Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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Holiday activities 2015: part 1

Outdoor classroom at National Trust The Courts

Wildlife Garden at The Courts

Our Flower Patch members are on holiday but Cally’s been busy running some more sessions for the National Trust to promote outdoor learning for children and families. In the past these have focused on the #50things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4 campaign but this year they are connected with the heritage of the National Trust properties where they are based and sustainable gardening.

The Easter holiday workshops based  at The Courts gardens in Holt tie in with the cloth making heritage of this former mill owner’s property. Families can follow a trail around the gardens, featuring plants for dyeing and then take part in  a ‘hands on’ activity with Cally in the wildlife garden.

On Maundy Thursday dozens of children got stuck into creating some beautiful botanical art using not much more than a hammer and some leaves and flowers. Next week she’ll be getting in touch with her Celtic roots painting with woad.

Botanical nature art

Botanical Art

More Thursday workshops will follow in the Summer holidays. We’ll publish the details shortly. Why not join us to experience some Our Flower Patch activities first hand?



Rustic hammers to create nature art


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Wildlife Action Awards for Schools


Hawkshead moth caterpillar with a child's finger for scale.

Hawkshead moth caterpillar with a child’s finger for scale.

This week on  the blog we want to highlight the RSPB’s  Wildlife Action Award for Schools. For schools who are already learning outside the classroom, it is an easy way to endorse some of your outdoor learning. For those who would like to expand their provision, then it can provide a focus, which will assist teachers in creating exciting learning activities. It will also help to make  school grounds a sustainable wildlife haven and demonstrate commitment to providing frequent, continuous and progressive learning outside the classroom.This can lead to the  Council for Learning Outside the Classroom‘s Schools Mark. Good for pupils, school grounds, wildlife and the planet. That’s not bad, is it?

Of course, if you are one of the Our Flower Patch member schools, following our programme means that you have an easy way to tick off many of the action points to help secure the award.  Check out our website for information about how to join us. Here’s a list of the activities taken from the award booklet, many of which form part of our National curriculum linked activity zone sessions.

Section 1 : Finding out what’s there 
1.1What’s that flower?
1.2 Plant survey
1.3 Minibeasts close-up
1.4 Counting butterflies and moths
1.5 Pond dipping
1.6 Go birdwatching
1.7 Big Garden Birdwatch
1.8 Big Schools’ Birdwatch
1.9 Take part in a survey
1.10 Between the tides
Section 2: Helping wildlife
2.1 Where minibeasts live
2.2 Creating a pond (double point activity)
2.3 Nestboxes for birds
2.4 Feeding birds
2.5 Bat Boxes
2.6 Helping hedgehogs
2.7 Planting trees
2.8 Wildlife garden (double point activity)
2.9 Looking after a wildlife garden/pond
Section 3: Being environmentally friendly
3.1 Save it
3.2 Bike, bus or walk
3.3 Reduce, re-use, recyle
3.4 Composting
3.5 Green shopping and food
3.6 Collecting litter
3.7 Climate Action Award
Section 4: Spread the word
4.1 Get Creative
4.2 Put on a show
4.3 Make a display
4.4 Get in the news
4.5 Write to your MP
4.6 Raise funds for wildlife
4.7 Involve others

Growing a flower patch is great for wildlife and running a sustainable, eco friendly enterprise in school ensures that your pupils already understand the value of composting, recycling and spreading the word about local crops and green shopping. You see how much we’re helping you tick all the boxes?

If you’re reading this and are not a teacher in a school, here’s the good news, there are separate awards for families, homeschoolers and community groups too. Check out the website for further details.

poplar hawk-moth

A Poplar Hawk-moth

Child Making herb potions in a mud kitchen, outdoor learning.

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‘I’m a teacher. Get me outside here!’ It’s Empty Classroom Day tomorrow.

Dirty teaching Juliet Robertson guide to learning outdoors Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

A very inspiring and helpful read.

This Friday, June 20th is Empty Classroom Day. You’d expect us to be fans of all things outdoors – and we are. We would like every day to have an opportunity for taking learning outside the classroom, but one special day is a good way to kick start the process. Having worked with plenty of teachers and teaching assistants who admit to feeling nervous about abandoning their classrooms and taking learning outside, we were delighted when Juliet Robertson’s new book arrived on our desks. It is published today and, in my opinion there should be one in every staffroom in the country. I wish there had been when I had started teaching all those years ago. I learnt as I went along and had a few nightmare lessons along the way.

child making mud pies empty classroom day ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Stirring herb potions, magic in the making.

