Teachers' Resources

Teach your pupils how to build a giant nest, create a butterfly garden or make their own family tree!

The resources provided here have been submitted by Heritage Experts, teachers or prepared by other educational organisations. The resources are both fun and educational and are designed to inspire and develop an appreciation and curiosity about Ireland’s wonderful natural and cultural heritage.

Resources can be searched for under the following categories:

Living things (Science)

Eureka! The Big Bang Query

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science), Energy and forces (Science), Materials (Science) / Science

Comedy and science collide as host, Neil Delamere puts team captains, PJ Gallagher and Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin and their teams of comedians and science personalities through their paces, in this original science-comedy quiz.

Each show sees host Neil Delamere risk life and limb to celebrate the greatest ‘Eureka Moments’ of our time – he channels 4 million volts of electricity and shoots lightning out of his fingertips (and a couple of other places while he’s at it), he creates an earthquake in Westmeath, undergoes astronaut training in a human centrifuge and goes freediving in a freezing quarry – all in the name of science.

Eureka! The Big Bang Query was made with the support of Science Foundation Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Grow Some Celtic Cress

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Get the children to recognise what they are eating and were it comes from. Explaining the difference between root and leaf vegetables and the importance of eating their five a day.

Things To do
1.    Grow Celtic Cress (this will take about 4-5 days).

What you will need:
1.    Cress seeds, paper towels and a flat plate.

What to do:
1.    Download the Celtic Cress worksheet below and cut out the first initial of the student’s name.
2.    Wet some towels until they are soaking.
3.    Lay the letter shape onto the towels.
4.    Sprinkle lots of cress seeds in the letter shape. Make sure you cover the whole of the letter shape. Press the seeds down gently.
5.    Lift the letter shape, leaving the seed shapes. Place the plate in a warm sunny spot.
6.    Use a spoon to water around the letter shapes every day. Don’t put water on the seeds.
7.    Watch them grow (around 4-5 days). When the cress is as long as your finger, cut it off and eat it!

Grow A Flower

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Not just a pretty face. Flowers can change the world, learn how plants reproduce, and many insects would die without this vital source of nutrients. A flower is the part of the plant that makes the seeds. The main parts of a flower are the carpals and stamens. These parts are often found in the centre of the flower. There are egg cells in the carpel and pollen cells in the stamen. All flowers have four basic parts: sepals, petals, carpals and stamen. Different flowers have different numbers and shapes of these parts.

Things To do
1.    Download the Flower Parts worksheet below and name the parts of a flower.
2.    Grow a plant from seed (this will take about 2 - 3 weeks).

What you will need:
1.    A clean glass jar, paper napkins

What to do:
1.    Rinse the jar in cold water. Empty it out - but do not dry it.
2.    Fold a paper napkin in half, curl it into a circle and slip it inside the jar.
3.    Press the napkin against the side of the jar (let it soak up the remaining water residue).
4.    Peel back part of the napkin and push three seeds (broad bean seeds are good for this) evenly spaced around the inside of the glass jar.
5.    Wet the napkins with lots of water.
6.    Put the jar in a bright warm place (the windowsill is perfect!).
7.    Add water often to keep the napkins wet.
8.    The roots will start to grown first and then the shoots.

Coilte Trees

Natural environments (Geography), Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science, Geography

Coillte, Ireland’s leading forestry company, welcomes you to the huge range of recreation opportunities they provide at many of their sites across the country. You can access miles of walking, hiking, multi access, and long distance trails, enjoy the thrill of cycling new world class bike trails, fish, picnic, watch wildlife, launch your canoe on the rivers, visit megalithic sites or just sit and enjoy the outdoors. The choice is yours.

Things to do
1.    Visit a local forest - you can find a list of forests and trails in your area here.
2.    Here you can download information and worksheets about trees. These worksheets are suitable for primary school children and are a fun way for children to learn about trees and the environment. Learn more about trees here.

