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:

Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science)

Herb Robert (All About)

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

Herb Robert is a pinkish flower that grows in well-established hedges or at the edges of a deciduous woodland. It has five pinkish-purple petals which emerge in May and the plant continues to flower right through to the end of September. The flowers are borne in pairs and the whole plant has a pungent smell not unlike that of a fox. It is a member of the Geranium or Cranesbill family. It is so called because its seeds reminded viewers of the sharp pointed bill of a crane. Held upright it actually resembles a birthday candle in a holder that might be about to be inserted into a birthday cake. The leaves are three-lobed on long straggling stems and they turn bright red in autumn.

Where does the name “Herb Robert” come from? Who was Robert? Tradition has it that the name was brought to Ireland by the Normans (although the plant was always a native here, established in woody places ever since the woods developed after the Ice Age). The Normans would have been familiar with stories of a powerful wizard in English folklore called Robin Goodfellow and as the name Robin is a diminutive of Robert, this plant was obviously one used by the said magician for his spells. In Ireland, the plant was widely used to staunch bleeding, especially in the east of the country.

The leaves were applied to the wound and it was believed that held there the bleeding would stop. It was also used as a cure for a disease of cattle called “red water fever”. Obviously, it was believed that there was a connection between the fiery red leaves of the plant in autumn and blood.

This plant is part of the plant community that grows in hedges and woodland edges. It is able to tolerate the lower intensities of light that occur here because of shading when the canopy of deciduous trees gets its leaves. It should be easily found on any field trip to a hedge or woodland area in June or September.

Things to do
1.    Bring the class on a fieldtrip to a local hedge or woodland to look for all the plants that they have learned during their eight years in school. Herb Robert will be an easily recognised member of the flora seen.

Hedgehogs (All About)

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

Hedgehogs were introduced to Ireland by the Danes as a source of food. The country suited them and they quickly became established in hedges, gardens and woodlands. They are carnivorous animals and feed on snails, slugs, beetles, caterpillars, earwigs and earthworms. They visit gardens at night and are often tempted by the contents of the dog’s bowl — much to the annoyance of the resident dog. When they feel under threat they roll into a prickly ball which deters all enemies except badgers who are able to attack and eat them.

Hedgehogs breed in May and the young, three or four, are born in June, which gives them a good long summer to grow and put on that vital pound of fat, which they need for hibernation. They go into hibernation at the end of October and stay asleep until April. They do this — not because it is too cold — but because there is no food for them, as snails and other minibeasts are not around in winter and as carnivores, hedgehogs must eat meat.

Lately however, it seems that hedgehogs are producing a second litter in September. Apparently, climate change is making our summer nights warmer than they used to be and hedgehogs are coming into season for a second time in midsummer. These poor little late babies are on a hiding to nothing as they can’t put on enough fat in time to survive hibernation.

Surviving hibernation is no small feat in itself. If we were to go to sleep in October and stay asleep continuously until April, we’d wake up dead! We’d have died of hunger and thirst. So how do the hedgehogs manage? They must have a body weight of over 450 grams before going into hibernation or they won’t have enough fat resources to survive. They also must slow down their metabolic rate. Normally in summer months, hedgehogs maintain a temperature of 34°C and a heartbeat of 190 beats per minute. In order for the pound of fat reserves to last for six months the hedgehog in hibernation drops its heartbeat to 20 a minute and its body temperature can go as low as 5°C.

Things to do
1.    Learn the song “Harry the Hedgehog:”
I’m Harry the hedgehog as everybody knows
And I can feel the frosty wind nip my little nose
So I think it would be best if I found a little nest
Where I could lie and rest until the springtime.
2.   Make a model of a hedgehog using plasticine for the body and lollipop sticks for the spikes.

Hazel (All About)

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

The hazel tree is the tree of wisdom. It is a native Irish tree and grows particularly in limestone soils. It is a low tree with a trunk consisting of many stems. Very early in the year, in February and March, before the leaves come on the tree, the catkins appear on the twigs. These are the flowers of the tree and they are wind-pollinated. There are two sorts of catkins. The male ones are long and pendulous and contain lots of pollen. The pollen is blown by the wind to the female catkins which have no stalks and are very small and budlike.

The leaves burst open in April and are particularly soft and downy. In August, the hazel nuts are formed and they are ripe by early September. They are a great source of food for a variety of animals and birds such as squirrels, mice, jays and rooks. Squirrels hide them away to eat later on in winter, but if any are dropped they will germinate into new hazel trees.

