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St. Mary’s CofE Primary School’s Nature Club – Mission Update!

In November 2009, I began a lunch-time Nature Club for Year 3 and 4 pupils, to continue building on the children’s enthusiasm for the outdoor world (which has been encouraged by the excellent provision in the Key Stage 1 curriculum). In addition my colleague has been running weekly practical gardening sessions for groups of children, in the school ‘garden’- a set of raised beds where we grow vegetables and herbs which are then consumed in school lunches.

The Nature Club is a very popular idea – as only ten children from each year group can attend each session, teams are rotated each half term, to enable all to take part during the Autumn/Winter with another turn during the Spring/Summer. In this way the children experience the full range of climate that affects our small site, and are able to notice seasonal differences in the vegetation and insect and animal life.

Our activities are seasonal and weather dependent! January’s snow was a great opportunity to examine bird and animal footprints. On wet days, part of the session will be indoors and may involve examination of specimens (banded and garden snails were a great hit!), practicing observation skills such as winter twig identification (by bark and bud) or an activity to match bird beak shapes with the birds’ typical food (using pictures cut from the RSPB’s Birds magazine).

On more clement days, the opportunity to poke around in the undergrowth of our native species hedge is always relished. We balance practical activities, such as making bird feeders from pine cones stuffed with cheese and seeds, with observational activities (finding signs of autumn or making a ‘Shades of Green’ leaf collection).

At all times we try to improve the habitats around the school. As well as providing bird food and water bowls (and caterpillar food in the cabbage patch), this year we have put up two nest boxes to attract blue tits and sparrows, and have just taken delivery of a ‘nestcam’ box which we hope will be inhabited next spring. We have built ‘Bug Hotels’ from recycled materials – this year’s design is a luxury residence built from discarded pallets and crammed full of a variety of natural materials to provide shelter through the winter.

Our budding scientists have been introduced to recording data via the RSPB’s Big School Birdwatch and by collecting data about Harlequin ladybirds which have infested the playground for two successive autumns. Michael wouldn’t take his completed recording sheet home as he wanted the real scientists to have the data for their survey! Close observation of Gooseberry sawfly caterpillars using magnifying glasses was also popular.

We have been able to demonstrate our enthusiasm, skills and creativity outside the school community. We entered a planting display in the RHS Tatton Show: designs were drawn up by the children, seeds planted (observing the various sizes and colours of seeds) and plants tended though the summer term. Four lucky designers then enjoyed a day at the Show, to see our entry and experience the amazing displays and ice creams. This autumn, we entered the church’s Harvest Show with our Conker models (made from conkers and matchsticks) and potted up the spare conkers to take home to plant in our gardens!

We have many plans to continue developing the habitats around school to enable more children to enjoy the natural world around them. A grant from a local interest group has allowed us to buy an information board for the playground showing the mini-beasts which can be found on our site, to encourage all the pupils to observe and protect the environment (and to help the staff on playground duty to identify specimens brought to them!).

Each child receives a certificate at the end of their half term in Nature Club – the certificate lists the activities they have taken part in, to remind them of the wonders of nature that we have discovered.

Report compiled by Caroline Heaton, Teaching Assistant.

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