Attract Garden Birds to the School Grounds

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Geoff Hunt, one of our very own Heritage Experts, has some great tips for attracting garden birds to your school grounds. This project has been very successful in other schools and encourages pupils to become familiar with a wide variety of garden birds!

Loughnaneane Park - Primary Schools Education Pack

Natural environments (Geography), Story (History), Local studies (History), Life, society, work and culture in the past (History), Continuity and change over time (History), Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Loughnaneane Park is a free amenity provided by Roscommon County Council which is available to all. This pack aims to promote Loughnaneane Park as an education resource site, to be used by primary schools for field studies relating to natural, built and cultural heritage.

White Clover (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Latin name: Trifolium repens

Irish name: Seamair bán

You’ll find worksheets, illustrations and outdoor activity ideas all about White Clover below!

This plant grows commonly in lawns and fields. Early in the year only its leaves are obvious. These are described as trefoil leaves - three leaflets from one stem. These trefoil leaves are easy to find and to recognise. Each leaflet is heart shaped with a pale V-shaped mark. The Irish word for clover is seamair. In spring when there are no flowers out yet, the leaves are young clover - seamair óg or shamrock.

There is a tradition that St Patrick used the leaf of the shamrock to illustrate his teachings about the Holy Trinity to the Irish people long ago. Just as there were three leaflets united in one leaf of the shamrock - so were the three deities of the holy trinity united as one God. To commemorate this, Irish people wear a bunch of shamrock in their lapels on March 17th - St Patrick’s Day.

The plant begins to flower in April and there are white clover flowers all summer long until the end of September. The white clover flower head is actually a cluster of small individual flower heads. The flowers can be visited by honey bees who gather the nectar to make particularly delicious clover honey. As the clover is a member of the pea family, its seeds are carried in pods.

Clover was planted by farmers in their pastures to improve the fertility of the soil. Plants need nitrogen in order to grow and usually, to get a good crop, the farmer must add nitrogen as a fertiliser to the soil. All members of the pea family - including the clovers - are able to take in the nitrogen from the air and use it to grow. They are able to fix nitrogen in this way because they have special nodules on their roots. These nodules are formed because the plant can form an association with a particular type of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and together the plant and bacteria work in a symbiotic relationship to fix nitrogen from the air. Thus, in the days before farmers had large quantities of cattle slurry to restore the nitrogen levels in their soil, they were very glad to plant clover and let it improve the nutrient quality of their soil.

Things to do with Senior Infants
1.    Around St Patrick’s Day, the class can be brought out to collect shamrock from the school lawn or field. They can be told about the tradition of St Patrick and the shamrock.
2.    In May or June the class can go out to look for clover in flower. White clover has obvious white flower heads. Pupils may also find red clover which has purple flowers which are larger than those of the white clover. They may also find small yellow clover flowers. These belong to a different species - yellow clover - which grows in the drier parts of grassland areas.

Woodlice (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Woodlice are very common creatures found in gardens and school grounds. All you have to do is turn over a stone or a flower pot or look under dead leaves and a colony of woodlice will be uncovered. They are not insects — they are members of the group Crustaceae and are related to crabs and lobsters. Insects all have six legs but the woodlouse’s body is made up of seven segments with a pair of legs on each segment — giving it fourteen legs in all. Their bodies are different to those of insects too and will dry out if exposed to light for too long. So woodlice come out at night and hide away during the day to avoid drying out.

Woodlice feed on dead plant material such as dead leaves, rotten wood and dead plant roots. They play a very important role in the food chain as the nutrients locked in the plants are broken down and released by their activities. This is why they are so abundant in the leaf litter at the bottom of a hedge or in woodland. They in turn are part of the food chain, being eaten by spiders, pygmy shrews, hedgehogs and any bird sharp-eyed enough to see them. We have over 20 different species of woodlouse in Ireland — one called the pill bug is able to roll itself into a sphere when disturbed and this helps it to evade capture.

