School Garden Update

Today the sun was shining. We had one class out of the three in F2 out. So I took this perfect opportunity to get children into the garden.

The garden area of my outdoor provision is split into essentially three allotment plots. The end plot I designated for a pear tree.  It has a dwarf apple tree, then a pear tree that will grow to a larger spread. So this plot I’m just giving the tree space to grow and under planting with a few flowers to bring in the pollinators. Apart from the potential for a fruit crop I just wanted a few trees that would have blossom for the children to build their seasonal knowledge. We have an apple tree planted outside of the garden area in addition to the pear. In the corner the mini pond has seen a few birds using for drinks. The children helped dig in a plastic planter within a tyre. We then filled around the edge with gravel and soil and heaped wood around the edge to create ramps. I doubt it will attract the frogs the children would like for a while, but the log pile and water will provide many insects a home.

Within the plot at the other end the children helped mix a rich soil mix using the leaf mulch from last year with compost to fill three of the tyres. Into these we planted two Glen Moy Raspberry bushes. I’ll need to add in supports for them to grow along, but I’ve got a lot of suitable material for making a frame in the shed, so should be possible. The raspberries are meant to be ready for June or July. One of the issues with growing for a school garden is many of the veg or fruit we might harvest would be during the school holiday or the children don’t see the culmination of their work as they have moved up a year. That said I have planted some red champagne rhubarb which will need at least a year to settle in, so my current children won’t see any results from this any time soon, but if it establishes it will keep going and going.

The middle plot the children planted up with daffodils in Autumn. I’m not a massive fan of daffodils, but wanted something to fill the space after I cleared the head height thistles.

As the garden won’t get as much of a water over Summer I’ve chosen drought tolerant plants. The rosemary is developing into a good thicket.

Then we have a number of mini hebes. I’ve gone with a number of evergreen options along the back portion of the plot to keep some greenery through the year. Between lavender, conifers, hebes and rosemary we’ve got a mix of foliage colour and leaves.

Before I started there was a willow tunnel. However much of this had been damaged by children to a point where there was one solid arch. I took cuttings last year that have been sat in the water butt developing roots. The children helped plant them in. This will hopefully gradually extend the arch back to a tunnel. I’ll have to see if they get a chance to root or whether the temptation to pull them is too much for the children.

Two visitors to the outdoor classroom.

I’ve registered for the RHS school gardening awards and hopefully will work through some of the levels to gain a few rewards. Even if I only complete the first few I think the children will enjoy seeing a certificate for their work. The garden may not look like very much, but I’ve tried to do as many jobs as possible with the children. This slows progress down. But they enjoy it immensely and are learning a mass amount of scientific knowledge. They are developing better grasps on plant biology and as the year goes on the seasons. Then as the garden develops we are seeing more wildlife visitors. From where I started last year with head high thistles across all three plots I feel immense progress has been made.

Grow wild free seed

It’s the start of the year so Grow Wild seed kit applications are open. Grow wild have been running a campaign for several years to transform local areas with native, pollinator friendly wildflowers. The seed mixes weren’t just generic shop mixes. They were made for different areas of the country to promote flowers that would have grown in each region originally.

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I’ve had the seed kits in 2016 and I grew them in a pot. That little pot attracted in a mass number of insects particularly bees. The goldfinches loved sitting on them too. Not all applications will be successful, but well worth supporting if you can. If successful I have an area at school in mind to assign as meadow. With the fruit trees and garden area I’ve started it will bring in a god variety of insects.

In other news the Nature Book Swap has its first expressions of interest. If you fancy some nature books take a look here.

School garden

This week the gardening club have helped dig over the last of the plots. They’ve planted tomatoes, beans, chillies and courgettes. The children keep asking are the courgettes bananas, so probably a a good thing for them to see growing. There a bit wilted at the moment, but if I let the F2s in to water a few times next week they’ll flourish in no time.

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While in the garden we had a drafonfly visiting. This fascinated the kids. Looking in the field guide I think it’s possibly a common darter. The lavender is bringing in the bees and seeing quite a few ladybirds in too.

We had a local authority visit come to check my provision in my Foundation Stage. We got a positive report, commenting how children were focussed and how much mark making was going on outside. A lot of the boys were mark making too. In a city where this is an issue that was nice to hear. The outdoor provision has been my focus, so nice to know it’s improving.

30 days of wild: day 5 return to school, release the butterflies

Today saw me return back to school after the half term holiday. Getting up that Monday motivation was lacking. I went out to water the patio plants. I noticed a lot of tiny snails on the bushes and stopped to do wild act of  go slow with a snail. While they may be a nuisance in the garden their slow pace and way of slithering is fascinating to watch.

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In work the children have been very excited to see the painted lady butterflies. A number stood watching for the first half an hour of choosing.

