The Promise-Tree Planting

The wonderful picture book, “The promise” by Nicola Davies has had a lovely animation made in in collaboration with the BBC. The story is a beautifully illustrated story with illustrations courtesy of Laura Carlin. It tells the story of a young girl thief who finds redemption through planting acorns. It has a dark side to it but ultimately a wonderfully positive message. Even if you don’t have children I would recommend reading it and watching the new animation as it’s beautiful.

Link to the BBC video.

The Promise provides a wonderful platform for climate action with young children. It has been launched in several versions with an English and Gaelic version currently. The main purpose is to get people planting trees. For educators there have been some wonderful resources made to go alongside the launch with presentations on why trees matter, biodiversity, and worksheets to learn more. There is lots for teachers to get their teeth stuck into. Increasingly schools are having to send their children home during the Covid crisis and much of what has been included here is ideal for home learning. Even if the school is not facing Covid closures there is much here that can be shared with families and a time when educators are having to be a bit more distant than normal. We can’t currently invite parents into the nursery I work, but we can encourage growing projects at home. This is well suited to bridging that gap between home and school at the moment.

I wanted to do a few activities with Alice this half term around the story but we are lacking acorns. I have a few saved from earlier in the year but I don’t think many are viable for planting so I have been looking at different seeds we can try growing in order to encourage a few more trees.

Conkers

While we are lacking acorns we have no shortage of conkers, horse chestnut seeds. Conkers need to experience a period of cold for several months before germination. Known as cold stratification. You can plant them outside and many will likely germinate, though some will rot, some may be eaten before they get a chance to get going. So we are placing them in the fridge for a few months. After that we can check to see which are viable by dunking in water. Floaters are viable, sinkers need discarding. In spring we can plant them out in pots outside. They just need protection from being eaten by squirrels or the young stalk being devoured.

Self seeders

Usually when I weed the garden I will find a handful of trees that have established in the borders by themselves. The nearby maple is the worst culprit for this. It often seeds its helicopter seeds into the mass of hydrangeas making it hard to get out and also the reason it goes unnoticed until it has gained some height. Having a look through the borders this week I found a tiny little seedling that looks to be a holly. I’ve carefully dug it out and potted it up. Holly and most evergreen plants are not necessarily great for battling climate change but they are great for wildlife so it seems worth preserving. They also tolerate our sea winds well.

Pips

When I mentioned to Alice that I wanted to grow more trees she was keen to grow apple trees. Thinking with her stomach. Most apple trees are sold as grafts as this ensures that they retain the flavour of the parent tree. However, you can take a chance and grow from the pips, from the seeds. The pips will have a mixture of genetics meaning they may taste nothing like the parents so it is something of a lottery. However it is only through this experimentation that we end up with new wonderful varieties of apples. As with the conkers pips need a period of cold. We have placed them on a damp paper towel, then within a slightly opened bag in the fridge. Some may germinate while in the fridge. In a few months’ time we will take them out of the fridge and plant a few to a pot. Then I’ll pull out the weaker ones. Apples apparently have quite low germination success so we may not have much to show for this experiment, but it is ultimately free as we eat tons of apples.

Seed

We started a tray of Paulonia tomentosa last month and many have germinated. Known as the foxglove tree, it is one of the fastest growing trees around. An acre can absorb 103 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. It can be highly invasive in some countries but I plan to pollard it cutting it back each year as it grows large leaves, up to 40cm long, this way. This means it doesn’t get a chance to flower and spread. On the positive side though it can absorb mass carbon, prevents soil erosion and produces hard wood quickly leading to it getting recommended for many tree planting schemes and reforestation projects. But one I would recommend researching before trying to grow.

A little more information on easy trees to grow from seed here.

Pine cone

I have low expectations of this method but it looks ornamental enough even if it fails. Pine cones contain the seed of the tree. The seed is usually small and falls out when the pine cone opens. If you keep a pine cone moist the seeds can grow up from the pine cone or around the base if placed on a layer of compost. The cones needs to be found while closed before they open and drop their seeds. I have set mine up pushed gently into a pot of compost. I will then spray this to try to keep it moist but not so wet it rots. Around the base I’ve placed a bit of moss scraped from the fence. I may set up a few more around the garden in different locations if we find some more cones. This beast of a cone was found on a walk through the park in the rain yesterday. We’d gone out for some puddle jumping and leaf kicking to make the most of autumn. I may see about going back to see if we can find some more.

The Promise project is looking to connect with local planting and growing groups. So if you are involved with community projects that are planning to plant more trees it is worth checking their site out. You can make a handshake agreement to promise to plant more trees.

https://www.thepromise.earth/localpartner

The resources on the screening page look useful with templates for looking at parts of an acorn, the lifecycle of the oak, Japanese leaf pressing, and ideas for acrostic poems based on The Lost Words poems.

