Six Month Reflection

Its been six months since the school acquired its allotment and what a busy time its been. What started as a lumpy patch of grass has been transformed into a productive plot that now boasts six raised vegetable beds, a pond, wildlife area, wildflower meadow, a rainwater harvesting system, plastic bottle greenhouse, shed and teaching area. The transformation is all thanks to a big effort from pupils, parents and staff who have worked tirelessly in order to create this valuable learning resource for the school.

A successful fundraising campaign that began in January also generated £600 and a further £500 came from a generous donation from a private individual. The latter donation is being invested in a large work table for the children. It has been built by local blacksmith, William Pankhurst, and he finished it only yesterday! A plaque will be made and fixed to the table in memory of the donor’s late wife, who would have loved the allotment and everything the school is striving to achieve.


The Plot

The Oakridge allotment site is situated in a beautiful spot nestled just on the outskirts of the village. There’s not a house to be seen, just soaring skies and the sounds of song birds. The school plot is a full size one but it’s easily filled with thirty seven children! The school doesn’t have a playground of its own as such, but is fortunate to have access to the two adjacent quintessential village greens. It’s rather like travelling back in time when you see the children all playing outside together.

This lack of outdoor space was the inspiration behind the allotment. Think of it as an extension of the school, where classroom learning is brought to life. Theories the children can only read about in books can be put into practice here. It engages them on a level that goes above and beyond the criteria of the National Curriculum. It beggars belief that this type of learning, one that satisfies the children’s natural curiosity and generates such wonderful enthusiasm, isn’t a core part of the education system. Learning could be so much more enriched as a result.

The school allotment has been warmly received and backed by the local and wider community. Local press and radio have given the initiative great coverage, which has provided a good marketing opportunity for the school. Local community groups, Down to Earth and Stroud Valleys Project, have also shown great support, giving the children worm and soil workshops as well as passing on words of advice to parent volunteers.

November 2018

May 2019


The Raised Beds

The school was incredibly fortunate to receive a very generous donation from Jewson’s in Stroud, who kindly supplied and delivered all the wood for the raised beds free of charge. There was over £200 worth of timber, so it really was a very kind gesture. Both class one and class two have their own beds for school specific topics and activities while the other four beds have been put to good purpose and planted up with a wonderful assortment of vegetables, all chosen by the children. From broad beans and runners, potatoes, peas and pumpkins, squashes and sweet peas, lettuces and tomatoes, the children have enjoyed being involved in the process of sowing seeds and watching them grow.

Back in February the children had a visit from MP David Drew, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He has been extremely supportive of everything the school is trying to do and even helped the children plant their seed potatoes! From that first meeting an important relationship has formed. The school is looking forward to welcoming David back in the Autumn for a spot of seed saving.

Speaking of which, the school has become a member of the Heritage Seed Library, which means the children can now call themselves Seed Guardians. We are the first school in Gloucestershire to hold this accolade, which is really special. It is a great opportunity for the children to be involved in important conservation work. They will be responsible for rescuing heirloom orphan vegetable treasures from extinction and in so doing secure the genetic diversity of our food.

There are important cultural and scientific reasons for growing old kinds of vegetables. Seeds carry stories through generations, and also across continents. There is a surprising amount of history to be taught through this cross-curriculum subject. Few beans can be as poignant as the Cherokee Trail of Tears. In the winter of 1838-39, Cherokee people in the US were forced to march from their lands in Georgia, over the Smoky Mountains; 4,000 died on the way. The shiny black bean the Cherokee took with them is an important heirloom seed and has been grown in Britain for a long time. Seed conservation is important, but by growing these old varieties - many of which have adapted to very local conditions - more can be understood about their adaptability to climate change, pests and diseases.

January 2019

May 2019


The Pond

The pond has really begun to settle into the landscape. From its first conception on a cold and rainy day in January, where the Dad’s did such a good job at digging THAT hole, it is now starting to flourish with life. The children have so enjoyed watching the frog spawn develop - the pond is teaming with hundreds of tadpoles. There really is nothing more delightful than watching the children participate in the most simple of pleasures that is pond dipping.

So much wonderful work has gone on in this area over the last few months, the highlight being the dry stone walling workshop the children did with Adrian Montague. They all absolutely loved the experience. So rewarding to see them learning, and appreciating, this age old tradition, which taught them about the value of patience and hard work, values that are so important in this digital world in which they live. Work in this area is ongoing, with the erection of the fence underway in order to make the pond safe.

