Several classes at Pool Primary School recently enjoyed lessons devoted to wildlife and nature, with hands-on activities in the school grounds. The activities were led by Neil Griffin, education officer for Wildlife Friendly Otley, and Maggie Brown from West Yorkshire Bat Group. Year 6 were so enthused that the following day they were out planting trees to enhance their environment for both the community and the local wildlife.
Science co-ordinator Claire Doughty helped organise the day, which started with her Year 6 class, fresh from finishing their SAT’s exams, focussing on the habitats surrounding the school buildings. First they quickly had to solve an open-ended Maths question about different trees. Inspired by an RSPB film showing the wealth of wildlife around us in the UK, they then eagerly watched a video of an otter hunting in the river Wharfe, not far from school. This was taken by Otley naturalist Paul Briscoe, and is available on YouTube.
Year 6 then went outside to work in small teams identifying habitats and recording them on a map. The session finished with a plenary where the students identified which habitats were absent and started to plan how to introduce them. One Year 6 parent made a point of contacting the school to say how much her son had enjoyed the lesson and found it interesting. To help develop a Nature Area to the east of school, Wildlife Friendly Otley brought in a bird table and two bird feeders, plus some small wooden arches to identify boundary gaps through which hedgehogs can move.
Neil said “Hedgehog numbers have plummeted, and one of the problems they face is the impenetrable fences we build these days, which prevent them from moving from one feeding area to another. With these arches, which were made by Wharfedale Men’s Shed, the children will attach value to simple holes and hopefully ensure they aren’t blocked. They will also think about their gardens at home.” Wildlife Friendly Otley also plan to help the school renovate their old pond. “A pond is the single best thing we can add to our gardens to help wildlife. The school’s pond is pretty big, but it isn’t essential to make one on this scale. A pond in an old Belfast sink in East View Terrace is currently home to a whole host of creatures including frogs and newts.”
After break it was the turn of Miss Ball’s Year 3 class. They went on a wildlife hunt armed with magnifying glasses and pots, plus spotter sheets. Despite the noise inevitably generated by 30 children, they were able to spot several birds, including magpies and crows, and listen to several more. These included the noisy Chiffchaff, in Pool for spring and summer before returning to Africa, and the popular Robin, whose song was attractive to human ears but the opposite to other Robins, as its basic message was “Clear-off!”
The school’s wonderful Peace Garden proved a rich hunting ground for invertebrates, which some children delighted in (gently) holding. Snails, woodlice, millipedes and shiny beetles were popular. WFO are giving the school some hinged discs of wood (again prepared by Men’s Shed) which will make good minibeast habitats that the children can lift and observe.
After lunch Neil worked with Year 2, playing wildlife-related games. “They don’t think of them as lessons, but they learn a lot whilst they have fun” he said. “I use a lot of scientific vocabulary, too, which hopefully they will absorb.” Some of the games were old classics, such as Kim’s Game and a take on Tig called “Foxes & Rabbits”. Others were newer, such as Woolly Worms (camouflage) and Hibernating Hogs (hibernation).
Whilst all this was going on, Maggie was teaching children about bats, and she had bought some into class, much to the children’s excitement. Maggie had also brought in some of the Group’s hi-tec equipment, and was able to show that even when being put back in their travelling box the bats were using echo-location. More information about these fascinating creatures can be found at www.westyorkshirebats.org.uk
All the children went home with a WFO sticker and a copy of WFO’s family pledge sheet which outlines some simple things you can do at home to help wildlife. It is also on the WFO website at www.wildlifefriendlyotley.org.uk. They also each took WFO’s map leaflet showing some of the best places to watch wildlife around the town. Claire thanked the visitors for their time and the wildlife equipment. She said “I know year 6 really enjoyed their sessions, and I’m sure the same is true across school.”
The day after, Year 6 enjoyed planting some native trees. They used the set of children’s gardening tools that WFO bought with a community grant from Tesco, including spades, rakes, hand-trowels and gloves. These are kindly stored by Rob Tindall at the Co-op in Otley. Mrs Doughty and her husband had recently planted a new hedge at the school, too.