Tradition has it that the hazel is the tree of wisdom and that the Salmon of Knowledge got his wisdom from eating the nuts that fell into the water from the hazel trees that grew on the banks of the River Boyne. Certainly, the hazel tree was one of the most useful trees for householders long ago. Apart from eating the nuts as food, they used small forked branches — known as scoilbs — to hold down the thatch on a roof.

These would have to be repaired from time to time hence the seanfhocail “ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scoilbe”. Larger forked branches are used to this day to divine water. The straight poles formed by the many stemmed trunks were very valuable for building walls, they were woven together and plastered with clay plaster — clay and wattle walls. To be sure of a continual supply of such hazel rods, the trees were coppiced — which means cut across the stems so that new poles would grow. In such a way, the life of a hazel wood could be prolonged indefinitely.

Things to do
1.    Find a hazel tree in the vicinity of the school which can be studied throughout the year — catkins, leaves, nuts, buds, bark etc. If there are no hazel trees, one should be acquired for the school grounds and planted and cared for.

Hawthorn (All About)

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

The hawthorn is also known as the whitethorn or the May bush. It is a native Irish tree and is found commonly in hedges all over Ireland. Leaves come on the hawthorn tree in the month of April. This is followed by bunches of creamy white, musky smelling flowers in May — the May blossom. These lovely flowers attract copious numbers of insects. The bees gather pollen and nectar from them and in doing so fertilise the flowers. By late summer the berries are beginning to form.

The berries are called haws and are bright red when ripe. Each berry contains a hard stone which is the seed. Hawthorns rely on birds to eat their berries in order that new hawthorn trees can grow. Birds, who have no teeth, must swallow the berries whole. They can digest the soft berry food surrounding the stone but the stone itself is too hard to be digested. They excrete the stone in their droppings and it then can germinate and a new hawthorn tree can grow. Hawthorns are small trees, which rarely grow taller than 15 metres high. Because they have thorny branches and adapt well to being trimmed and lopped, they are very frequently planted as hedge boundaries along the edges of fields. When kept trimmed and bushy they are good stock boundaries so many of our Irish fields are bounded with hawthorn hedges, and May blossom is a glorious sight at that time of year.

Hawthorn will also grow as lone trees too and there is a great deal of superstition attached to such trees. It is said that such trees were beloved of the fairies and that very bad luck would befall anyone who chopped one down. People believe this to this very day and are very reluctant to remove lone hawthorns. This bad luck also attaches itself to the flowers — it is believed that death will follow if they are brought indoors.

The smell of the blossoms indoors is associated with the smell of dead tissue because actually the same chemical is present in both cases — so maybe the old wives’ tale had something going for it! Hawthorn trees are also associated with holy wells. Offerings are often left on the trees and the water in the well taken for cures. Such customs go right back to pagan times two millennia ago. Being native trees, hawthorns contain a great variety of insect life. In particular, the hawthorn shield bug is a common inhabitant and can easily be dislodged by shaking the tree into an upturned umbrella.

Things to do
1.    Read the book Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon-McKenna.
2.    Bring in the class out to find hawthorn trees in the local hedge. Study the tree throughout the year — noting when the leaves open, when the blossoms are out and what the haws are like. Gather haws and plant the stones to germinate new trees.

Frogs (All About)

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

Frogs belong to the animal group amphibians. These are cold-blooded creatures that cannot control their own body temperature but are affected by environmental temperatures. Another distinguishing characteristic is that they are able to take in oxygen in two separate ways. They have lungs, which they fill with air which they inhale from the atmosphere. However, when they are hibernating at the bottom of ponds in winter, they are able to absorb enough oxygen from the water through their skins to keep them going.

In February frogs wake from hibernation. Males hibernate at the bottom of ponds and females hibernate in separate quarters at the bottom of wet ditches around fields. These female frogs, upon wakening, hurry to the ponds where the males are encouraging their arrival with loud croaking. The females and males both enter the water where mating takes place. The male climbs on to the back of the female and holds her with his nuptial pad — a very well developed thumb. When she produces her eggs in a cloud into the water, he immediately squirts sperm all over them and fertilisation takes place in the water.

The fertilised eggs swell up and float in a jelly-like mass called frogspawn. The couple then disengages and they go their separate ways. Frogs spend the rest of the year in wet fields and meadows and in gardens feeding on flies which they catch with their long sticky tongues. They never go back to the pond until hibernation time in October when the males return. The eggs are left to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile back in the pond, the black eggs in the transparent jelly become larger until they finally hatch out into tadpoles. These are completely aquatic creatures, with gills on their long tails and they get all their oxygen requirements from the water through these gills. They are carnivorous creatures and indeed if they are short of food will even eat each other as many the owner of a tank of frogspawn will testify. Frogs are protected under European legislation because they are scarce in Europe in general.