January 2019

May 2019


The Team

The success of the allotment over the last six months reflects the positive relationship the school enjoys with the parents. Education, in the true sense of the word, really is a team effort. It’s a close knit group of people who all share the same ideal - to provide something better for the children.

This photo is just a snippet of all the people who have been involved in the project so far. Mr Williams, the interim head, has been a beacon of support. Big thanks to him for having such faith in other people’s ideas and for letting the concept find its feet and flourish. The class one and class two teachers and teaching assistants have worked miracles with the current National Curriculum. Despite its limitations, opportunities have been created. None were more so apparent than on World Book Day when an author visited the allotment. Story telling, reading, acting and engaged learning were at the very roots. The children took that experience back to the classroom and it provided weeks of learning opportunities with amazing outcomes.

The Future

The school hopes to have the plastic bottle greenhouse finished by the end of the Summer term. The fence for the pond is due to be completed by the end of term as well. The large work bench has literally just been finished and is ready to be carried up to the allotment right now!

Looking a little further ahead at the 2019/2020 school year. Come the Autumn the children will receive their free trees for schools pack. Two hundred and forty saplings are due to be delivered thanks to the Woodland Trust. The trees will form part of a native hedging scheme that will wrap around the perimeter of the allotment creating a more defined area. It will also create an important new habitat for birds and other animals. Saplings have been carefully selected in order to provide the children with as many learning opportunities as possible. From working wood such as willow and hazel to a wild harvest from which the children can make jams and jellies through to wildlife hedging. The children will be involved in all aspects of planting.

As with all the projects the school undertakes on the allotment, the emphasis is always on the children and involving the community as much as possible so that the village and the school can feel the full weight of each other’s support. With that in mind, there has been suggestion of inviting local residents, friends and families to plant one of the Woodland Trust’s trees in memory of a loved one, therefore really unifying the space and all that it stands for.

Perhaps most important to the future of Oakridge school’s allotment is the appointment of the new head teacher, Mr Jonathan Preston, who takes on the role full time in September. Teachers, parents and pupils have great faith that he will cement the strong foundations that have already been laid on the allotment so that future generations of Oakridge children can enjoy the enormous benefits that outdoor learning brings.

Gardening Club #13

This week’s gardening club was a family special as work got underway to build the fence to make the pond area secure. It was lovely to see so many parents and children stepping in to lend a hand. Despite the downpour, it didn’t dampen spirits, as these two lovely ladies can testify!

Some children helped to dig the holes for the fence posts, which is not an easy task given how stoney the soil is…

…while others tried their hand with the post driver, using some interesting techniques!

A bit more muscle was required, so some of the Dad’s stepped in.

The tractor tyre planters are a great new addition that not only add extra growing space but also double up really well as seats!

Children’s imaginations have the run of the great outdoors - canes make great fishing rods!

After all that digging, a wheelbarrow makes an easy resting place for weary legs and arms.

A few of the parents organised a BBQ for the hard working team, the food and warmth was a welcome relief from the rather drizzly, cold conditions.

This was the first time that some parents had been to the allotment so it was lovely to see some new enthusiasm! There were four rather large holes that needed to be dug, before dropping in each post and back filling with a dry sand/cement mix.

Spending time on the allotment is an opportunity for parents and children to get together and do something constructive. It’s always very satisfying to see just how much can be achieved when a group of people come together with one common purpose - to provide something better for their children.

Plastic Bottle Greenhouse Prep Work

Over the last few months, local recycling company, Print Waste, have been collecting and storing 650 plastic bottles for the school’s plastic bottle greenhouse project.

The bottles were delivered to school a few weeks ago and this afternoon, work got underway as the children helped to prepare them ready for installation on site.

It’s a relatively simple concept: remove lids and labels and cut the bottom off, grab a cane and slot the bottles into each other so they fit nice and snug. The canes are then inserted into the frame of a greenhouse.

