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.

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?

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.