Outdoor Adventure Kits

nature kits 001.JPG

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.

paths and potatoes 017

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

back packs 001

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.

Helpringham 112.JPG

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.

nature kits 005

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.

nature kits 002

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.

 

Forced!

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.

compost heap and path 019

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

easton walled gardens & sky 015.JPG

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.

Journey Sticks

late 2014 129

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.

late 2014 128

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.

Dig for Victory!

paths and potatoes 013.JPG

Now is the time to start chitting potatoes.  This is when you carefully place your seed potatoes with most of the eyes facing upwards so that the sprouts start to develop before they are planted.

paths and potatoes 015.JPG

This potato has already started to sprout but the shoot is very pale.  Now it is in the light any new sprouts will be green and much sturdier.

The term ‘seed potato’ is something of a misnomer as they are not seeds but tiny potatoes.  Although it would be possible to collect seed from potatoes they would take longer to develop into productive plants.  Moreover, they would not be ‘true’ to the plant from which they had been collected as they would be the result of sexual reproduction and combine characteristics from both parents (including some unexpected, and perhaps unwelcome, characteristics from past generations).  By using tiny potatoes we are able to make clones of the original parent which means that the plants are exact reproductions of the one from which it was taken.

paths and potatoes 011.JPG

I was therefore able to choose a variety (Arran Pilot) which I know will have a waxy texture which is perfect to serve in a salad and another (Red Duke of York) which is more floury and suitable for roasting.  They are both ‘first earlies’ which are the quickest to be ready to harvest.  I expect to harvest both of these before the end of the summer term.  ‘Second earlies’ and ‘maincrop’ potatoes on the other hand will probably be ready in the summer holidays or when the current cohort of children has moved on to the next class.

The Potato Council has a project called ‘Grow Your Own Potatoes’ which sends potatoes and growing bags into schools for children to grow.  Sadly, registrations are closed for this year.  However, it is still worth taking a look at their website which is full of materials about growing and weighing potatoes.

If you plan to grow potatoes in bags you will only need a few.  I managed to find bags of six in Yorkshire Trading.  It is no doubt an expensive way to buy potatoes if you are adding up the cost of each potato.   However, I have purchased two varieties for less than a larger bag  in which all of the potatoes would have been the same.   If you can’t find any small bags why not put a shout out in your school news letter or website.  You may well have a gardening parent or grandparent who would be more than happy to donate a few seed potatoes.

Year 2

  • find out and describe how seeds and bulbs grow into mature plants

Year 3

  • identify and describe the funcions of different parts of flowering plants: roots, stem/trunk, leaves and flowers

EYFS

  • (The World ELG) make observations of plants, explain why some things occur and talk about changes
  • (The World 30-50 months) develop and understanding of growth, decay and changes over time

 

Twigs

twigs and rain 001

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.

twigs and rain 004When 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?

twigs and rain 006.JPG

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?

Incredible Edibles!

incredible edibles 002

As I mentioned in my last post I was pleased with the ‘quick returns’ afforded by the rapid sprouting of the garlic.  It is so nice when children can see something happening within a reasonable time scale.  Even so, it will be the summer before the garlic is ready to be harvested.

On the other hand, now the days are getting longer and brighter micro greens are an opportunity for children, not only to see growth taking place almost before their very eyes, but to eat the results within a few weeks of sowing.  seeds 002.JPG

The variety above is a mixture of oriental brassica seeds which rapidly develop to a size where they can be harvested and enjoyed.

incredible edibles 006

However if you are not after quite such quick returns there are many edible crops that can be grown in this way.  They can be a profitable way to use up leftover seeds such as brussel sprouts, peas or spinach.

If you were to encourage children to sow a tray of seeds a week they would be able to see the stages of growth before their eyes.

incredible edibles 001.JPG

Guess which ones I planted first?  One crop was planted on January 18th and the other on January 23rd.  Below is a different type of seed (mixed lettuce this time) planted a day or two later.

incredible edibles 004.JPG

I love that you can see the root hairs!  Children often mistake this for mould and it leads to some interesting discussions.

speedy salads 037

Children are often much more enthusiastic to eat plants that they have grown than ones that have been bought which is an added bonus too!  Anyone fancy a salad sandwich?

Garlic Progress

banana and garden 032

I am pleased to report that all of the garlic that I planted on the 10th and 17th Januray has now sprouted and is looking very healthy.  I think that this is much quicker than when I planted them with my class straight into the open ground.  It is always nice to get a quick return so I think that I might grow garlic in pots again (providing we get a good crop).

Weird Winter

painting compost front 015

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.

painting compost front 016

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

 

 

Outside In!

succulents 004

I do not know the name of this plant.  I grew it from a single leaf.  It is aromatic and the leaves are covered in fine hairs.  It is incredibly soft to touch.

Today I spent lunch time in a school staff room.  There were no staff in it (they were working through their lunch hour; nothing new there then!)  I was using the photocopier and had to smile to myself as everytime a member of staff popped into the room they said exactly the same thing.  “Brrr, it’s cold out there!”  I know that I have said that there is no such thing as unsuitable weather.  However, there really are some days when one is much less likely to go outside for a lesson than others: the wind blows not only paper but any other resource (maybe even the odd small child) around; it is too cold to stand and listen to simple instructions; it is not only raining but it is raining so hard that it hurts your face!  I am not saying that you wouldn’t go out in these kinds of weathers, but I am saying that you are much less likely to choose to take your class outside.

succulents 015

This one is even hairier!  I bought it cheaply from Aldi’s last spring.

Maybe it is on days like this that we appreciate the ways that we have made room for ‘outdoors’ in the classroom.  On Saturday I wrote about our class experience of feeding the birds so that they could be easily seen from inside.  Another way of bringing the outdoors inside is to have a nature table.  Yet another way is to have a selection of plants in the room.  However, plants are inclined to die if not watered regularly enough and there must be more than one teacher whose plants have died during a particularly busy part of the term (Christmas plays, report writing, OFSTED; it is a hazardous business being a pot plant in a classroom).

This is where succulents come in.  They come in a range of sizes, shapes and colours and can cope with prolonged periods of teacher stress (and school holidays)!  However, they do keep growing and can become too big for the windowsill and less attractive than when they were originally introduced to the classroom.  Fortunately they take so easily from cuttings that you can make new plants and throw the older ones away (I don’t feel too guilty about this as the cuttings are clones of the original plant).

succulents 022.JPG

A tray of succulents at various stages of development.

Succculents  are a wonderful way to practice sorting and classifying living things.  They are also a good starting point for exploring the adaptations of plants to dry and arrid conditions.  This selection have all adapted in a variety of ways to conserve moisture and to deter hungry animals.

They are also a fantastic first experience of taking cuttings as they rarely fail.  With a little advance planning they are a great way for children to make Mother’s Day gifts or build a collection of plants to sell at a school Fayre.

succulents 024

I have more plants than I know what to do with here!

How do you bring the outside into your classroom?

Growing in January

garden & ase conference 10.01.16 009

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).

garden & ase conference 10.01.16 030

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.