Things to do
1.    Do woodlice prefer light or darkness?
Get a shoebox. Have half the box covered with a lid. Put six of the woodlice into this box. Have a second similar shoebox with no lid as a control to show that you are doing a fair test, and put the other six in there. Come back later and observe where the woodlice are. They will all be in the shady side of the box.
2.    Do woodlice prefer damp or dry?
You can set up a similar experiment with the two boxes only this time no lids on either but a damp sponge in one section of one of the boxes and a dry sponge in a different section. Put two dry sponges in the second box. Put six woodlice in each and observe what happens. Are there more woodlice at the damp sponge than at the dry sponge?

Wasps (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

The wasp is a much-maligned insect. It actually does not spend its time going round looking for humans to sting! The life cycle of the wasp actually plays a very important role in our natural environment. Wasps are native social insects.

This means that there is a queen and a colony of workers that live together in a nest. The queen hibernates for winter and in March wakes up. She emerges, chooses a nest site and begins to build a paperlike nest from chewed up timber. This nest can be in a hedge, in an attic or roof space, or in a disused shed. She lays eight eggs and when the eggs grow into worker wasps they take over the running of the nest. The queen goes into egg production full time and the workers build six-sided cells for the eggs. The workers are all female and they feed the baby wasps with chewed up greenflies, aphids and other insect garden pests. The adult wasps, on the other hand, feed on a sweet-tasting substance excreted by the grubs in the nest.

So all summer long from April to August, wasps do a great deal of good, keeping down the numbers of harmful plant pests. By the end of August, the queen will have laid up to 40,000 eggs and is beginning to tire. The nest can be the size of a football by now. The workers build different shaped cells in which eggs are laid that go on to be queens, while different shaped cells again cause her to lay eggs that produce drones.

These all leave the nest when mature, mate with those from other nests and the newly fertilized queens go into hibernation at once and emerge to start the cycle all over again next March. The old queen back at the original nest lays a last round of eggs and dies by the end of August. This last round of worker wasps have no younger babies to feed with insects, nor indeed any grubs to lick sweettasting liquid from. It is these last wasps during the months of September and October, for the six weeks lifespan that they have, that have to hunt everywhere for sweet food. They can eat nectar from flowers, or suck the juices of fallen apples and blackberries. But many of them do come into our homes seeking sugar there.

Of course they will sting if assaulted by an angry or terrified human. But they don’t seek us out deliberately to sting us. By the end of October, they will all have died. The nest is empty and won’t be used by next year’s queen. The whole cycle will begin again the following March.

About their sting — the sting of a wasp is like a needle and can be withdrawn after it is used in order to sting again. The bee has a sting with a serrated edge which gets stuck in our thick skin and cannot be withdrawn so a bee is torn apart as it tries to withdraw it from a human and will later die.

Things to do
1.    Get hold of a disused, empty wasps’ nest. Spray it with hair spray to render it less brittle. Bring into school and let the class examine the nest in detail. It can be cut in half in due course so that the intricate cell structure can be appreciated.

Vetch (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

The vetch is also a plant that grows in shady areas. It uses a different strategy to survive in a habitat where light is restricted — it can climb up towards available light. It is a member of the pea family — the legumes. Like the sweet pea that flowers in gardens, it produces tendrils at the end of its leaves. The leaves are positioned alternately along the stem and each leaf consists of a number of opposite pairs of leaflets. At the end of each leaf however, is a set of stringy tendrils which seek for something to catch onto. In the wild hedge this is usually other plants such as brambles, or grasses. With this support, the plant is able to assist its passage upwards towards the light.

As a result, it can flower later than hedge flowers with no such support and the purple flowers of the vetch can be seen in hedges right up to the end of July. As it is a member of the pea family, the flower is typical of this family. It is described as being irregular — the petals are not symmetrical around a centre but are of different sizes and shapes and form a closed hood over the male and female parts. As a result, the flower is self-fertile and pollination occurs inside the closed flower. The seeds are carried in pods similar to those of a pea but much smaller and these turn black when ripe. The pods then split open suddenly and the seeds inside are shot out by the force. They settle further away and a new plant can then germinate.

