nature

School garden – harvesting

The success of the school garden is something I feel proud off. The garden is not big and our achievements are as yet small, but I feel the value the children get from learning how to grow food, or just learning that from a small seed a pumpkin grows, is huge.

Last week we harvested some of our crop and I made a big saucepan of soup, which some (though admittedly not all) the children enjoyed!

In total, we have seven pumpkins; some lovely fresh kale (though the caterpillars from the adjoining broccoli plant are just moving across), leeks, onions, beans, carrots, parsnip (they never got thinned so many are very thin!) and parsley.

 

For me the greatest value is seeing how much the children enjoy being in the garden; whether it is just the small ones relishing in digging holes, or some of the older ones remembering that “I planted those pumpkins and those beans” and now they are harvesting the rewards.

 

Learning in the woods

We had a wonderful day of learning at our local nature school today. Woods are wonderful places to visit with children. This wood is a native woodland, being managed by traditional means such as coppicing. Bernard and Zane run many courses here including forest schools, wild foraging, school visits and woodland management courses.  Today’s “Wonder of the Woods” day was a family day.


We were there to help talk about the wonderful diverse wildlife from birds, insects to woodland flora.

The kids enjoyed running about, climbing,  building shelters, making charcoal pencils, and leaf rubbings.

Charcoal pencil

Charcoal pencil

Afterwards we enjoyed sausages cooked on an open fire, and for dessert toasted marshmallows! A perfect end to a great day. And a big thank you to Bernard and Zane and all their family.

 

Summer time – Beach fun!

Going to the beach in the summer is one of our favourite family activities. This year we have really got into our sandcastle building. It’s a great way to get creative! Use whatever is lying around – sand, stones, feathers, seashells, even seaweed.

Think of the sand as a giant canvas ready for drawing pictures and making patterns. If there is no sand use rocks, shells and stones.

 

There is lots to see.  Rock pools can be great places to explore. Look out for little fish, shellfish, hermit crabs and anemones. If you find a crab look out for those sharp pincers because even though they are small they are not afraid to use them. Jellyfish sometimes get washed up, but be careful some can sting.

HAVE FUN!!

School’s Garden Club

As part of our work at our local school on the biodiversity green flag we have set up an “After-Schools Garden Club”.

I was delighted when we got a huge response from the children and over forty children have signed up for the club, which meets two Fridays of each month. We also had great support from parents with many offering to help and others offering supplies of compost, gloves and garden tools.

Our first week was very busy. We divided into class groups of up to eight kids and divided the tasks between classes. We weeded the existing flower beds, put up the bird boxes the children had made already, planted some bulbs, and some fruit trees.

 

Each child also got the opportunity to plant some seeds and bring them home. Some of these will be brought back to school to plant in the raised beds and into pots. We will keep you posted on our progress.

 

Happy pots

Happy pots

 

A huge thank you to all the kids and parents for being so enthusiastic and our sponsors of seeds, plants and compost (including Woodies in Castlebar, Homeland in Ballina and Shaws Garden Centre, Castlebar, Co Mayo)

Get outside! Get Muddy! Have Fun!

I was lucky as a child I got to spend as much time out of doors as I wanted. I could roam through fields, play down at the stream. There was noting to stop me and only the wonder of nature to guide me. In recent months, there has been an increasing amount of research published that is showing worrying trends on the amount of time children are spending out of doors. In a recent Guardian newspaper article, it was reported that children are spending less time outside than prisoners:

“The new survey questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 parents of 5-12 year olds and found 74% of children spent less than 60 minutes playing outside each day. UN guidelines for prisoners require ‘at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily‘”.

What is more the research has shown 18% of children spent no time outdoors on an average day!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So in 2016, what stops children getting outside? An article in the British newspaper The Express reports on the reasons parents give for not allowing their children outdoors, including the weather, lack of time and the fact that the children just wanted to stay inside. From my perspective as a parent I know that each of these are valid points. It rains a lot in Ireland, but we have have waterproof coats and trousers and have been known to go for walks in the rain.Often my children won’t go out unless there is an adult that will go out with them, so I need to make time. But the thing is once the children are out there they just need to know I am near, they don’t need me to play with them, I can be getting on with some gardening while they are taking their imaginary dogs for a walk (that was what they were doing today!). And yes, children like nothing better than sitting on the sofa having screen time, but what is that doing for them? So we try and just have half an hour screen time a day. It doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does.

According to the Huffington Post, who were reporting on a study commissioned by UK’s Eco Attractions Group, there are children who have never had a picnic in their back garden, never built a sandcastle or jumped in a muddy puddle. I would say that these are activities that should not only be enjoyed by every child but also by every adult. So as a parent or guardian of a child, why not get out there with your kids. Have a picnic, go for a walk, buy some Wellington boots and a raincoat and have some fun in the rain.

Research shows that outdoor play is essential for childrens’ development and it makes them happier and calmer. Being outside helps children learn to explore, it allows them to use their imagination without the aid of modern electronic gadgets. As parents it is time we allowed our children to get muddy, let them make mud piles, let them get their hands dirty, let them feel the soil and grass on their hands, and even let them climb a tree – all this connects them with nature. Who cares if they get dirty – that is why we have baths and washing machines!