This week our talk for writing focus is we’re going on a bear hunt. So we have a basic bear hunt outside to look for the seven types of bears in the world. They have been hidden around the outdoor classroom. Not the most exciting idea, but the kids latched onto the idea. I’ve had some good discussions about the types of bear today.

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Alongside reading bear hunt I will also be reading Jackie Morris-something about a bear. This beautifully illustrated book teaches children the different type of bear across the globe.

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Sadly it rained most of the day, so I ended up releasing the butterflies after school with one of the other teachers. The forecast shows rain till Thursday, so as it had cheered up after school I wanted to let them go in sun. Not so much a spectacular snowstorm of butterflies as some reluctant farewells. The butterflies were released into one of my garden plots at school where they mostly settled on the flowers for a last snack before heading south.

 

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While I’ve been at work Alice has been getting wild at nursery heading out into the wooded area for what the nursery label forest school. However as it is a two week event as part of a run of nursery groups it will annoy the trademarked forest school practioners. Irrelevant in Alice’s case though as the activities are a bit beyond her currently. She sat with a bug hunt clipboard quite happily though. But I like getting the messages at dinner time showing me she’s busy.

So made it through the first day back at work. Tomorrow we’ll see what day six brings.

Focus on painted ladies

Today’s focus isn’t going to be a focus on art. A few weeks back my class received their insect lore painted lady caterpillars. They have finished their time in the cocoon oven and are have emerged as butterflies. So as I get set to release them it seems a good time to look at them in more detail.

The painted ladies are favoured by schools for looking at life cycles as insect lore has made them readily available. However few schools go beyond to look at the remarkable life of these butterflies.

Starting as the eggs they hatch out as tiny millilitre big caterpillars. This is how most schools receive them in their little pots.

They rapidly grow in size of about 2 weeks before turning into cocoons. One thing that always surprises the children is when they see the cocoons wriggle. In the wild in the U.K. they favour thistles and nettles for food.

They remain cocoons for around a week before emerging as butterflies.

As butterflies they use their proboscis to feed. A bit like a long tongue that curls up when not in use. Their fascinating to watch feeding.

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All this would be remarkable enough, but painted ladies have more about them. They are in fact migrants to our shores. Now when people say migrant, currently probably think more on a UKIP lines, or else birds.  But these butterflies make amazing journeys. Painted ladies can’t survive our winter, so they travel all the way from North Africa and across Europe. They are the only butterfly to of been reported in Iceland.

We don’t see the migration though as they travel at high altitudes. Over several generations they make the journey as they only live around two weeks as a butterfly. The navigational skills contained within this tiny species is mind boggling.

Now doesn’t that make for a more interesting use of them teaching children than just getting them to alongside reading the very hungry caterpillar. The use of them in schools is often frowned upon, so if you are going to get the most out of them for the children. Teach about their life cycle, their eating habits, structure and the remarkable story of their migration.

For an interesting read for children on migration check out Chris Packham’s and Jason Cockcroft amazing animal migration. It explains migration in a way that made sense to the five year olds I’ve taught.

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Further reading

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19991550

BBC documentary (currently unavailable, but worth watching out for)

Den day green lighted

Den day has been given the go ahead at my new school. Den day is organised by Save The Children to raise awareness of children living without shelter. Many children across the world live without a stable home. As bad as the situation in the UK can be we are largely looked after so it is important to teach the children about their role in helping worldwide.

I’m going to be looking through this a lot over the next month.

We will be inviting parents in to help us in the building if dens. I’m delighted that our first stay and play session will be a largely outdoor affair and supporting a worthy cause.

If you feel moved to give a donation we a virgin money donation page. Any donation of any size will be appreciated.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/dendaythorpepark

So now onto building den supplies. We have lots of tarps, curtains and fabric. We’re going to need to save boxes. We have lots of milk crates. Hopefully we’ll have a great day of teaching the children about global issues and have some fum den building. If you have any den building ideas please comment. 

Our space to work in.

Ladybirds and caterpillars

This week we took possession of two sets of 5 caterpillars at school from insect lore. Then split between mine and the end classroom all the 80 children get a chance to see them.

I have in the past seen criticism of using caterpillars and other insects in the classroom. It can be seen as making life something marketable and disposable. Thr RSPCA advice’s using soft toys and plastic animals. But I don’t see that this teaches children respect for life properly. The children develop a sense of wonder seeing the caterpillars change and they are very careful around them. They understand they are not just a toy. Building this respect for all life forms stops them going out on the playground and squashing spiders and snails shells.

What the children get out of this depends on the value you place on it. If you take all the teaching opportunities they provide they are an amazing opportunity.


Outside I have added more photo IDs around the bug hotel. I’ve seen small groups going to investigate through the day. A lot of the girls have enjoyed bee hunting. 

One of the girls spotted a ladybird causing much excitement.