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:


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