Teachers' Resources | Heritage in Schools

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:


Butterflies (All About)

This comprehensive resource examines the life-cycle and habitat of the butterfly and includes ideas for creating your own 'butterfly garden' and related craft activities.

Bluebells (All About)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

A Guide for Schools on Climate Action UNESCO

Does your school want to help create a healthier, fairer, more environmentally sustainable society? Do you want to empower children and young people to do the same? Do you want to make your school more climate-friendly? If so, this guide is for you!

The guide is organised in four parts. Part 1 explains why you and your school should take on a whole-school approach to climate action. Part 2 outlines how your school can plan, put into practice, and evaluate your own strategies and visions for reducing climate change. Part 3 provides six guidelines that suggest how to concretely include climate action in your school governance, teaching and learning, campus and facility management, and partnerships with the community. The guidelines are accompanied by examples showing how schools around the world are taking action. At the end of the guide, in Part 4, you will find a table to help you monitor action in the thematic areas along the six guidelines.

Biodiversity Quiz!

Put together by our Heritage Expert, Geoff Hunt, this great little 15-minute quiz gets the pupils out and about in the school grounds looking at the flowers, trees, animals and insects! Once they're back in the classroom, they can take this quiz to see what they spotted!

Nature's Calendar

Nature’s Calendar is an independent website dedicated to people in Ireland interested in the influence of our weather and climate on plants, animals and on our ecosystems. The site allows users to log their sightings of plants and animals at different times of the year - therefore tracing the change in the seasons!