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A similar idea is a strip of card with double sided tape stuck to it.  It is gradually peeled back as tiny bits and pieces are added to it.  Although I like the idea of a journey stick I found that children found the card and sticky tape easier to manage.  Moreover the flowers tended to stay preserved on the card which meant that they can be kept and compared month by month.  They then give a valuable visual prompt to the changing of the seasons.

Although these are usually thought of as something to do with young children I find that when I give these to adults (or make one myself) it tends to really ‘switch one on’ to observing the world around and noticing all of the flowers, plants and other things that there are in the surrounding area.  Even when one has stopped collecting one carries on being much more observant.  Consequently I think that even older children would benefit from this activity, perhaps linked to poetry if it does not fit in with their science curriculum.

Recording Outdoors


Sometimes it can seem as if there is only one path when it comes to recording and assessment and woe betide anyone who tries to do something different!

Earlier today I was asked by a colleague about my experiences of recording and assessing children’s work and learning while outside.   As I described in this post, I found playground chalks a valuable way to encourage children to record their learning; photographing any relevant drawing or writing meant that a permanent record could be kept of children’s work. (Although I always found that there was a tendency to take too many pictures due to the worry that there would not be enough evidence of what we had done).

I also liked to take photographs of what children were doing, for example I meant to take photographs when I took the children outside to make shadows.  However, by themselves I found that the photographs had little value.  Some of them looked posed and many of the pictures looked very similar even though the children in the pictures had demonstrated different levels of learning.  Annotating them helped but, to tell the truth, unless I made extensive notes during the lesson (which meant that I had to stop teaching) I often forgot what the pictures were meant to be showing!


Instead I found that it was more valuable to ask the children to both take and annotate the photographs, perhaps adding a description of what they were doing or describing what they had learned.  One of the things that I liked about this approach was that the work showed different levels of attainment and allowed children to challenge themselves but did not restrict individuals by differentiating through task or by labelling them.  It also meant that children tended to have a good understanding of where they were with their learning and what their next steps were, especially if I found time to listen to them tell me about their pictures.

With younger children I still used to end up doing the writing, but wrote down what children said (I found a dictaphone invaluable for this).  Tomorrow I shall describe some other ways that younger children recorded their experiences outside.


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Sometimes when I talk to new teachers about going outside they tell me of their worries about behaviour; they wonder if it will be harder to control a class once they are no longer contained within the four walls of the classroom.  This reminds me of a quote I saw from a 14 year old boy with ADHD.                                                                                                                                 “When I go outside I don’t have ADHD”.

Yesterday I described a lesson about shadows with a Y3 class.  My abiding memory of that lesson is of one boy whose behaviour was often described as ‘challenging’.  While most of the children stayed close to me throughout the lesson he spent a lot of his time running around the field.  I kept my eye on him and was happy not to intervene as he was actually engaged by the subject matter and on task.  At one point he ran past our group with some sticks clutched to his head shouting                                                                                                                                “Look at me Mrs Winter; I’m a reindeer!”

Sure enough, his shadow looked as if it had antlers.  Next time he charged past his arm was outstretched and he told me it was an elephant’s trunk.  He joined the group to help make the dragon shadow, and he joined in our discussion about how shadows were formed.  I was happy that he had learned what I wanted him to during the lesson.  I had learned something too; I’d learned a little bit more about this child and his needs.

So often it is not children who are challening in themselves.  Rather it is the juxtaposition of their nature and the expectations that we make of them.  Although this is my most vivid example, I often found that it was easier to match my expectations to children’s behaviour when we worked outside the classroom rather than when we were confined indoors.

Sunshine and Shadows


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Bright winter days are the very best for exploring shadows!  The low sun means that shadows are large and obvious.  On bright winter days when my class was lining up they used to experiment with their shadows on the corridor wall, using their hands to make rabbits or monsters or making their bodies as large or small as they could.  In the summer their shadows were so low on the wall that they barely noticed them.

I remember one lesson that I did about shadows with a Y3 class.  My colleague stayed indoors and made shadow puppets.  I took my half of the class outside to explore our wonderful winter shadows.  First of all however we watched a useful John Lewis advertisment which really got the children talking about shadows, and keen to explore the ones that they could make themselves.


I have found this John Lewis clip to be a great start to an exploration of shadows.

We spent a long time exploring the shadows that we could make with our bodies.  They made monsters and angels individually.  Then they worked in pairs to make elephants and giraffes.  Next, as a group, they made a many legged dragon.  They also used PE equipment to embelish their shadows.  They used chalks to draw around their shadows and then tried to fit exactly into their own and to each others.  They talked about why they could never quite manage it.

After a while I suggested that we work closer to the school building.  The children’s explanation of why this wouldn’t work (as we would have been in the shade) showed me that they had a good understanding of how shadows are formed.  I had planned for them to annotate the photos that we took; however an embarrassing technological hiccup meant that there were no photographs!  Nevertheless, listening to the children explaining to their class mates and teacher what we had been doing showed that most of them understood what I wanted them to.

Year 1

  • observe changes across the fours seasons

Year 3 

  • recognise that shadows are formed when the light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object
  • find patterns in the way that the size of shadows change

Year 5

  • use the idea of the Earth’s rotation to explain day and night and the apparent movement of the sun across the sky


  • (Playing & Exploring) show curiostiy about objects
  • (Playing & Exploring) using senses to expore the world around them
  • (Mathematical 30-50 months) shows an interest in shapes in the envirnoment
  • (The World 30-50 months) talks about why things happen