We began our project by finding out what animals, birds and insects children may have noticed in their gardens or on walks in the area. Worms, bees, deer, robins, ants and squirrels were just some of the examples of local sightings. In our first session we set ourselves the challenge of looking for signs that our woods are used by wildlife. Even before we reached the woods, children found evidence that moles had been busy digging tunnels under the grass bank outside Year 1 from the many heaps of earth to be seen on the surface. They also spotted small birds in the hedgerows and magpies in the field where the horses are now kept.
In the woods, we set up a Science Station with magnifying glasses, binoculars, a camera, wildlife spotter sheets, notebooks and a tape recorder for verbal responses to sightings. We then went hunting for signs left behind by wildlife! Here are some photographs, taken by children, of interesting finds.
Apart from signs of wildlife, children discovered some beautiful pale green, yellow and white lichen on twigs. Others pointed out interesting fungi on damp logs. We think our spotter sheet helped us to identify a fungus called "Chicken of the woods" and another called "Candlesnuff." Many children were fascinated by the "scratch marks," textures and "eyes" they could see and feel on tree trunks. Some decided to use materials from the Science Station to reproduce the patterns in bark rubbings.
We talked about what provisions winter explorers might take with them to keep themselves warm. Apart from tough, waterproof clothing and boots, it was agreed that hot soup would be a good idea because it would keep the explorers' hands and bodies warm if they were outside for a long time.
Children chopped a range of vegetables for the soup. The session provided a useful opportunity to practice chopping skills. To help get ready for using real vegetable knives*, children first sliced playdough with ordinary cutlery knives so we could check and refine their techniques. Everybody worked with concentration and showed considerable dexterity. Here, children chop vegetable ingredients for soup: carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, leeks and celery.
* Kiddikutter range suitable for children aged 3+, graduating to kitchen vegetable knives under close supervision.
Oliver said he heard a woodpecker drumming on a tree when his group visited the woods. While children waited for their turn to chop vegetables, they studied a photograph of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and used art materials to colour their own.
While exploring the woods, we noticed that the trees had lost their leaves (unless they were evergreen). We talked about how the berries in the hedgerows and fruit on the trees had also disappeared, leaving birds with little to eat. To help our local birds survive the winter months, we made apple bird-feeder necklaces by threading chunks of apple onto string. We hung them on trees and hedges around the Samuel Radcliffe Building. It is just possible to make out a blackbird enjoying a feast of apples from one of the feeders!
In the last session, each group of explorers helped to stir the soup and cut bread into slices before taking it to the woods. It was warming to hold a cup of hot soup and fun to see the steam rising off it into the cold air!
At the end of the project, children took home a leaf collecting bag to use with their families. If you go out and about looking for leaves, let me know what you find! (The template for making the bag is on the Woodland Trust website, see the link below.) During the project, I learned from a Year 1 parent about a free leaf identification app called "Leafsnap UK" available from the Natural History Museum. When you take a photo of a leaf using your phone, the app will enable you to identify it. It will also provide you with a mini fact file on every species and ID clues.