All members of the legume family including vetches are, unusually among plants, able to fix nitrogen directly from the air. Plants need nitrogen for growth and cell formation, and normally plants absorb it from the soil in the form of nitrate. Vetches however have nodules on their roots which are formed in conjunction with special soil dwelling bacteria and these nodules are able to absorb nitrogen in a gaseous form directly from the air around the roots. When the plants rot back into the soil after death, the nitrogen is released as nitrate and thus leguminous plants enrich the soil in which they grow for other plants. This is why gorse can grow so well on poor soil or why farmers used to plant clover — another member of the legume family — in their pastures to improve conditions for grass growth.

Things to do
1.    Go out to hedges in May and June and look for this plant. Observe its tendrils holding on to other plants.
2.    Grow vegetable peas and sweet peas in the school garden or in pots in the classroom window and watch how they grow and climb.

Oak (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

The oak tree is described as the king of the woods. It was greatly valued in olden times in Ireland and was considered to be one of the “nobles of the wood”. It is the canopy tree in our native oak woodlands that have been here since the end of the last Ice Age ten thousand years ago. Oak trees are one of the last trees in Ireland to get their leaves each year — it is usually the end of April before they emerge from their brown buds.

Oak leaves are particularly prized by all sorts of insects who feed on them. The caterpillars of the purple hairstreak butterfly depend on them, as do many species of greenflies, shield bugs, moths etc. It fact it has been estimated that some 286 species of insects and other invertebrates feed on the leaves of the oak. All this eating of fresh oak leaves in May and June leaves the tree somewhat depleted. But the tree fights back, producing a new growth of leaves with lots of unpalatable tannin in them and quite browny-purple in colour at the end of July. These are called “Lammas Growth “, Lammas being the time of year between July and August.

Catkin-like flowers are produced by the tree in early April before the leaves are formed. This is because they are wind pollinated and the presence of leaves would get in the way of the blowing pollen. Acorns are formed from the fertilised flowers and ripen in autumn. These are prized as a source of food by birds such as jays and rooks, squirrels and by mice. Grey squirrels are able to eat unripe acorns, red squirrels must wait until they are fully ripe, by which time if there are grey squirrels in the area the acorns may be all gone, leaving the red squirrel short of food and unable to compete with the grey.

New oak trees will emerge from acorns which may have been buried and not retrieved by their owner later in the winter. There are two native oak species — the pedunculate oak whose acorns are borne on stalks and the sessile oak whose acorns have no stalks. Both are very long-living trees and can survive for well over five hundred years in ideal circumstances. The Irish name is dair and many places in Ireland reflect this. Counties Kildare and Derry are called after the oak as are all the place names beginning with Derry such as Derrynaflan and Derrynane.

Oak trees produce tannins so oak bark was much in demand by the leather tanning industry. Its timber was excellent for shipbuilding and for use as charcoal. So it was no wonder at the time of the plantations — particularly the Cromwellian plantation in the 1650s when soldiers were paid in land rather than money — that the first thing the planter did was strip the land of its timber in case their tenure there didn’t last very long.

Things to do
1.    Find an oak tree that the children can be brought to see. Collect leaves and acorns.
2.    Back in class get the pupils to draw outlines of the leaves so that they will learn their characteristic shape.
3.    The acorns can be sown in pots of compost and planted out the following summer when the seedlings have emerged.

Swans (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

The swan is unmistakable. It is a large white bird with a long neck and an orange beak and it lives on ponds, lakes and canals. It is found in ponds in parks, in cities and towns and on rivers and lakes in rural areas. It also can live in estuaries by the sea. Swans are thought to mate for life and a pair will occupy a territory on a pond or river and build a nest each spring.

