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.

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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.

Bird Song

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This picture is taken from the RSPB website

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.

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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.

Weird Winter

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This photograph of my bees was taken on Sunday 24th January.  The bees should be forming a cluster deep in the hive; instead they are as busy as they were in the summer.  They are not alone; there reports up and down the country of wildlife from daffodils to slow worms, which is out of season, confused by the mild weather.

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This muddies the water somewhat when looking for signs of spring with younger children!  However, whether signs of spring are very early or at the expected time, noticing them can be a wonderful opportunity to involve children in ‘Citizen Science’.  This is when data is collected from a large number of ‘ordinairy’ people and used by scientists.  A good example of citizen science is the Big Garden Bird Watch (this weekend and until February 2nd in schools) which has been running for nearly forty years and has been used to track the changing fortunes of British birds.

The Woodland Trust also collects data from as many people as possible about the first signs of spring and autumn.  They ask that people look out for certain signs such as the first snowdrop flower or the first ladybird and record them on their ‘Nature’s Calendar‘.  They then use this information to track the progress of spring accross the country and to monitor long term climate changes.  If you live in the UK I think that this would be a lovely thing to do with your class and perhaps involve families too

 

 

Compost

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There is a website linked to this book which is well worth a look.

Today I thought that it would be worth thinking about compost!  An increasing number of schools have compost heaps and they can be a great way to learn about decomposition, the needs of plants and the importance of recycling and caring for the environment.

However, there can be pit falls.

Pitfall 1:  Ideally compost should be turned from time to time to mix the ingredients together and incorporate air.  Just who has time to do this in school?  Maybe if you have some enthusiastic Y6’s or an adult who is happy to spend an hour playing with the compost heap once in a while.  However, there are many schools where there is no one available to turn the comost heap.

Solution: Even if a compost heap isn’t turned it will still rot down, only more slowly, so don’t worry if no one in your school wants to take on this job.

Pitfall 2: Compost heaps can attract vermin from rats to flies, especially if they are neglected (and lets face it they may well be neglected from time to time in a busy school).

Solution:  Please don’t panic just because I said rats!  The chances are that there are rats outside your school anyway.  On the whole, in small numbers they will do us no harm and just want to keep themselves to themselves.  However, it is important that we don’t provide places where they can hide from predators and breed!  Avoid adding cooked food, especially meat to your compost.  Also, immediately cover any vegetable peelings with weeds or grass and keep the lid on the compost bin.  If your heap seems very dry try mixing in some grass clippings or get a watering can and water it.  Even rats don’t like to live in soggy homes.  However, don’t let the heap get too soggy or it will just go slimey and smelly instead of making lovely compost for your garden.

Pitfall 3:  Especially at this time of year there is lots of kitchen waste (fruit peelings in school) and not much else.  If you are not careful you end up with a slimy smelly fruity layer on top of the heap; yuck!

Solution:  Try keeping a pile of ‘covering material’ by your bin.  This might be weeds that you have pulled from your vegetable beds, long grass collected from around your field edge or shredded paper from your school office.  Everytime you add a layer of fruit peel add a layer of weeds and/or paper.  This will help to form a much more balanced heap and avoid attracting flies and wasps too.  A well balanced heap should never get smelly.

Finally.  Do make sure that you have a lid for your compost heap.  It will help to keep the heat in and the flies out.

If you have some money to spend the book illustrated at the top of this post would be lovely to share with younger children.  It has lovely illustrations and rhyming text.  If I were still teaching an infant class I think that I would scan it into my interactive white board and plan a week’s literacy around it.  I think that older children would enjoy and learn from it too.

Even if you don’ t buy the book the website is well worth a look.  I think that KS2 children would love to learn more about worms by reading about Squirmin’ Herman.  One of the other activities helps children to sort things that can be composted from those that can not.  Learning about compost might well be an unusual take on changing materials. Observing a compost heap would be an opportunity to take part in an ‘observation over time‘ enquiry.   Setting up a remote data logger in a freshly made heap could well prove dramatic as a well made compost becomes very hot indeed!  A compost heap would also make an interesting micro-habitat for children to explore as they learned about ‘Animals including humans‘.

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To finish here is a picture of a friendly robin on one of my compost bins.  This one is actually being used to make leaf mould which is completely different to compost.  Maybe I’ll write about it in the autumn.

Whatever the weather …..