It was a pretty sticky, filthy job but none of the children seemed to be put off by this, they loved it! Some worked in pairs…

…while others just took themselves away and quietly got on with it. Between them, the children managed to prep half the bottles and will finish off the rest over the coming weeks. The greenhouse will be up and running by the end of the Summer term.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire - Breakfast Show

Since getting the allotment out of the ground in November last year, it has received great support from the local and wider community. All the good work the children have been doing has been well publicised in local papers and on local radio stations. It has really helped to promote the school.

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On this occasion, the children met a journalist from BBC Radio Gloucestershire. The programme aired on their popular breakfast show this morning.

Click on the link below to hear what the children and parents had to say.

Rainwater Harvesting

After a week off, gardening club was back with a bang today as the irrigation system that class 2 had designed was installed on the allotment. The session was led by the class 2 teacher and attended by many of the KS2 children.

The irrigation project follows up the topic of rainwater harvesting systems that the children have been studying as one of their geography topics in school. The class 2 teacher felt the children’s understanding of the subject would be bolstered by a practical, hands on session, allowing them to put theory into practice, and bring learning to life.

This model is just one of the designs the children came up with. A raised water butt is connected to the raised beds using a hose.

The children began by moving large breeze blocks into position for the water butt to sit on. Nearly every activity on the allotment teaches the children about the importance of team work, it’s a lesson that never gets old.

With the help of a parent, the children enjoyed some DT by putting the guttering together. They offered it up to the shed to check the length was correct.

With careful supervision, the children had a go with hand tools including saws and drills. They helped to cut down to size the batons that the guttering system would be fixed to the shed with.

There was much measuring and holding ends of wood up, which some of the children were only just tall enough to do!

What’s so lovely about the allotment is that there is always so much fun to be had. Outdoor learning isn’t always about being set a specific activity, much of the learning that children do comes through play, be that with friends jumping up and down on giant tractor tyres…

…or pushing friends around in wheelbarrows. At the allotment children learn a lot about who they are, what they’re good at and how to develop confidence.

The children all had a go at cutting the guttering down to the right size...

…and when it was too tough, they watched and listened.

An impromptu tug of war fight commenced with an old piece of rope the children found lying on the ground. Really lovely stuff.

Once the guttering system was fitted, it needed testing to check it worked. It was a big moment!

The children were so excited to see the first droplets of water seeping out of the hose, and for good reason. It was a subject they initially read about in books in school, which was turned into a real life problem solving exercise on the allotment. From models they made themselves, the final irrigation system is a true reflection of the children’s designs. The great sense of satisfaction about what they have achieved is massively important for their confidence. They should all feel very proud of themselves.

Whole School Visit

Today was a triumph of many months of hard work from all those who have been involved in getting the allotment out of the ground: the whole school visited for the very fist time. Full credit to the teachers for not only managing to coordinate and occupy all 37 children but for being so bold as to take them out of the classroom and into the fresh air for some truly enriched learning. Change is afoot and there is hope among many that it won’t be too long before this sort of thing becomes a mandatory part of the curriculum.

After a busy morning of SATS, a visit to the allotment was just what was needed. The children walked up in the morning and, bar a quick trip back to school for lunch, spent the rest of the day submersed in various science, maths and DT activities. Topics included life cycles, water harvesting, recycling, habitats and plants. The children were broken down into small groups and using a carousel system, everybody had a go at everything.

Life Cycles

The pond adds a really important dimension to the school allotment. It teaches about different habitats, eco systems and life cycles.

Needless to say, pond dipping proved the most popular activity from today, but it’s so easy to understand why. Despite being a village school nestled in the gorgeous Cotswold countryside, not all the children have the chance to enjoy first hand encounters with creatures like the humble tadpole. What a priviledge that their school can give them this opportunity.

Recycling

Over the last few months, Print Waste Recycling in Cheltenham have kindly been collecting and storing 650 plastic bottles for the school’s plastic bottle greenhouse project. Print Waste dropped all the bottles off at school a few weeks ago and the children have started to remove the caps and labels ready for erection.

Today, the class 2 teacher wanted the children to work out how many bottles would be needed and how they would be fitted to the greenhouse frame.

The activity covered a whole range of topics, including maths, science and design technology.

Water Harvtsting

Another project that class 2 have been involved with is creating a rainwater harvesting system. They have been studying the subject in geography and have looked at irrigation systems in other countries, like Africa. The class 2 teacher asked them to come up with their own designs. The best one would be built on the allotment, providing water to the six raised beds. Today, the children were tasked with the challenge of how to build the system, resulting, again, in much maths and design technology.

