Ice Mobiles

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Yesterday I was writing about signs of spring.   Today, the predicted cold night has led to a frosty world and I am writing about ice mobiles.  I originally got the idea from the Nature Detectives web site.  When I did it with my class we froze the mobiles outside overnight.  It was very exciting coming into school in the morning to find that it had worked!

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Will the ice have frozen hard enough to hang the mobile up?

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Phew, it worked!  Doesn’t it look beautiful?

I made mine in the freezer and have been waiting for some cold weather so that I can hang them up.

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I wonder how long they will last?

I suppose I should have hung them in different places in the garden and tried to predict which would last longest as that would have been a good opportunity to make predictions and to observe over time.

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Instead I hung them both in the apple tree.  How are you enjoying this frosty weather?

Signs of Spring

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Bare winter branches of a crab apple against the winter sky

Tonight the weather forecaster was predicting the coldest night of the year so far.  We are clearly in the depths of winter.  Nevertheless, it is not too early to take your class out to look for the first signs of spring.

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In fact, because it has been such a mild winter some signs of spring are already well advanced!  Above is a flower bud opening on a Kerria Japonica.  Below, some daffodils, well on the way to flowering.

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It is interesting though, that although some signs of spring are much more advanced than one would expect in an ‘average’ year, others refused to be rushed.

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These snow drops are just poking their heads above ground; exactly as I would expect in the middle of January.  I wonder why some plants are more affected more by variations in the weather than others?

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These hazel catkins are also at about at the same stage as I would expect for the time of year.

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On the other hand, this rhubarb is at least a month further on than usual!

If taking children out to look for signs of spring the chances are that you will encourage them to take photographs so that they have a record of the changes.  Do consider taking a sound recorder too; I wonder if there will be any change in the bird song in the weeks ahead?

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.