Saturday, 25 February 2012

mini beast hotels and making nooks and crannies

I’m really passionate about gardening for wildlife – and firmly believe that all gardens should be and can be wildlife friendly (whatever other aims a garden has). I have a live and let live attitude to gardening and its not yet stopped me having delicious crops of vegetables and fruit or having a garden filled with flowering plants of many kinds. We need wildlife around us for so many reasons - and we certainly need insects to pollinate the plants we rely on.  Green spaces filled with wildlife (from tiny insects through to birds and mammals) can give us so much – they can bring calm, inspiration, ideas, soothing, healing and hours of entertainment. They are also rich environments for learning.

When working in schools and developing outside spaces with children, its so crucial to make space for wildlife to thrive. I think this should happen in many ways – but I’ve also loved making several mini-beast hotels in the past year.

Mini-beast hotels / mansions / insect stacks… they have many names and appear in different forms around the world. You can of course buy structures to put up in your garden, but its so much more pleasing to make them (and most of the ingredients are found for free).
The children I’ve worked with have been engrossed and filled with purpose using tools to saw, nail, assemble and cut things needed for their insect hotels, which means they get many different layered experiences. They’ve loved thinking about what the mini-beasts need to be cosy, safe and happy. They’ve invented wonderful signs and accessories – things like ladders for ladybirds, chutes for food to slide down, hotel tickets and teeny different compartments. They’ve written letters and drawn pictures which they’ve placed inside their “hotel rooms” and so much of this is bound up in the wonderful way children will display the things they crave and need through the things they make for others.

As signs of spring are all around us at the moment – and as bees, ladybirds and other insects begin to emerge from hibernation – the children and I are wondering who and what has been able to use our hotels to safely hide away during the winter. And of course mini-beasts will tuck themselves away in all sorts of places you might not expect…

The images below tell some of the story of creating a mini-beast hotel with Oak Class and their teacher Mark Woodings at Dunkirk Primary School, in the school nature garden. 

Discovering ways to tie knots became important. 

Spontaneous artwork was created whilst we collected materials (the children are really inspired by artists like Andy Goldsworthy and its wonderful how they readily make patterns with natural objects).

We found mini-beasts in the nature garden whilst we were working – and the children spent a really long time looking at them and noticing so much detail, busily describing what they were discovering.  I love that slugs are a source of fascination to children.  I very rarely come across a child who isn’t intrigued by a slug – and I’ve known children to hunt for them and watch them for hours.  They are amazing creatures in so many sizes and an amazing array of colours.  Its only really adult eyes with fears for neat spaces and prized vegetables who see slugs as something to be crushed and eradicated.

The images below are of two different minbeast hotels the children, staff and I built at Highbank Primary last summer on the school allotment.  We planted lots of plants insects would love around the hotels:


Friday, 17 February 2012

leaves, raindrops and tiny patterns

and why I tend to ramble slowly through hedgerows, woods and gardens... 
every leaf is a landscape and a world... 

“It takes time – loose, unstructured dreamtime – to experience nature in a meaningful way…”
“Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv:

Sunday, 12 February 2012

opportunities offered by snow

“Snow and ice transform winter’s grey darkness into a thrilling wonderland full of exciting possibilities.”
Make it Wild, Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield

The snow this past week has offered wonderful opportunities for so many explorations and investigations at Dunkirk Primary with the groups I’m working with.

It’s vital for children to connect with the natural world in EVERY weather condition and throughout every season.  Children discover so much in this way – and are bursting with descriptions and wonder at the things they are finding out.
The school has waterproofs for the children (one of the best outdoor resources a school can invest in) and lots of spare hats and gloves and jumpers if extra are needed.  With these on the children can learn, explore and discover in ways that would be impossible otherwise.

The children got really interested in following the tracks various creatures had left on the snow in the school allotment (especially on Monday morning, after the heavy snow fall over the weekend – as no human had set foot on the snow and we were all intrigued to see who had been walking on the snow).  The tracks contained so many stories about what happens in the allotment when no one is around…   
Children showed me so many ways to make things with the snow – by sculpting it, drawing in it, lying in it, jumping in it… they made sounds with it, they explored every bit of texture it had to offer, they looked at the colours in it… 


It’s vital to keep children as warm as possible when working outside – and for them to learn different ways of keeping themselves warm.  Wrapping up well, keeping moving, if sitting – then using waterproof thick cushions and blankets all help.  Hot food and hot drinks are really important – and add an element of wonder when you have a soothing, calming picnic outside in the snow.  We’ve used fires every day this past week, to heat things like bananas and chocolate and jacket potatoes – which the children have loved.  In the snow the fire offers warmth, a place of gathering and sharing stories, a comfort and an element of excitement. 

...add candles where you can!

Or ... you could birng the snow inside and make things with it in big trays and bowls...  and maybe paint it...

“There is so much to see and enjoy in winter.  Young children love to scrunch through the frost, blowing dragon smoke into the chilly air… a winter walk can be a time of companionship... Winter is both an end and a beginning, for in this death of the year sharp-eyed children may find all sorts of signs and clues to show them that nature is waiting patiently to burst into life at the first hint of spring.
Children feel cheated if winter slips by without at least one snowfall and several icy days when all the puddles freeze and each blade of grass is coated with frost.
Great excitement greets winter’s first snowfall…   children…will be desperate to get out in the snow, to be the first to leave their tracks in the pristine whiteness, to build snowmen, pelt each other with snowballs or slide downhill on a sledge or plastic bag.  But snow brings other opportunities too, such as a chance to spy on the activities of wild animals and birds that leave tell-tale tracks or to try one’s hand at shaping snow into weird and wonderful sculptures… even a walk through the snow is an adventure.”
'Natures Playground'   Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield

Saturday, 4 February 2012

what happens when the glue and tape are put away...

Much as glue and tape are wonderful – and finding ways to fix things together is fantastic – sometimes it’s crucial to put the glue and tape away and experiment…

I adore the ‘loose parts’ theory and find that greater investigations explorations take place when you are free to keep changing your mind and to re-arrange things.

Whether it’s 2d or 3d thinking and exploring, if you can keep testing new ideas and moving things around, then you tend to discover more.  You are free to have ‘happy accidents’ where things present themselves to you unexpectedly.

I think this is especially true with very young children, when their thinking and exploring is crossing so many different areas.  If you are a child who loves to discover what happens when you stack things – making towers is going to hold more fascination than gluing things flat onto a surface…

explorations with water

Water holds a fascination for children (and adults) of all ages.  It reflects, it moves, it casts shadows, it freezes, it bubbles, it makes sounds... it is calming, soothing, tactile... it's full of energy, it gushes, it travels, it pours...

"Some kids don’t want to be organised all the time.  They want to let their imaginations run; they want to see where a stream of water takes them…”
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv.

“… the visual arts are not only about making things with materials: they begin with looking and touching.  Sometimes we simply need to slow down and look intently at things with children – movements of creatures, the gleam of colours in a shell or in the grains of sand trickling through fingers, a favourite picture book…”
Ursula Kolbe