Habitats

Back in January the school was awarded a £500 grant from Learning Through Landscapes. Only 100 schools are selected from over thousands of applications, so everyone felt very proud. As part of the grant, the children were able to select a variety of items, one of those was an insect observatory, and today, the children helped to set it up and site it.

Some of the class 2 children got stuck in and worked really well together, helping the younger ones in class 1 to site the observatory. The children decided it should go in the wildflower meadow.

Plants

Another activity the children were tasked with was weeding, which they always love to do!! There is much digging and tooting around in the soil and the chance of finding a whopping worm generates much enthusiasm! Lovely to see.

It’s been six months since the school first acquired the allotment and how satisfying to see all the children up there, together, in the sunshine enjoying all the wonderful benefits that outdoor learning brings.

Dry Stone Walling

Who knew the age old tradition of dry stone walling still has a place in the hearts of children who are growing up in a world where screen time and online social media are the norm? At Oakridge we embrace such ideals and encourage our children to do the same.

A really big thank you to Adrian Montague, a dry stone wall specialist, who offered to come and give a workshop to the children in his own free time and at no cost to the school. Establishing such links within the local community and passing on knowledge from one generation to the next is invaluable, in terms of the way it brings people together, the skills it develops and the awareness it promotes.

After a brief introduction about what dry stone walling is, why it is still practised and a bit of a safety drill, the children were all invited to build their own dry stone wall. The wall was cited near the wildlife pond and, according to Adrian, it will provide a vital habitat to toads, who just love hiding in between the cracks.

There was much enthusiasm and concentration as Adrian helped the children lay the stones. Much of dry stone walling comes down to simply feeling how the stones sit. The children seemed to understand this in a way that only children intrinsically can, so mindful are they in their task. Without distraction they simply laid stone after stone after stone, working solidly together to build a wall fit for a toad!

As the wall got bigger, so the children had to think more carefully about their choices. Larger stones are generally laid around the perimeter, perpendicular to the rest of the wall thus ensuring it all knits together.

Children from as young as Reception age were finding much satisfaction from the process. How delightful to hear comments like, “I want to start a walling club!” It’s why parents run these extra curricular activities. Skills such as dry stone walling may be viewed by some as a dying trade; as a craft from the past that has no place in the future, but what is a future without a nod to the heritage that went into shaping it? Lets get our children out of screens and into skills that encourage growth rather than waste; team work rather than isolation; resilience rather than resistance; openness rather than closure. Our children are the future , lets teach them not to waste it.

Gardening Club #6 #7

Last week’s gardening club session was a busy one where the children sowed lots of vegetables. This week’s session followed a similar theme.

The lettuces that had been sown a few weeks earlier were ready to be thinned out…

…the first tomatoes of the season were sown too. Until the plastic bottle greenhouse has been built these delicate seedlings will take shelter in the warmth of one of the children’s homes.

Peas were planted both in pots and straight into the ground. It was thought that a nice comparison might be made to see which does better.

Sunflowers were also sown, everyone is hoping for some giants this Summer!

To try and keep our plastic use down, good old fashioned paper pots were still in production! Thank you to a team of parents who were on hand to help remind the children how to do it.

So that takes us onto this week’s gardening club, where even more veggies were sown. Beetroot went into the ground…

…a variety of different flowers were planted too.

Carrots and courgettes were also sown. Overall, the raised beds are slowly beginning to fill up and we can’t wait to see more go into the ground soon!

World Book Day

Yesterday, the school celebrated World Book Day in style. Instead of asking pupils to dress up like many other schools across the county, we invited a real life author to our allotment! The children were indulged in the wonderful world of reading the Oakridge way.

Julie Fulton is a renowned creator and writer of children's picture books including Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches and Greedy Mrs MacCready. It would be fair to say that her visit left a lasting impression on all of the children with many feeling incredibly inspired to become authors, writers and publishers.

The morning was split into two sessions - KS1 and KS2. KS1 enjoyed listening to Julie's stories and hearing all about what it means to be a writer. It was lovely to see them so engaged and inspired by what Julie was saying.

They then acted out the story of the Enormous Potato, narrated by a year 2. It was rather apt after planting their first potatoes the previous week. It brought a smile to everyone's faces.