However, they are not endangered in Ireland so a general licence has been issued to all Centres of Education in Ireland to collect and study frogspawn in class in tanks, etc., without individually having to apply for a licence to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Tadpoles slowly develop into small frogs, growing first their legs and then finally losing their tails. If they are kept in a tank the water must be changed regularly as a build-up of enzymes from the tadpoles prevents them from developing into frogs. They can be fed with fish food — daphnia — which is sold for goldfish. When they have all four legs and lose their tails, they will leave their watery environment and hop around grassy meadows catching food for themselves. In turn, they are food for birds such as herons.

Things to do
1.    Note the date when first frogspawn is seen, to build up a series of records over the years.
2.    Bring in frogspawn to class (or into the school pond) and observe the stages of growth. Release the frogs back to the wild when fully grown.

Foxes (All About)

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

The fox is one of our most common and familiar mammals. It is a native Irish species, and probably returned to Ireland after the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago by crossing a land bridge from Europe. It occurs in every county and estimates reckon that there are up to 200,000 foxes in the country. They can live in farmland, woodland, sand dunes, uplands and most successfully of all in built-up urban areas. They excavate underground dens or earths, where breeding foxes have their cubs. These are easily detected because the entrance will be strewn with food debris, as foxes are very untidy creatures. There will also be a very strong smell of fox.

The breeding season occurs from late December to early February. At this time foxes communicate with each other by sound — the male with a series of barks and the female vixen with bloodcurdling screams. The cubs are born between late February and the end of April. There are normally four or five cubs and it takes up to seven months before they are fully grown. Many young foxes die in their first year as they are unable to establish territory and can die of hunger or are killed on the roads. If they do succeed they can live up to ten years. Foxes are omnivores, which means they can eat food of animal and of vegetable origin. They are opportunists and will eat a great variety of food such as rabbits, young hares, brown rats and mice as well as small birds, eggs and nestlings, beetles and earthworms, and coastal foxes eat crabs and fish They like blackberries and apples too but of course they have a bad reputation because they kill chickens and eat dead lambs, and are not above killing the odd baby lamb or two as well.

In cities people are quite fond of foxes and they often feed the foxes that visit their garden looking for scraps from the dustbin. Fox cubs are often left alone all day while their parents are looking for food and they can come out of the earth and play in the garden in good weather — a sight which pleases homeowners in urban areas.

Things to do
1.    Read Roald Dahl’s book Fantastic Mr. Fox and Run with the Wind by Tom McCaughren.
2.    There are several fox songs such as “Maidrín rua” and “Little fox” which are great fun to sing. Download the words and tunes from the internet.

Elder (All About)

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

The elder is a very common native tree. It grows naturally in hedges and in neglected city gardens. It is a small tree, not exceeding 15 metres in stature. A deciduous tree, it gets its new leaves early in the year, usually at the start of April. These are compound leaves. Each leaf has between five and nine oval leaflets in opposite pairs with one terminal one. The lovely creamy bunches of elderflowers open in June and attract myriads of insects. In their efforts to collect nectar these insects pollinate the flowers.

The bunches of purple elderberries are formed in September. These are feasted upon by many species of birds — in particular, the woodpigeon. They void the hard seeds in their droppings and these quickly germinate into new fast-growing elder trees again. The timber of the elder tree is very soft — the centre of the twigs and branches is composed of pith, so that it does not have much value as timber. Because of its hollow twigs it is called the boo-tree or boretree in the Ulster Scots dialect and the word is used commonly in Co. Monaghan for elder trees.

There is a huge amount of superstition associated with this tree. It was considered to be the tree on which Judas hanged himself and so has been cursed by God. This is why the leaves smell so horribly rank (try them) and the timber lacks strength (so no one would ever hang themselves from this tree again). It would be exceedingly unlucky to use the timber when making a cradle or a boat as very bad luck would befall the occupants. It was also believed that if a child was struck with an elder stick, they wouldn’t grow any more. This bad luck did not extend to the blossoms from which beautiful sparkling white wine can be made, or to the berries which can be made into red wine. The tree itself is full of insect life all summer long and these can be easily dislodged and examined.

Things to do
1.    Bring them out to find an elder tree and study it with them through the four seasons — leaf burst, leaf smell, leaf shape, blossoms, berries, bark rubbings, examination of foliage for insect life.
2.    Look for associated fungi at the base of elder trees — a jelly-like rubbery one known as Jew’s Ear is quite common.

Earthworms (All About)

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

The earthworm is one of our most valuable creepy-crawlies. They live in the soil and feed on dead plant material. They recycle this dead plant material by digesting it and returning the nutrients contained back into the soil in a form that can be absorbed by growing plants. As they tunnel through the soil, they form small tunnels which aerate and drain the soil and add to its fertility.