I hope you all check it out. It’s a great project and it will hopefully inspire some tree planting projects. Below is one last link to the video.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/the-girl-who-changed-the-world-with-an-acorn/p08v4r0t

We will see next year which of our tree planting efforts succeed. I don’t need all of these for my garden so I will look at using some for work or donating to community projects locally. There have already been many tree planting schemes locally but some of the trees have died over summer as they didn’t plan for aftercare and watering while they establish. So, if we manage to get any of these to a decent point we can maybe help replace some of those. Fingers crossed.

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Half term adventure from home-The snail and the whale

It is half term for us. Sadly Hornsea is facing rising cases of Covid. We are not on full lockdown but many of our friends and family are having to isolate so many of our half term plans have been thrown off. We are trying to be careful so we are avoiding contact with people where we can and trying to plan safer activities. Yesterday, we watched Tall stories livestream of Julia Donaldson’s snail and the whale. We saw the Gruffalo last year when theatres were still an option and it was fabulous. A livestream doesn’t quite give the same experience as the theatre so I wanted to create a bit of excitement around it so Alice didn’t just think we were watching a normal TV show. It is shown from London but each showing is done in collaboration with a different theatre It seems like a good way to support theatre during these difficult times for the arts.

A good story can take you all around the world without even leaving your room-Tall Stories

For those of you who don’t know, the snail and the whale is a lovely story written by Julia Donaldosn and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. It tells the story of a tiny snail who wants to see the world. It hitches a lift on the tale of the whale and travels around the world. The story ends with the snail saving the whale. Despite its size it can still help the bigger whale. It has a slower pace than her more famous books like the Gruffalo but I think it has a rather nice mindfullness about it. The TV version particular exemplifies this with beautiful scenes like something from a David Attenborough documentary. The ‘Save the whale’ part of the story is a bit of a Greenpeace blast from the past but it is a story filled with positive messages for children.

After she’d gone to sleep on Sunday I set up a trail of small world trays with scenes from the story around the house for Alice to discover when she woke up. I started with the snails black rock with the message from the story, “Lift wanted around the world”.

Then a little further down the hallway we had the Antartic scene. A planting tray, a sheet of card with circles of white paper made up our Antartic scene. I thought we had lots more penguins but sadly not. Though oddly Alice keeps going back to this one.

A few logs, the bears and an eagle made up the next scene.

The volcano and beach was made with coloured rice and rocks. The rice is coloured by putting rice in a tuppaware box and adding a few drops of food colouring and a spoon of vinegar. Shake the box and then let the rice dry. The animals came from the charity shop a while back, though she’s never played with them that much. Now she has a story that goes with them she has enjoyed them more.

Then a water tray made from a storage box filled with water and Alice’s bath toys.

The trail then led her to an invite to the theatre show and a new toy. Since we didn’t have to travel this theatre trip was saving us lots of money in parking costs, drinks, ice-cream, etc so I thought we could justify a speacial treat to mark the occasion.

She loved doing the trail and carried on acting out the story through the morning and making some of her own.

We got dressed up for the occasion as it seemed like the right thing to do despite not leaving the house.

And then settled into watch the show. Alice loved the show giggling along at the jokes. Sadly our internet cut us off about 5/10 minutes before the end, but luckily she knows the story well enough that she acted out the rest with her toy and the trays I’d prepared. There are a few activities Tall Stories have created online which we may try over the week. The theatre show tells the story from the perspective of a daughter and dad telling the story of the snail and the whale as a bedtime story. It’s sweet and funny and acomponied pleasantly by music on the viola.

Tall Stories have more broadcasts of the show over the rest of the month. It’s only £10 so cheaper than actually going out to the theatre and if you have little ones at home and are stuck for ideas for things to do in this strange Covid environment this is a great option. Alice has asked to act out the story again today so I think that’s a sign that she probably enjoyed it. We ended up watching the BBC snail and the whale adaptation too. It provided a good days entertainment and I have a few follow up ideas for over the week. Well worth checking out!

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Grow Wild: free wildflower seed

It is time for registration with Grow Wild to see if I can get a wildflower kit. Grow Wild is an initiative through Kew Gardens to grow native wildflowers. It brings people together to create community spaces to help the environment and bring cheer to spaces. By growing wildflowers, it offers food sources for pollinators and can help people’s mental wellbeing through planting and maintaining or just through seeing and enjoying.

The previous packs have been excellent. Grow Wild put together different seed mixes depending on your location in the UK. They then have different packs for different situations: woodland wonders, sensational, field flowers, nighttime bloomers and pollinators. This is an excellent project for teachers. Even if you can only provide a small space, a few planters or pots, it all adds up. Teaching children the significance of the individual plants will help prepare a new generation to take better care of our world. Vitally important work.

Previous mixes did well. The cornflowers brought in the bees and the goldfinches. Registration is open and people will find out if they have been successful next month. So if you work as a teacher or have a community space to grow it is well worth checking out.

Registration open here.

Even if you are ineligible it is worth browsing the website for ideas on collecting seeds and how to help pollinators.

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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.