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)

Cow Parsley (All About)

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

This flower turns the roadside verges white during May and early June. It is a member of the Umbelliferae family, which means that the flowers are carried on flower heads that resemble small umbrellas. Each individual flower is very small. It has five tiny petals — the whole flower is only 2 mm across. They are carried in clusters 6 cm across at the ends of the large umbrella-shaped rays of the plant which itself can be up to a metre tall. The stems are furrowed and hollow. The leaves are finely divided and appear before the flowers. At this early stage it is quite possible to mistake them for ferns but of course they have no spores on the backs of the leaves as ferns do

They are called cow parsley because of their finely divided leaves, but in Co. Tipperary they are known by the old name of “Queen Anne’s lace” because of the exquisiteness of the flower heads. The plant emits a spicy odour when crushed. It is attractive to insects as it contains nectar and if the flower heads are examined, flies can be seen sipping the nectar. The flowers die back in July but the long withered hollow stalks can remain all winter.

If examined and opened at this time you may find that they are providing hibernation quarters for earwigs or other insect larvae. They contribute greatly to the wildlife biodiversity of the hedge verge. Unbellifers — the family group to which cow parsley belongs — are a large group which contain poisonous members such as hemlock (which is fatal if eaten). The cow parsley was confused with this fatal plant or perhaps it was considered wise to give all such shaped plants a wide berth, because it was said that picking cow parsley and bringing it into the house would cause the death of one’s mother. That would discourage such a practice right enough.

Things to do
1.    Make sure that the class is brought out on a fieldtrip to a hedge during May and early June when this plant is in flower. Pupils should become familiar with its flowers and leaves so that they do not mix it up with other flowers of the same family. The flower heads should be examined for insects and pooters used to collect any that might be sitting on them.

Buttercups (All About)

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

Latin name: Ranunculus repens
Irish name: Fearbán and also Cam an Ime

Buttercups are wild flowers that grow in grassy fields that are not mowed. Unlike daisies and dandelions which grow from rosettes and can survive mowing, buttercups will not grow and flower on a continually mowed lawn. So look for them beside the hedge if this is the case in your school - or indeed arrange for a small unmown patch to be left for the buttercups.

Buttercups start to flower by the end of April and continue in flower all summer long right up to September. The flower has five bright yellow petals. There are five sepals on the outside of the petals and a great number of male stamens inside the petals. They contain nectar deep within the flowers to attract insects and are visited particularly by butterflies in summer months.

They are called buttercups in English because it was thought that a pasture full of buttercups eaten by cattle would give a golden colour to the milk and even more so to the butter made from the milk. This is not actually true - buttercups are generally avoided by cattle. They have an acrid taste and one of the Irish names for buttercups, fearbán, reflects this.

Children play the game of holding a buttercup under another child’s chin to see if they like butter. Butter must have been more popular long ago among children than it is now, as there is invariably a golden glow on the child’s skin which of course means 'they like butter', which may not actually be the case. Scientifically, any bright yellow object held under the chin of any child of any skin colour - particularly on a bright, sunny day - will give a golden reflection!

Things to do with Senior Infants
1.    Bring them out to look for buttercups. Get them to count the petals and see the sepals behind the petals. Get them to check if their companion 'likes butter'. Then get them to repeat this using a dandelion. What can they conclude from this exercise?

Bumblebees (All About)

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

Bees are insects that belong to two main groups — social bees which live in communities with a queen, i.e. honey bees and bumble bees, and solitary bees who lay their own eggs and rear their own young as individuals, for example miner bees. Bumble bees are native to Ireland and their queens hibernate for the winter. Honey bees originated in warmer climes and do not hibernate in the winter in Ireland. They cluster around their queen and feed on the stores of honey gathered by them during the summer for the winter months. Therefore, it was the honey bee that was domesticated in the olden times as they were the ones who produced honey in sufficient quantity for humans to harvest.