The Enormous Potato reads much like the story of the Enormous Turnip, where the mouse pulled the cat and the cat pulled the dog and the dog pulled the son and the son pulled the wife and the wife pulled the farmer and so on! It was super to see reading brought to life in such a hands on way.

Class 1’s session finished with a craft activity that was based on Julie’s story, “Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches.” They designed their own plates of disgusting food and food they liked.

KS2's topic was poems, in particular haikus, which consist of just three lines that use a simple 5-7-5 syllable structure. Julie asked the children to have a go at writing one, using things they might find at an allotment as their inspiration.

The children have since taken everything they learned that morning back to the classroom. This week KS1 have been making egg sandwiches and writing story boards to construct stories from. KS2 have emailed their poems off to Julie to include on her website.

The school is extremely grateful to Julie for coming to visit. Staff and parents felt the activity was enormously beneficial. It gave learning context and how wonderful for the children to meet a real life author. The inspiration and motivation in the children has been clear to see this week, with parents coming into school saying how their little ones want to become writers and that they are busy making their own books at home.

The school hopes to invite Julie back again in the Summer for more story telling adventures on the allotment. Thank you World Book Day.

RSPB Big School Bird Watch

Last Wednesday and Thursday the whole school took part in the RSPB Big School Bird Watch. All the children from both classes enjoyed an hour at the allotment, either tucked in the bird hides or nestled under trees. They did a marvellous job collecting vital data for the RSPB to chart the rise and decline in bird populations across the UK.

The bird count supported the fat ball making activity that class 1 had done earlier in the week. The food helped to attract blue tits, robins and blackbirds.

The children enjoyed using the counting sheets to help with the identification of the different birds.

It was great to see the bird hides in use after all the hard work the children had put in to help build them.

Gardening Club #4

Week four of gardening club, and wow, how time flies! It has been amazing to watch all the progress made on the allotment in the space of just a month or two. Thanks to the hard work of parents, teachers and children, the school is beginning to feel the fruits of everyone’s labour.

There were record numbers at club this week - fifteen children in total, and we’re still in the depths of winter. Imagine the numbers come those balmy summer evenings. This is great news and means all the good work the club is doing and all the fun the children are having, is beginning to filter through the school. One of the biggest challenges has been trying to engage all the children, even those who never took an interest in gardening before. The overall goal is to make them aware that they’re only going to get one planet and that actually, it’s their responsibility to look after it. It’s about educating them about stuff that matters.

With so many children, the three parent volunteers broke them down into three smaller groups. The children could choose between planting raspberry canes, making paper pots and sowing seeds. Naturally, there was much cross over so all the children had a go at doing all the jobs.

Once the children settled into their tasks, work was quick. A lovely system soon developed as the paper potters handed their creations over to the seed sowers and the children rotated, taking it in turns. There were some gorgeously mucky fingers too!

There were soon lots of lovely looking trays full of newly sown broad beans. The children helped to label and categorise the different families.

Those children who had helped plant the raspberry canes had also done a smashing job digging holes and preparing the ground.

Excitement soon reached new heights when a dead rat was found in the digging pit. The children have such natural curiosity, it was inevitable they should find the whole thing utterly fascinating. Whilst being careful not to dampen their spirits, a parent volunteer highlighted the risk of disease that rats carry and asked the children not to touch it under any circumstance.

It was suggested that the find could provide a useful biology lesson for the children. Once buried and left to decompose, the skeleton could be unearthed, the bones cleaned and the children given the opportunity to examine the anatomy. Everyone liked this idea and so the children helped to dig the grave.

The rat had quite a send off as parents and pupils gathered round. Afterwards, the hole was covered with paving slabs to prevent other animals digging it up.

Gardening club is having a break for half term but will be back on Wednesday 27th February.

Learning Through Landscapes

In January, children and teachers at the school were thrilled to find out they had been awarded a £500 Nature Grant by Learning Through Landscapes, a UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. Over 700 schools applied for one of these prestigious grants and only 100 were successful, including Oakridge.

The application process took place in November 2018 and as part of that process, children from the school council had been involved in choosing which items they would like to receive if their application was successful. The items they chose included a get growing kit compromising of a HUGE amount of seeds, a wildlife camera, ground cover kit, an insect observatory and a selection of outdoor guides and reference books for the teachers. Two hours of free training was also included in the grant and the school enjoyed its training day in early February.

