Outside In!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

How do you bring the outside into your classroom?

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.


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Chalks: cheap and cheerful!

A pot of playground chalks can cost as little as a pound.  When I put in my yearly  class ‘consumables’ order to an educational supplier I always made sure to order plenty as they are so versatile and I always knew that we would use them all.

Perhaps their value is more easily appreciated in an Early Years classroom where children need lots of practice writing their name, letters or numbers as much as possible; chalks provide an obvious change of scene and scale.

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Sadly, I didn’t keep any.  However, a picture of a child proudly standing next to a row of numbers in order that they had indpendently written down was always a lovely piece of evidence to share with parents and keep in record books.

Chalks have so many more uses though.  Many of the things that are usually done in children’s books or on work sheets can just as easily be done using play-ground chalks.  Here are some ideas ….

  • Draw around a person and then try and add their internal organs.  Where are you going to put their heart?  their lungs?  their brain?
  • Could you draw around someone else and show the journey that their food takes through their body?
  • Use chalks to draw Venn diagrams into which to sort children, or leaves, or plants gathered from the school grounds.
  • Make a branching data base on the school play ground using either children, material collected from around the school or grounds of some pre-laminated pictures
  • Challenge children to draw a life size elephant, giraffe or whale on the school grounds; then use secondary research and a tape measure to find out how accurate they have been.
  • Make a labelled picture of a plant or flower showing all of the separate parts
  • Make a labelled picture of an animal or person

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    This is my own feeble attempt at a labelled picture of an alien: I think that your average 5 year old would do a bit better than this!


An added bonus of using chalks is that at the end of the day children can be encouraged to take their carers to see their piece of work and tell them about it (a chance to revisit and talk about learning helps to reinforce it).  The first time I did this (many years ago)  my head teacher nearly had a seizure until I promised her that everything would dissappear without trace as soon as it rained!  Likewise, the chalk on clothing soon brushes away.

It can be very difficult to write with chalks so writing is never very neat, however chalks do write more smoothly on a wet surface so it is worth wetting the surface before writing on it.  There are loads more things to do; perhaps we can talk about these in a future post.  In the meantime I would love to hear your own experiences of using chalk.