Honey bees live in a hive with their queen. All the eggs are laid by the queen and for most of the year these are all female. The babies are fed by their older sisters — the worker bees — who gather pollen in special baskets on their back legs especially for this job. Adult bees however do not eat pollen — they eat honey, so this has to be manufactured in the hive from nectar brought back by other bees in their nectar sacs. Worker bees do not do both jobs simultaneously.

They spend three weeks gathering pollen, three weeks collecting nectar for honey and then they die of exhaustion. The queen lays eggs in great numbers during late April and early May and the hive can become overcrowded. When the workers sense this they build bigger and different shaped cells for the queen to lay in and the resulting eggs are nourished for longer to become queens, and some males are also produced at this time. The first young queen to hatch out goes around and stings all the other younger queens to death. She then leaves the hive on her marriage flight. When she is gone the old queen with a large group of her supporters leaves the nest as a swarm and looks for somewhere else to live. The new mated queen returns to the hive and takes over where the old queen left off. Thus honey bees nests can last for many years and build up enormous supplies of honey if left undisturbed. Bumble bees’ nests are annual affairs. The queen bumble bee comes out of hibernation and builds a nest in an abandoned mouse-hole in a hedge or field. She lays and feeds the first group of young and then they take over the duties of feeding the next batch laid by the queen. They gather pollen and nectar too like the honey bees and also have stings to defend their nest and queen. But numbers never get huge. The new queen mates when it emerges in late summer and then goes off to hibernate. The old queen and the workers die away with the onset of winter and the whole procedure must start again next spring.

Things to do
1.    Go out and observe a flower bed and see if the class can tell the difference between the honey bees and the bumble bees that are visiting the flowers. Make sure they do not stand in the flight path of the bee and encourage them to observe quietly instead of screaming and panicking. Flowers to encourage bees and butterflies such as lavender, mint, wild thyme, flowering currant and broom can be planted in the school grounds.

Daisies (All About)

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

Daisies are probably the most familiar wild flowers in Ireland. Every lawn or playing field is full of them from March onwards. The English name daisy comes from Day’s Eye. This reflects the appearance of the daisy with its yellow centre — the eye, and the ring of white petals — the eyelash. The daisy flower closes at night and opens when daylight comes as if it were waking and sleeping — like real people do.

It is considered to be a sign that spring has arrived when daisies appear in numbers. You must be careful not to step on the first one you see for the tradition is that if you do you will be “pushing up daisies” yourself before the end of the year. The daisy is a perennial flower — it comes up every year without having to set seed.

It has a rosette of leaves around the base. Each leaf has an oval shape. One flower grows on each stem and sometimes the white ring of petals has a tinge of pink on the outside. Because the leaves form a rosette the plant is not destroyed by mowing the grass and in fact it thrives in areas where the grass is mowed regularly. It is a universal custom for children to make daisy chains by making a slit in the stem of one daisy and inserting another daisy stem first into the slit. This continues until the chain is long enough to be worn.

Things to do
1.    Get each pupil to gather one daisy and see if the petals are tinged with pink.
2.    Put a circle such as a hoop on the grass and get the children to count how many daisies are there.
3.    Make daisy chains.

Dandelions (All About)

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

Dandelions have many common names — pissybeds, wet the bed, clocks and jimmyjoes. It is often thought by children that if you pick the flowers then you will wet the bed later on. This is of course not true. What is true is that the leaves of the dandelion act as a diuretic if eaten.

They were used in ancient times as a cure for dropsy — an ailment that caused a limb to swell up. Eating dandelion leaves caused the liquid to move to the bladder and no doubt could cause a bed-wetting incident if the person had fallen into a deep slumber. The English name dandelion comes from the French —dent de lion — and refers to the toothed leaves which must have put someone in mind of lions’ teeth. The Irish name is caisearbhán, from — gas searbh — the bitter stem. The white stem juice is alkaline and was used in ancient times as a cure for warts.

The leaves grow in a rosette from which come the bright yellow flowers on a single stalk. These quickly turn into white seed heads known as clocks and the seeds, each with its parachute of white hairs, are easily blown away in the wind to settle and grow again quickly. A favourite game among children is to collect one and to tell the time by counting how many puffs of breath it takes to blow away all the seeds.