Farming and gardening would be next to impossible without earthworms. The common earthworm is 30 cm long and is pink in colour. Its body is composed of segments — up to 150 of them and it has stiff hairs called chaetae on the underside of its body which help it to move. They have no eyes so they cannot see, which doesn’t matter as they live surrounded by soil which contains their food. They swallow soil through their mouth and as it passes through their body they digest any organic material in it. The undigested soil itself passes through their body and is deposited as a worm cast.

On warm nights, worms will come up to the surface of the soil and pull down dead leaves into their burrows for digestion. They will also often use the opportunity to find another worm with which to mate. As worms are very abundant in Irish soils this does not present too much of a difficulty although each worm makes sure to keep its tail in its own burrow so that it can conduct a speedy retreat if danger threatens. Like snails and slugs, worms are hermaphrodites — each has male and female organs — but they must mate and exchange sperm before each can lay eggs.

During cold winter months, worms burrow deeply into the ground and become dormant. They are food for many creatures higher up the food chain. Birds such as thrushes and blackbirds love them, they form up to 40% of the diet of badgers, and rooks and jackdaws are expert at finding them in grassy fields. It is not true that if you cut a worm in half you will have two worms. Worms have a head with a rudimentary nervous system and seven hearts at one end and just a tail at the other. If you cut one in half you have a live, foreshortened worm and a wriggling tail that soon stops wriggling as the nerve endings die. So this cruel practice should not be carried out. Earthworms work in compost bins, but another species, the tiger worm (brandling worm) is even more effective.

Things to do
1.    Set up a wormery. Get a large transparent jar such as a large sweet jar. Make layers in it of soil, leaves, soil, sand, leaves, soil, sand, a white chalk layer perhaps, right up to the top. Put a final layer of leaves on top. Dampen the whole. Put in some earthworms and close the jar. Cover with black plastic to exclude light and leave for a week. When uncovered the tunnels of the earthworms may be seen. Do not leave uncovered however, as earthworms will move into the centre away from the light. Keep dampened and uncover every few days or so, to see how the layers get mixed up as the worms move about.

Deer (All About)

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

Deer are even-hoofed mammals that are entirely herbivorous. They live in woodland, grassland and open mountain and moorland. They eat grass, leaves of trees such as oak, holly and ivy while some of them do harm to trees by eating shoots and stripping bark.

There are three species that occur in the wild in Ireland. The Red Deer is our largest wild herbivore and the only native species of deer. Stags carry branching antlers which are shed each year in March and April and grow again to full splendour by August. Antlers generally increase in size and weight each year and a fully mature stag will have a very impressive set of antlers. Their breeding cycle is controlled by day length, so as the days begin to shorten by the end of September the breeding season known as the rut begins. The stags, who have been living apart all summer, join the groups of females (known as hinds). They emit deep roars to assert their supremacy and fight with other stags by locking antlers and pushing. Whichever one is pushed backwards loses.

Successful stags gather harems containing many hinds and father all the calves that are born to the mothers by the end of the following May. Competition among stags is fierce — they are five years old before they are mature and although stags can live for twelve years, the older ones are not so successful in their fights for hinds. Native Irish Red Deer now only occur in and around the Killarney National park region of Co. Kerry and on Inishvickillane of the Blasket Islands. Another similar smaller species — the Sika Deer — was introduced to Ireland from Japan in 1860 by Lord Powerscourt initially to his estate in Wicklow. These interbred with the Red Deer that were at the time common in Wicklow and Donegal, so that the deer seen in these areas today are all hybrids between Red and Sika.

There is a herd of pure Sika Deer in the Killarney area as well as the herd of Red, but no hybridisation has occurred here and the two species are distinct. Fallow deer were introduced to Ireland by the Normans in 1244. They were kept in deer parks from which some escaped and they too have become established in the wild. They occur in most tracts of woodland in lowland areas. Male Fallow Deer — known as bucks — have broad, flattened antlers. Females — called does — have just one fawn each in June. There are well known herds in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, in Doneraile Park in Cork and in Lough Fea estate in Co. Monaghan. They are also commonly farmed.

Things to do
1.    Debate with the class how deer should be managed to be sustainable in the environment. Include such ideas as culling, (which should be culled and how), removal of fawns after birth, hunting as a tourist attraction, visiting and watching them as a tourist attraction, accidents on roads caused by deer, etc.

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.

A Guide for Schools on Climate Action UNESCO

Guideline, Natural environments (Geography), Human environments (Geography), Environmental awareness and care (Geography/Science), Energy and forces (Science) Science, Geography, Research and Policy

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.