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.

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.

 

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.

Serendipity

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This pile of soil is left over from various projects in the garden, such as digging out for flower beds and paths.  The ‘normal’ thing to do would probably be to remove it from the site to keep everything tidy.  However, I think of this heap as a bonus; I have used it to create a different micro-habitat to the rest of the garden.  In particular I have left it uneven with holes that could be used by bumblebees to make their nests in the summer.  It will also be a place where the grass will be allowed to grow long and hopefully wild flowers will flourish.  However, it is not something that I would have gone out of my way to do; the material came my way and instead of thinking of it as a problem to be dealt with I treated it as a bonus.  I believe that my garden will be better for this unlooked for resource.

In schools where budgets are tight and resources are limited I believe that when staff take this approach there is much to be gained.  For example, in my previous school an old pine tree that was blown down in a storm was sawn into logs.  Some were left on their side with slice taken off to make a flat surface for sitting on.  Others were placed vertically and children loved jumping on them, from one to another.

The bottom picture also shows some children using one of the logs to make a ‘birds nest’, which they later transferred to one of the nearby trees.  Smaller branches of the tree were shredded and were used to create a temporary path around our vegetable gardens.

This was a small school with an extremely tight budget, looking out for resources in this way enriched the children’s experience without costing any money.  What unexpected materials have you been able to use in your school?