Juliet is a former headteacher and champion of learning outside the classroom. I first came across her ideas in her popular education-focused blog . Her book, which is part manual – to give teachers ideas for moving learning outside and part manifesto- making the case for outdoor learning, is firmly rooted in her own experience. It’s written in an accessible way which will make sense to anyone who works with primary school aged children. Importantly it suggests an approach which is low cost and understands the realities of teaching classes of thirty or so children outdoors with no additional help. This handbook will lead you from the idea that working with classes in the open air is a good idea through the planning stages to the first tentative sessions in your outdoor classroom. It will help you engender in your class a spirit of adventure and exploration, a sense of reflection and caring for their environment, even if it is a ‘concrete jungle’. It will also help you build towards a time when outdoor learning is fully embedded in the curriculum.  I loved it.

We like to get a sense of the story behind any books we feature. Here’s what Juliet had to say.

What are your strongest memories from your own school days?

Between the ages of 7 and 10 I lived in Ambleside. Every lunch time we got to play in the local park just beside the school. We had 1.5h lunch times and they were great for free play. There’s a big rock outcrop in the centre of the park. Not surprisingly we were all a fit bunch of children.


What made you start teaching outside and what is the best and most challenging experience you’ve had with children outside the classroom.

I started teaching outside before inside! When I was 18 I had a gap year in the middle of university (as I was a 16yr old school leaver). As a volunteer I helped set up and run a WATCH wildlife club at Brockhole National Park headquarters with one of the education officers. I did this because I knew nothing about nature and knew I needed to learn. Children are always the best teachers… 

The most challenging experience I’ve had with children outside the classroom was when I was just 20 years old. I was working in Philadelphia at an urban environmental education centre. The permanent staff worker was ill so I took 12 boys aged 11-14 down town to the Natural History Museum on my own. The kids had never been in a museum before and didn’t know how to behave so they ran around, completely mad and out of control before jumping into the fountains outside within half an hour of being in the museum. Then to cap it all, I lost two of them in the rush hour in the subway station on the way home which was situated within a large shopping mall. It took half an hour to find them. I sent the others out in pairs to look and come back in different directions. 

 Why is it worth teaching outdoors?

There’s two main reasons. Firstly almost all children benefit from the experience in ways beyond the obvious achievement of success criteria. Relationships are different outside and it’s an opportunity for children and adults to get to know each other in ways that they would not get to experience indoors. There is also something subtle, yet powerful about working in a natural space, if this is possible whether this is a beach or woodland or somewhere else. 

Next, once children and adults are used to working outside, then it is generally a less stressful environment. Everyone is more physically active as a general rule. Also everyone tends to feel better after time outside which can positively impact on a class back indoors too. 

What do you hope to achieve through writing the book?

I hope to make learning outside more doable for class teachers. There are few books available which are written by teachers for teachers on working outside with a big class of children all with different needs and capabilities. At the moment a lot of attention has been given to Forest School yet this is quite a specific approach which relies on a higher adult to child ratio than what is normally available in a school. Also there’s very little ideas for those teachers who work in concrete jungles. Play and playtimes have also been largely ignored yet in Scotland the play sector have been huge allies and proponents of learning outdoors. 

The other aim was to provide a book which could complement my blog. The book is more cohesive than my blog. Along with my courses which provide a practical illustration of the concepts I talk about, it’s a strong package of support which I would have welcomed 20 years ago! My courses also have big handouts full of more specific guidance on key aspects of learning outdoors. 

What the best piece of  advice would you give to a teacher who meets resistance to their desire to do more outdoor learning?

It’s all about engaging in positive communication with others. I strongly believe that for every one person that is being difficult there is at least one person who will be equally supportive. So find these people. Mindset and determination matter more than anything else. As Richard Bach said in his book, “Illusions” – “Argue for your limitations and sure enough they are yours.” So don’t use other people or situations as an excuse for not going outside, use them as a springboard into finding creative ways of getting out.

Celebrate Empty Classroom Day tomorrow with a resolution to start taking your classes outside more.

We’re signing up schools now to become  Our Flower Patch  members from September. Reading Juliet’s book over the Summer holidays will help get you ready to get outside.

toddler with seedlings mud empty classrooms day Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Pricking out seedlings from an early age. Catch them young!