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The weather here has certainly turned a lot colder!  However, as Early Years teachers are fond of saying “There is no unsuitable weather; just unsuitable clothing!”  The trouble is there may be  will certainly be some children in your class who are reluctant to put on coats, however cold the weather becomes.  Conversely, even in the middle of a heat wave there are a few children who need to be forced to take their sweatshirts off!

To help develop children’s awareness of the importance of choosing suitable clothing it can be worth having a class mascot and a selection of clothing which children need to dress for the appropriate weather each day.  In the early years classroom this could be a significant part of the welcome routine; for older children it is likely to be a bit more light hearted.  In all classrooms it is an opportunity for children to think about why we wear the clothes that we do, and perhaps to take more responsibility for the choices that they make.

I hope that you are enjoying the seasonal weather wherever you are, and managing to keep warm.

Feed the Birds

Even if you’re not taking part in the RSPB’s Big Bird Watch this January.  (Although why wouldn’t you?  It is a chance for your children to get involved in ‘real’ science and practice data handling using genuine data).  It is worth taking advantage of this colder weather to start feeding the birds (if you aren’t already).  At this time of year hungry birds will readily start using new feeding stations that they would be more suspicious of in less desperate times.

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Birds can become amazingly tame if they get to recognise a safe source of food.  This young blackbird was photographed by the outdoor area in a cafe.

The  wonderful Woodland Trust’s Nature Detective site has some great ideas for making a squirel proof bird feeder.  If you live in an area where squirels are likely to steal bird food this might be a worthwhile DT project.  If not, the RSPB has some simple step by step instructions for making bird cake.  If you would like the activity to fit with  the ‘Changing Materials’ element of the science curriculum it might be worth heating the lard so that it melts.  Nevertheless, the activity fits with ‘Humans and other Animals’.  It could also be used to support children’s experience of ‘Working Scientifically’.  Perhaps children could experiment to find out which is the best recipe to attract the birds.  Or maybe they could keep a record of which birds, and how many, visit the feeder as the seasons change.

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Robins in particular can become incredibly tame.  This one loved to be near me when I was gardening in case I turned up any tasty looking invertebrates.

I do not think that it is uncommon for children to start feeding the birds but to forget to keep the feeders topped up.  This happened in one school where I worked; I think that this was because we made the mistake of siting the bird feeder at the other end of the playing field.  It was not only ‘out of sight out of mind’, but a long muddy walk to fill it up.  On the other hand my most successful experiences have been when I have attached feeders to the classroom window.  In one school the flocks of blue tits became so distracting that I had sometimes to draw the blind while I delivered whole class teaching to have any chance of being noticed!  More recently our class window feeder was frequented regularly by a Robin which was extra exciting as our class was Robin class!

Do remember to keep feeding sites as clean as possible.  Dirty feeders can spread disease amongst birds.  Similarly adults and children must wash their hands thoroughly after handling the bird feeder.

Growing in January

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Healthy garlic cloves ready for planting.

Choosing crops to grow in school can be difficult; so many need harvesting during the summer holidays.  In this respect garlic is ideal as it is traditionally harvested in mid summer.  Although garlic is usually planted a little earlier than this it is not too late if you missed the boat earlier in the season.  If your garden centre has sold out garlic bulbs can still be purchased online.  The ground outside will be too wet and cold now, but you can plant it in pots so that it can start growing and be ready for planting out once the ground is a little warmer (and drier).

Garlic is planted a little deeper than onion sets; their tops should be just under the surface of the compost.  But only just; if they are too deep they might rot.  Once planted and labelled you need to find a place to keep it.  Indoors will be too warm.  If you have a school greenhouse or polytunnel you’re in luck as that would be perfect.  A cold frame would also provide enough protection for these hardy plants.  Failing that find a sheltered spot against the school wall which will be significantly warmer than in a more exposed location.  If you are worried about them you could always splash out on some horticultural fleece (or a bit of polythene at a push).

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A tray of freshly planted garlic alongside other plants in a cold frame.

If you follow these simple steps now you could be harvesting garlic to make garlic bread, and pizza with your class before the end of the year!

Another crop that you could be planting in pots now is broad beans.  These have the advantage of being ready for harvesting even sooner than garlic.  They have the disadvantage that not many children enjoy eating broad beans; however, they may enjoy flogging them to parents!  Another advantage of broad beans is that they are a member of the legume family.  These fix nitrogen in the soil and so improve the soil fertility for future crops.

 

 

 

 

Chalks

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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.

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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

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    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.