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.

 

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.

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.

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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

EYFS

  • (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

Dig for Victory!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

Climate Change

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These bananas have been flown from Costa Rica.  What effect does the transportation of food around the world have on the climate?

Last time I wrote about some of the unusually early signs of spring that we have been experiencing in Northern Europe this year.  Scientists increasingly agree that warmer winters are a sign of climate change.  Although it is important to keep children informed one has to be careful not to burden them with worries about things that are beyond their control.

CIEC and the charity Practical Action have teamed up to make a resource called ‘Climate Change and Children’s Voices‘ to help teachers of 9-11 year olds support children to understand some of the issues involved in climate change.  It focusses on things that children do have control over such as the foods they eat; comparing the environmental cost of eating locally grown as opposed to imported tomatoes for example.  However, it does not shy away from complications such as how people in countries that grow bananas would suffer if we were to stop buying their product.

Many of the activities in this resource could take place outdoors.  One, for example suggests that children make their own simple equipment for measuring and recording the weather.  Children could also be encouraged, as part of their work on this resource, to grow more fruit and vegetables in the school grounds to reduce food miles.  If you use this resource I would love to hear how you get on with it.

 

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

 

 

More Icy Experimenting!

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Do you remember the winter of 2012/2013?  It seemed to go on for ever, as though the White Witch of Narnia has initiated perpetual winter.  Influenced by The Snowman’s Coat my class decided to run an experiment with an ice balloon to show that a ‘naked’ ice balloon would surely last longer than one wrapped in a nice warm coat!  Before we started children made their predictions.  By far the greatest number (blue) predicted that the ice in the coat would melt first, a few (red) thought the opposite and a couple (yellow) admitted that they did not know.

The ‘naked’ (the children’s terminology, not mine) balloon lasted less than 24 hours.  However, partly because the weather got colder part way through the experiment the balloon wrapped in a coat lasted for more than a fortnight.  In fact, I had to take it home with me at weekends so that I could take photographs to put on the website so that children and their families could follow the progress of the ice balloon.

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The balloon was pictured next to a familar brick so that the children could judge its size.

It was gratifying how many families were deeply engaged by the progress of the balloon.   Our class page got lots of ‘hits’ during this period.

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By the second weekend I photographed it next to an apple to show its size.

Funnily enough, even after this experience, there were a significant number of children who did not want to change their ‘prediction’.  They still believed that a coat would melt the ice!  I was not worried about this as I reasoned that they would need more than one experience to alter the nature of their belief in ‘nice warm coats’.

Chatting to children in the summer term I found that some children’s thinking had become more in line with a scientific understanding of how insulation works.  However, others who had seemed to change their minds at the time of the experiment had reverted to their original understanding.

Tomorrow I shall describe how the experiement conducted independently by one of the children in my class following this experience.

Icy Surprise

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When I went out to check the ice mobiles late nast night they were melting fast; you can see the water dripping from the bottom of this one.

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However, I was surprised to find that the one with brown leaves was still considerably largely than the one with green leaves and berries!  “Why would that be?” I asked myself.  After all, they were both exactly the same size; I had hung them out at exactly the same time and both were equally frozen solid.

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In this photograph you can see how much bigger the lower one is than the higher one.

Surely a few inches in height hadn’t made any difference?  I looked back at the picture that I took when I first hung them out.

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Mmmmm….. Could the orientation of the ice mobiles have anything to do with it?  The higher mobile is facing almost directly South.  How could I find out if this is what made a difference?

This surprise finding got me thinking.  What if I had followed the instructions on the Nature Detective site and boiled the water to make a clear mobile?  Would that have made a difference?  What if I had dyed the water I used so that the mobiles were different colours?  Would that have altered the speed that the ice melted?  What about the height that I hung them?    What if I made ice mobiles with salty water?  What if I made them with sugary water?

So many ‘What Ifs’.  I think that the best science lessons start when children generate lots of ‘What Ifs’ for themselves and then think of their own ways to find out.   How do you encourage the children in your class to ask “What if……?”

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This morning the ice mobiles were gone.  There was no sign that they had ever hung in the apple tree; my experiment was over.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about an icy experiment with my class that lasted for more than a fortnight!