 

Further reading:

The Wild Network – This is a network of  people and organisations with a collective vision to re-wild childhood, increase time outside and help children thrive in the 21st century.

Last Child in the Wood a book by Richard Louv

Dirt is Good a campaign by Persil to get more kids outdoors

 

 

 

 

Frogs

Here in Ireland it’s the time of year to talk about frogs. Two weeks ago I noticed the first frog spawn in a local drain and today I counted 38 frogs in our garden pond!

Frogs are amphibians. In Ireland, we only have three amphibians; one species of frog (the Common Frog) and one species of toad (The Natterjack toad, only found in Kerry) and one species of newt (Smooth newt).

Amphibians need watCommon froger to breed but spend most of their time on land. They eat slugs as well as other insects so are a great addition to any garden.

Each clump of spawn you see is from one female – so if you count the clumps you can estimate how many females have been visiting your pond. Frogs will travel up to half a mile to get to a water source to spawn.

How long the spawn takes to hatch into tadpoles depends on the temperature of the water. The warmer the water the quicker the tadpoles hatch.

Check out any ponds or drains near you and see if you can see any spawn. Remember frogs (and their spawn) are protected under Irish law. If you are a school teacher follow this link to the National Parks and Widlife Service and see how you can get a license to collect spawn for classroom learning.

Common frog

Common frog

 

 

Activities:

Common frog colouring sheet from Froglife UK

Craft – Make a pebble frog from Froglife UK

For lots of fun easy activities for young kids check out www.activityvillage.co.uk/frog-worksheets

 

Resources:

Frog life cycle sheet

Irish Peatland Conservation Council have a detailed page on frogs if you want to learn more

 

All Ireland Pollinator Plan – Junior Version

Here in Ireland the National Biodiversity Data Centre have just produce a junior version of the 2015-2020 All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. Pollinators include wild bees including bumblebees, butterflies and other insects. This junior plan is a great resource particularly for schools. It includes lots of ideas on actions you can take to help pollinators both at home and in your school grounds. There are also lots of fun facts about pollinators and why they are so important. And also some information about why bees are under threat.

junpollplan

 

There are even a few bee jokes!

What bee is good for your health?

Vitamin Bee

 

Have you any good bee or butterfly jokes ? Post in the comments below.

As the weather gets warmer I hope to do some more pollinator activities. In the meantime, think about what you can plant in your garden to attract some bees.

Be optimistic – get out there!

This week’s photo challenge is “optimistic“. And yes we may have been optimistic bringing the kids to the beach on a grey, winter’s day in mid-January.

optimistic

 

But you know what, they loved it. Yes, they had to be wrapped up in hats, gloves and coats. But that didn’t stop them running about. And it didn’t stop them building sandcastles, and collecting seashells. And when I started drawing an “optimistic” sun in the sand they thought it was a great idea. And soon we had another sun drawn by my daughter and then my son decided he would draw his own optimistic self!

And sure we had to eat our picnic in the car because it was too cold to eat outside and it had started to rain but it didn’t matter. It was still a picnic.

Beach in January

Beach in January

Just get outside. You’ll love it, and they will love too.

 

Wildlife in your Garden

Happy New year! Here we are in the brand new 2016 and there is much to do and much to learn, and most important of all lots of fun to have.

One of the things I want to do this year is to get an even better idea about all the wild things that live in my garden and I’d like you to join me.

In May every year the world celebrates International Biodiversity Day. Last year in Ireland we were asked to record all the plants and animals in our gardens. I concentrated on wild flowers, trees, butterflies, bees, birds and mammals and got 64 species!

So now it is over to you. Why not go into your garden, or if you don’t have a garden go to your nearest park or green space and find ten different wild things? They could be birds, plants, trees, insects, animals – what ever you want. But they must be wild, so your dog or cat won’t count!

GardenBio_table

 

You can use this form to help you. If you want to print out, right click on your mouse and select “copy image”, then paste into a programme you use such as “word” or paint”.

You may think January is a strange time of year to look for wildlife things but you may be surprised at what you find. Here is my table:

GardenBio_table2

Why not let me know what you find in the comment box below. Have fun!

Christmas Nature

Coming up to Christmas I have been thinking of all the animals associated with this festive season. Robins, with their red breasts, feature on many of our Christmas cards. Here in Ireland, we often say that robins are Santa Claus’s little messengers, keeping an eye out for good and bad behaviour from the children at this time of year!

Then of course there are the all important reindeer. Where would Santa Claus be without his faithful sleigh pullers?

Often when we see the birth of Jesus depicted, the stable where he is born, is always full of animals; sheep, donkey and cows in particular.

Here are some Christmas activities to keep you busy.

Activitiesrobin

Robin Craft

Search Google or Pinterst for Reindeer crafts and you will see endless possibilities. But I like this simple Reindeer chocolate bar craft. Great for gift idea.

Or how about a reindeer coloring page.

For a simple donkey craft, great for younger kids, checked out this D is for Donkey activity.

And of course don’t forget the Christmas tree. Here is a link to a simple Christmas tree craft using a paper plate and colourful pompoms though you could use buttons, stickers or other items too.

chTree