Nests are large affairs made from reeds and sticks, and litter and rubbish can be added in too. Five to seven eggs are laid between March and May and incubation takes about 36 days. The young are called cygnets and they are able to swim the moment they hatch out. They are minded very well by both parents who will attack intruders by snorting and hissing at them, raising up their feathers in a threatening manner and indeed attacking if pressed. The young are taught to feed on submerged vegetation which they collect by upending themselves, stretching down with their long necks and pointing their tails up in the air. They will also come to eat bread if they are fed.

Young swans have browny-grey feathers and they don’t get the snowy white feathers until the springtime. At this stage they leave their parents and assemble in large bachelor herds at coastal estuaries or other good feeding grounds. Here they will stay until they are old enough to breed at two or three years of age.

Migratory swans have straight necks and yellow and black bills. These are Whooper swans which come here in winter from Iceland and Bewick’s swans who come from Russia and Siberia. These pass the winter in Ireland and return to their northerly breeding quarters when the snow and ice there has melted in mid-April.

Things to do with Senior Infants
1.    Tell them the story of the 'Children of Lir' or Hans Christian Anderson’s 'The Ugly Duckling'
2.    Take them to the park to feed swans with bread if there are any in the nearby locality.
3.    On their return get them to draw pictures of swans in their copies and colour in the beaks

Swallows (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Swallows are Irish birds because they are born here in Ireland in summer. The nests are built from mud which both parents scoop up in flight as they fly over muddy ground in rural areas. They are lined with feathers which the swallows pluck from themselves. The cup-shaped nests are always built indoors in sheds and barns. (Mud nests fixed to the outsides of houses and on gables are built by a different bird — the house martin, swallows’ nests are always indoors.)

The female lays three to six white eggs with red-brown speckles and they hatch after fifteen days. The nestlings are fed by both parents and are able to fly after 20 more days. They then fledge, leave the nest and don’t return to it again. Swallows are carnivores. They feed on aerial insects which they catch in their large gaping mouths. They cannot eat anything else so as the days shorten after the equinox in September, they gather in colonies on telegraph wires and suddenly all fly south to Africa to spend the winter. Irish swallows spend the winter in South Africa where it is warm enough to have sufficient aerial insects to feed them.

Long ago, people didn’t know that they migrated to Africa in winter. When they couldn’t see them flying around they were sure that they hibernated in the mud at the bottom of ponds. This of course doesn’t happen. When the days lengthen in March they set out once more for Ireland as the longer days in Ireland in summer means that they have up to eighteen hours of daylight to catch insects to feed their young — something that couldn’t happen in Africa as summer days there are much shorter. Their arrival in Ireland depends on weather and prevailing winds — in 2009 the first swallows were recorded here on 16 March.

But one swallow doesn’t make a summer and usually the main group do not arrive until April. There is a lot of folklore associated with swallows. Long ago there was a belief that ailments could be cured by treating them with something that resembled the ailment. Thus, because swallows twittered (rather than sang) they could be used as a treatment for stuttering and for epilepsy. This involved eating the flesh of the swallow, something we wouldn’t dream of doing now as swallows are a protected species. Swallows are seen as birds of good luck. It will bring good fortune if they nest on your property. Or it is a sign of good weather if they are flying high in the sky. They are also considered specially favoured by God so it is really unlucky to kill one.

Things to do
1.   Record the date when the first swallow is seen. Over the years this will give an indication of whether they are arriving earlier each year because of climate change. Go out in May to look for swallows flying in the sky. Ask the pupils to look inside sheds and barns to see if there are swallows nesting.

Squirrels (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

We have two species of squirrel in Ireland — the red squirrel which is our native Irish species and the grey squirrel — an American species which was introduced here to Castleforbes in Co. Longford in 1911. Both squirrels are herbivores and live in woodlands and in parks where there are sufficient numbers of trees to support them. Neither species hibernates for the winter in Ireland (despite what was once taught in schools). Squirrels collect nuts in autumn in order to have them to eat in the winter when there is no food available for them (if they were hibernating, like say hedgehogs or bats, they would be fast asleep from October to April and would require no food).

