From The Ground #16

This week’s From The Ground was a feast of beastly bones and fabulous animal anatomies. Fox, frog and rat skeletons stirred delight among the troops. It was a wonderfully tactile and fascinating session enjoyed by parents and children alike.

The large workbench is proving invaluable to our allotment activities. It’s hard to remember how we ever managed without it. There’s something delightful about setting it up in readiness for the children’s arrival. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of what is to come and the sense of great pleasure and delight that one knows is just about to arrive in leaps and bounds across the playing field.

The first activity of the session involved digging up the rat, which the children found in one of the raised beds back in March. If there’s anything dead to be found, you can guarantee that children will find it. It did however cause quite a lot of excitement, espeically when it was promised to them that they could unearth it later in the year.

True to our word, the excavation took place today. Expectations were high about what would be found. The reality was somewhat of a let down once the children realised all that remained was just a pile of very filthy, fragmented bones. The red ants that had moved in and built a nest on top of it did nothing to inspire enthusiasm either.

Not to be deterred, the Oakridge parents rallied morale and soon had the children fully engaged in the task at hand. The red ants were quick to make their escape.

Excitement grew relatively quickly as more bones were unearthed. At first the children couldn’t distinguish between what was a bone and what was simply soil, but after careful explanation they were quick to learn the difference. Ribs, femurs, parts of the skull and jaw bones complete with teeth were discovered. One hopes activities such as this provide unique memories for the children.

After picking out as many bones as they could find, the children carefully washed them. Little faces looked intrigued as the bones slowly revealed themselves. It was the first time that many of them had seen an animal skeleton, let alone touched one. However, getting up close to subjects that most people would prefer to simply glance over is great for a child’s natural curiosity. Death and decomposition are intrinsic to the circle of life. It’s important that children are exposed to these elements so that they can piece the whole puzzle together and understand where they fit in it.

Once the bones were clean, the children were keen to get them under the microscopes to examine them in more detail. This image shows a portion of the jaw of the rat, complete with some of its teeth.

While some of the children were examining the rat, others were piecing together fragments of the fox skeleton.

To help, the children were given diagrams to work from to aid their understanding about which bones went where.

It was a rather perplexing task that even some of the adults struggled with.

What’s so great about outdoor learning is its ability to engage all ages, from the very young to the (very) old! It’s all encompassing. It doesn’t care if you’re four or forty. Curiosity doesn’t age.

It was great to see the children so enthusiastic and engaged. The microscopes were a real hit.

It would have been great to have had a laptop to plug the microscopic camera into. Scientific photography takes everything to a whole new level. It opens up a whole new way of seeing the natural world. It’s got real merit on the allotment, be it to study flowers, plants or just curious creatures. The image below is from a section of the rat’s jaw. Worryingly, the teeth look to be in better condition than that of my own children.

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The image below is of the fox skeleton, which the children, (and parents) made a really good effort at reconstructing. With three skeletons to examine from three different animals, it provided a lovely opportunity to compare the different anatomies, both in terms of how bone structures inform an animals’ function, and also in terms of scale. To be able to compare the shoulder blade of a fox to a rat is fascinating for children. Hands on science lessons such as this have a real place within all children’s education.