Dandelions have long tap roots which were dug up and dried and roasted in times of poverty to make a type of “coffee” drink. Its flowers do make a good wine if one has the patience to use just the yellow petals and its clean, very young leaves can be eaten in salads in spring. Dandelions grow in fields, lawns and along roadsides. They are in flower all summer long. They are well able to withstand mowing — indeed, the more a lawn is mowed the more dandelions grow as other competing plants are removed.

Things to do
1.    Get each child to find and gather one dandelion each.
2.    Get them to collect one with a white seed head and blow away the seeds counting the puffs – i.e. playing clocks.
3.    Count the number of dandelions inside a hoop placed on the lawn. Are there more daisies than dandelions?

Bluebells (All About)

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

Bluebells are woodland flowers that appear in late spring and early summer. A woodland just coming into leaf with a carpet of dark blue bluebells is one of the most beautiful sights of nature. They grow from bulbs that overwinter from year to year in the ground. The long, narrow leaves appear first in April and by May the flowers have opened. Each stalk carries a one-sided line of flowers that droop at the tip. The fruit of the plant is a capsule which splits into three revealing the little seeds inside. These are left on the stalk long after the flowers have gone — right up to July.

The stalk carries seven or eight flowers that open from the bottom up. Each flower has six petals that are fused together at the bottom forming a crown as it were. There are six stamens surrounding the pear-shaped ovary topped by a style. The flowers are pollinated by insects and the ovary swells to become a three-sided capsule containing the seeds.

By late July the whole plant has died back and is not seen again until the following spring. Plants that grow on the floor of woodlands get their flowers early in the year before the leaves open fully on the trees and the canopy closes. They do this to avail of the light that is available in April before the leaves fully open on trees such as the oak, birch and finally the ash by the end of April and the middle of May. This is called adaptation and it is how these plants can live in a habitat that is too shady at ground level later on in the year for anything but ivy and ferns.

Bluebells have a gummy sap in the bulbs underground which was used in the old days as a substitute for starch or as a glue for book binding. Its Latin name is hyacinth and it is related to the hyacinth flower considered by ancient Greeks to be a flower of grief and mourning. The classical myth is that Hyacinthus was a youth that was loved both by the sun god Apollo and the god of the west wind Zephyrus. However, Hyacinthus preferred Apollo and one day when he was playing a game called quoits with Apollo, the jealous Zephyrus blew one of the quoits off its course and it struck Hyacinthus and killed him. Apollo caused a purple flower to rise up from Hyacinthus’ blood which is Bulb known to this day as a hyacinth.

Things to do

1.    Plant bluebells in a shady part of the school grounds. Buy the bulbs in a garden centre in autumn and plant them in October.

Blackbirds (All About)

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

The blackbird is one of the most common birds found in gardens, both in cities and towns and in rural areas. There are nearly two million breeding pairs in Ireland and the song of the male is very familiar - particularly as he is generally the very first to lead off the dawn chorus each morning in early summer. Only males sing - this is true for all birds - and the blackbird is singing to attract a mate and to hold territory. It is not long before he is successful, and himself and his newly acquired mate are building their cup-shaped nest out of plant material lined with a mixture of mud and dead grass

Three to five eggs are laid, which take fifteen days to incubate. Baby blackbirds are fed by both parents on a mixture of insects and earthworms. By fifteen further days they fledge and leave the nest. However, the baby birds are still dependent on their parents for a further three weeks to teach them how to find food for themselves and at this time baby blackbirds are vulnerable to attacks from cats, magpies and other enemies. Adult blackbirds will rear two and sometimes three broods in a single year.

Adult male blackbirds are jet black with a bright orange bill and orange eye ring. Female blackbirds are dark brown in colour and lack the bright orange beak of the male. Juvenile blackbirds are black with brown speckles. Blackbirds are omnivores, which means they eat high-protein food such as worms and insects when available and indeed feed this to their young - but in winter when such food is not available, they can eat and digest fruit and berries which they swallow whole.