Squirrels build a nest out of sticks called a drey. This may be in the fork of a tree or more likely in a large hole in the tree and here they live during the winter. If it is too wet to forage they can draw on their stores of nuts but on fine bright winter days they will scamper down the tree and feed on the ground — grey squirrels in particular — and in fact they are easier to see in winter as there are no leaves on the trees. They can have one or two litters per year depending on the availability of food — one in spring and one in summer with up to three or four in each litter. They are weaned nine weeks after birth and the second litter in the year may spend the winter with the mother in the drey.

Grey squirrels are bigger than red and they tend to oust the red squirrels when they come into an area. Thirty years ago only red squirrels were found in the Dublin area but now except for one colony in St Anne’s Park in Raheny they have all been replaced by grey. The grey squirrel has spread south and east from Co. Longford but the red is holding on west of the Shannon. Greys do enormous damage to trees as they feed on bark and buds and this can cause small branches to wilt and snap. They also eat hazelnuts and acorns and can digest unripe acorns, something the reds cannot do. Reds like to feed on the seeds of pine cones as well as fungi which they collect from the forest floor. Red squirrels like to live in woodlands where there are evergreen trees with cones. Grey squirrels can live in the wooded areas of town parks as well as in deciduous and mixed forests.

Things to do
1.    It is quite easy to see grey squirrels if you live in an area where they are known to occur. Early in the day is the best time to go to the park or woodland and the pupils must be quiet and patient.

Spiders (All About)

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Living things (Science) / Science

Spiders are not insects but belong to a group called arachnids. All spiders have two parts - a head and a body. All spiders have eight legs - all of which are attached to the head. All spiders have two palyps at the top of the head (which they use for smell).

Male spiders have longer palyps than females. All spiders have eight eyes and two fangs - which are sharp hollow teeth through which they inject venom into their prey to kill them. All spiders have fangs and venom but in Ireland our spiders are too small to be able to penetrate our skin with their fangs. In South America, the biggest spiders — tarantulas — are found and their fangs can kill birds and mammals such as mice. They can give humans nasty bites too.

In Ireland, we have hunting spiders and web-spinning spiders. The hunting spiders come out at night and run after their prey. They can come into our houses if we leave windows open and can fall into the bath if it is the bathroom window they climb in. They are so big and the bath is so shiny that they cannot climb out again — which is why it is always a huge spider that is in the bath — the small ones can climb up and escape.

Web-spinning spiders make webs from silk produced by spinnerets at the end of their bodies. These sticky traps are positioned to catch unwary flying insects which blunder into them and become enmeshed in the sticky threads. The spider, who is waiting at the centre of the web, rushes in and kills the prey with a bite of its fangs. The spider doesn’t get trapped in the sticky web because it has oily feet that do not stick to the web. Having killed the trapped insect, the spider then sucks out all the soft insides as food, leaving hard bits such as wings and legs behind.

Any surplus flies are killed and wrapped up in silk and stored to be eaten later - or indeed to be presented to the female spider when the male goes looking for a mate. Spiders are not only carnivores, they are cannibals and the female will eat the male if given half a chance. So the male presents the female with a well-wrapped fly and mates with her while she is distracted unwrapping it and eating it. In other countries, the males are not so lucky - how do you think the Black Widow of North America got its name? Eggs are then laid in a web of silk and the young are left to their own devices. When they hatch and begin to move towards each other in an effort to eat each other the movement breaks the web nest and the spiderlings are scattered in the wind.

Things to do with Senior Infants
1.    Teach them Incy wincy spider and Little Miss Moffat. Read them Charlotte’s Web by E B White.
2.    Go outdoors on a damp, misty morning in late September to look for spiders’ webs all outlined with dewdrops. Railings or gorse bushes are good places to look.