I recently treated myself to a ‘Butterfly swatch book’ from the wonderful Woodland Trust.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday I went for a walk and saw a skylark; I would not have seen it if I had not heard it singing first. It is the same with goldfinches as, when I recognise their call, I look out for them. However, I find it hard to learn to recognise bird song; it can be difficult to locate sounds and connect them to their source. Especially when there are many birds singing at once.
Listening out for bird song is a great activity to do with children. It helps their concentration and general listening skills, as well as helping them to identify birds in their environment. It links well with literacy lessons. A brilliant resource to help you and your class learn to recognise different birds is the RSPB bird identifier which not only has pictures and descriptions of birds but audio clips of their song. One difficulty is that it is not possible to look up a sound in the same way that one can use an identification key to identify a bird by appearance. The way I have used it is to listen to a recording of a bird which I know is common in my locality, and then go outside and listen out for that song. Children have enjoyed doing this too, and are very excited when they recognise a song that they have heard in class.
Young female blackbird waiting for crumbs outside a cafe.
There is rarely time in a crowded curriculum to do this with older children. However, I have found that some children, once introduced to this free resource are keen to use it in their own time. It is often surprising how much bird song one can hear even during a noisy playtime. I would love to hear how you get on if you do decide to listen for bird song with your class.
When you are out with your children do consider taking some strong scissors or secateurs and asking them to help you to choose a few twigs to bring into the classroom.
When you look at them closely you realise that twigs come in so many different shapes and colours. The leaf buds and the flower buds are arranged differently on different types of plants. Look at the lovely green zig zagging of the Kerria Japonica twigs (these are often called Batchelor’s Butons). To the right of the bunch is a stem of Forsythia, the buds are arranged in pairs along this straight twig; it looks very brown and boring!
However, bring them inside and put them in a vase of water and all of these twigs may have a surprise in store for you. Why don’t you try it?
Today I also brought in a Hazel twig; it is already in flower. The catkin is the male flower and it dangles down so that it’s pollen is caught by the wind and taken to fertilize the female flowers which are much less obvious. By the autumn I am hoping that this tree will have a fine collection of nuts. Not that we ever get to eat any of them; the squirels see to that! It is lovely to see them scampering around the garden though. We watch them burying them in our lawn. They don’t always remember where they have left them so you can be sure we are always finding hazels sprouting all over the place!
Have you ever wondered why the trees flowering at this time of year have catkins and rely on the wind instead of having flowers to attract insects?
Yesterday was one of those horrible dank days when everything seems damp even though it isn’t raining. I hung my washing out more in hope than expectation. It reminded me how much my children at school used to enjoy washing the doll’s clothes and then hanging them on a home made washing line to dry. This was something that we only did when it was a ‘good drying day’. In retrospect I realise that it would have been more valuable if sometimes the children had hung their washing out to dry on days like this. When it didn’t dry there would have been much more discussion. There would have been much more opportunity to learn what actually happens when washing dries; to understand about evaporation.
As it was, in we only hung our washing out when the sun was shining and a breeze was blowing. What things would you change about your practice if you could change the past?
Chalks: cheap and cheerful!
A pot of playground chalks can cost as little as a pound. When I put in my yearly class ‘consumables’ order to an educational supplier I always made sure to order plenty as they are so versatile and I always knew that we would use them all.
Perhaps their value is more easily appreciated in an Early Years classroom where children need lots of practice writing their name, letters or numbers as much as possible; chalks provide an obvious change of scene and scale.
Sadly, I didn’t keep any. However, a picture of a child proudly standing next to a row of numbers in order that they had indpendently written down was always a lovely piece of evidence to share with parents and keep in record books.
Chalks have so many more uses though. Many of the things that are usually done in children’s books or on work sheets can just as easily be done using play-ground chalks. Here are some ideas ….
- Draw around a person and then try and add their internal organs. Where are you going to put their heart? their lungs? their brain?
- Could you draw around someone else and show the journey that their food takes through their body?
- Use chalks to draw Venn diagrams into which to sort children, or leaves, or plants gathered from the school grounds.
- Make a branching data base on the school play ground using either children, material collected from around the school or grounds of some pre-laminated pictures
- Challenge children to draw a life size elephant, giraffe or whale on the school grounds; then use secondary research and a tape measure to find out how accurate they have been.
- Make a labelled picture of a plant or flower showing all of the separate parts
- Make a labelled picture of an animal or person
This is my own feeble attempt at a labelled picture of an alien: I think that your average 5 year old would do a bit better than this!
An added bonus of using chalks is that at the end of the day children can be encouraged to take their carers to see their piece of work and tell them about it (a chance to revisit and talk about learning helps to reinforce it). The first time I did this (many years ago) my head teacher nearly had a seizure until I promised her that everything would dissappear without trace as soon as it rained! Likewise, the chalk on clothing soon brushes away.
It can be very difficult to write with chalks so writing is never very neat, however chalks do write more smoothly on a wet surface so it is worth wetting the surface before writing on it. There are loads more things to do; perhaps we can talk about these in a future post. In the meantime I would love to hear your own experiences of using chalk.