Things to do
1.    It is very important to feed birds during spells of bad weather in winter so the class could set a bird table within view of the classroom window and put out food such as bread, seedcake, seeds and fruit. Half-apples on the ground are particularly popular with them too. It is important to put out fresh water for birds to drink and to bathe in.

Birch (All About)

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

The silver birch is a tall, elegant tree, renowned for its beauty and known as “the lady of the wood”. It is a native Irish tree, being here since after the Ice Age. In fact as forests came back into Ireland after the ice had cleared, the first coloniser was the birch. It is able to grow in open ground and can grow high up on mountains, right up to the tree line.

It has a very pale cream-coloured bark from which it gets its name — silver birch. The leaves are small, toothed and triangular in shape. They open on the tree towards the end of April. Its flowers are catkins — male and female catkins are separate and these emerge with the leaves. The female catkins are pollinated by the wind which blows the pollen from the male catkins to them.

The seeds are very small and are blown by the wind to re-seed and colonise elsewhere. The bark of the silver birch peels. It can thus renew itself and get rid of any pollution that may have attached itself to it. Because of this and because it is a pioneer tree that can withstand harsh conditions, it is commonly planted on the streets of towns and villages where its beauty enhances the whole area. It is also commonly seen on the margins of bogs, lakes and rivers and it can grow on poorer soil than other native species can.

It is the first to colonise an open area. The leaves which fall from it in autumn decompose and nourish the soil making it suitable for other forest trees such as oak which will replace it over time if left undisturbed. A common tree — its Irish name beith is found in quite a few place names such as Ballybay in Monaghan and Glenbeigh in Co. Kerry.

Things to do
1.    Birches are native deciduous trees and there are 229 insect species that are associated with them. Sixth Class should find a silver birch near to the school or preferably in the school grounds and over a year from September to June conduct a weekly survey to find out what insects are there. They need an upturned umbrella to shake the tree into and pooters to lift out the insects for examination. A magnifying glass or a bug box will magnify the captured creature and the pupils should create a class list for the year, of insects or indeed general creepy-crawlies including spiders that fall into their umbrella.

Bats (All About)

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

Bats are a much maligned group of mammals. They are not blind. They will not fly into your hair. They will not suck your blood. They are not in league with the devil. Because they can fly so expertly at night without crashing into things, it was thought that they must be in league with the forces of darkness. Science, of course, has revealed the true picture.

Bats are not blind; they are perfectly well able to see. However as they fly at night and catch aerial prey, they have a special means of detecting this flying prey — echolocation. They emit very high-pitched sound waves which bounce off whatever object they hit and are reflected back to the bat at a slower speed. This is translated as a drop in sound frequency, so the bat can build up a picture of where all the objects are in front of it. These high pitched sounds are above our hearing range (30 –140 kHz) although children can hear some of them, as they can hear higher sounds than adults. Bats catch insects that fly at night.

They are particularly fond of moths, midges and mosquitoes. A small pipistrele bat can catch up to 3000 midges of a night. Each species emits a particular type of ultrasound that allows them to specialise in particular types and sizes of insects so that several species can co-exist in the same area. In Ireland we have ten different bat species — all of which are highly protected under Irish and European law. Ireland holds the largest European populations of the Lesser Horseshoe Bat — a bat that only occurs in limestone areas in Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and Cork. Other species such as the Pipistreles and the Long-eared Bat are widely distributed over the whole country.

Bats go into hibernation in caves or in hollow trees from mid-November till the end of March because there is no insect food available for them to feed on. During hibernation their body temperature drops to as low as 5 degrees Celsius from a normal summer high of 35 to 40 degrees. They need a lot of energy to raise up their temperature again, so if their hibernating roosts are disturbed they may not have enough energy to survive the rest of the winter. In April they wake and move to summer roosts in roof spaces and attics and here their young are born in June or July — one baby per female. These remain in the nursery roost while the mother is out hunting at night and she returns to suckle them. By three weeks of age they can fly and by six weeks they can hunt independently. By the end of August they are weaned. They can live for up to fifteen years.

Things to do
1.    Using school books on mammals, the school or local library or indeed the internet, find out the names of all ten bat species that occur in Ireland.
3.    Invite an expert into school under the Heritage in School scheme to demonstrate bat detectors.
4.    Erect bat boxes in the school grounds. These will provide summer roosts for bats and should be placed high on trees in a hedge or wooded area. A bat box has a slit for an opening rather than a hole as in a bird box.

Badgers (All About)

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

The badger is a large nocturnal mammal. It is very common in Ireland, but is rarely seen as it is nocturnal. It has a white head with a black nose and two broad black stripes running down its face. The rest of its body is grey. It is a native Irish species — earliest records are from a wedge grave at Lough Gur in Co. Limerick.

Badgers live in setts which they excavate underground. These may be very old indeed and consist of many tunnels underground with several entrances. A family group will live here and defend its territory against neighbouring badger groups. There is usually a dominant male in each group and several females. Mating takes place in April and May but because of delayed implantation of the fertilised egg the young are not born until the following February or March. Pregnant females prepare a birth chamber by removing all the old bedding and airing it up in the open air and then it is returned together with fresh material to make the new bedding material.

After birth the three to five cubs stay underground for eight weeks. They then venture above ground, but their mothers will continue to nurse them for another three months. By the end of the year they are fully independent. Young males then disperse widely, whereas young females stay close to home. Badgers are omnivores — which means that they can digest both plant and animal food. The most common item in their diet is the earthworm and they will eat up to 200 earthworms in a single night. They often dig up lawns and fields to get at the earthworms. They also eat beetles, slugs, snails, frogs, rabbits, mice, rats and hedgehogs. They are also partial to blackberries, elderberries, apples, acorns and fungi.

With such a wide range of food no wonder they are so abundant. It is estimated that there are up to 250,000 badgers in Ireland. Badgers suffer from tuberculosis, which they pick up from cattle and indeed can pass on to cattle. A vaccine to eradicate this disease in badgers is currently being developed. They are a totally protected species under Irish and European legislation, so it is completely illegal to hunt them or trap them.

Things to do
Contact a local wildlife expert and ask where the nearest badger sett is. Bring the class on a visit to see this.

Ash (All About)

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

Saint Patrick is said to have driven the snakes out of Ireland with an ash stick, and the ash tree has had a special place in Ireland ever since. Whether or not this story is true, it is certainly true that hurlies are made from ash and these definitely have a special Irish significance, ever since Setanta drove a ball down the throat of Culann’s hound with one and had to replace him himself, thus acquiring the name Cúchulainn!

Ash is a canopy tree which can grow very tall, it once formed great woodlands together with elm on good limestone soil in Ireland long ago. These woodlands were cleared for agriculture over the centuries and the ash is now mainly found as a hedgerow tree and as a tall tree in parks in cities and towns. It is the very last tree to get its leaves, usually waiting until the month of May for the characteristic black buds to open.

The leaves are compound leaves with up to thirteen leaflets on each leaf. The flowers are wind-pollinated so these appear from the flower buds in early April before the leaves appear. The pollen can thus be dispersed by the wind without being hindered by leaves. The seeds are known as keys. They occur in bunches on the tree, remain there long after the leaves have fallen and as they each have a ‘wing’ they are dispersed by the wind.

Ash is a native species that supports 41 different insect species. A good way to examine these is to shake a well-leaved bough in mid June or in early September into an upturned umbrella and see what emerges. In ancient Irish tradition, the ash was a very valued tree and was considered to be one of the seven nobles of the woods as its valuable timber could be used for building, and making furniture.

Things to do

1.  Find an ash tree near to the school and bring the class out to see it in each of the four seasons. In spring they can make a drawing of the twigs with black buds. In April they can find one with flowers open. In May they can note the date when the large terminal bud opens revealing the leaves.

By the end of May they should be able to add a drawing of the leaf to their account of the ash tree. In September they can observe the seeds. These can be planted immediately and some of them at least will germinate the following spring. In winter they can make a bark rubbing with paper and a soft pencil. Mature ash trees have a very rough bark.