It was a hands on couple of hours as teachers and an enthusiastic group of parents met with the Learning Through Landscapes representative on the village green outside school. After a brief introduction about what they would be doing, the group was set their first task - how to age a tree. It was rather insightful and demonstrated really well how outdoor learning can be incorporated relatively easily into the children’s curriculum.

Age a Tree

  1. Choose a tree and count how many hand spans it takes to go around the tree trunk. Record that number.

  2. Using a ruler, measure how wide your hand span is in cm, (take the average if working in a group.)

  3. Multiply the number of hand spans by the size of your hand, (get an answer in cm).

  4. To work out the tree’s approximate age, if your tree was in woodland, divide the girth by 1.25. If your tree was in an open space, divide the girth by 2.5.

  5. You now have the approximate age of the tree.

Using the method above, one group worked out that the tree was around 125 years old. That then fed back into how old the school was and whether the tree had been planted at the same time as the school had been built. It became apparent quite quickly how, as well as maths, topics including local geography and history could also be covered in this single activity.

The group then walked up to the school’s new allotment, where the remainder of the session took place. It was good to hear so many positive comments from the Learning Through Landscapes representative about the work that had been done on the allotment so far and the school’s future plans for it. She felt that every aspect of the allotment, coupled with the school’s other outdoor learning areas, should be applied and integrated into every part of the children’s curriculum. It really was a rather joyful afternoon spent outside in the fresh air with good company learning how better to enrich our children’s education.

Another fun activity involved thinking of as many adjectives as possible to describe a Christmas tree branch, (there have been plenty on site due to the children’s bird hide project.) The group was broken down into three teams and each competed against the other to think of as many words as they could. It was fascinating to hear just how many words everyone came up with and again, it demonstrated how easy it might be to cover english in outdoor learning.

Perhaps everyone’s favourite challenge was one that would ultimately help the children understand the problems with housing development and the harmful environmental impact it has on bee and butterfly habitats. Two large sheets acted as two wildflower meadows and a small, stripy rubber ball was a bee. Without moving, the groups had to try and get the bee from one meadow to the other. At first it was relatively easy, with both meadows being close together. However, the meadows were gradually moved further and further apart, which signified how new houses break up open areas of countryside and therefore restrict the movement of bees and butterflies.

With reduced habitat comes increased competition for food and therefore the introduction of another stripy ball. It highlighted the massive problems that our native wildlife face, problems that our children should be aware of.

Two more tasks followed before the session closed. One was trying to place in the correct order the decomposition rate of various objects ranging from cigarette butts through to nappies, apple cores and orange peel.

The other involved making a paper pot out of a single sheet of newspaper, which proved challenging for everyone, but what a great lesson in geometry and maths!

Overall, it was an incredibly insightful afternoon where parents and teachers were shown just how easy it can be to incorporate outdoor learning into every aspect of the children’s daily school lives. To be able to teach the bulk of the curriculum outside in the fresh air would have enormous educational benefits in terms of how content is delivered and how the children engage. Hands on, purposeful learning should never be underestimated and we are lucky at our school that our teachers see such merit in this approach. With nothing but the peace and quiet that comes from the simple pleasure of being outside would also ensure the emotional well being of the children, and with mental health becoming a compulsory part of the National Curriculum next year, the work Oakridge does now will put us one step ahead of the others.

Seeds Glorious Seeds!

Just a month into our new allotment project and the response to our school’s seed shortage has been overwhelming. We began with literally nothing to plant and now, within the space of just a few weeks, we are sprouting seeds out of our ears! Thanks to many kind and generous donations we have around 60 different vegetables and flowers to sow. It’s incredible!

One of the biggest organisations who has shown their support is Down to Earth. They support people in growing and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables. Their aim is to increase access to, and availability of, fresh, nutritious and healthy food and encourage reconnection with the land. They provide a range of services including gardening and run several community projects across Gloucestershire.

A group of enthusiastic parents from the school have had the pleasure of meeting this incredibly kind bunch of people both on the allotment as well as at the Stroud Farmers Market last weekend. There are plans currently underway for members from the Down to Earth team to come onboard and give workshops. It’s a really exciting partnership, the main benefactors being the children.

As we start the sowing season it really is all about the seeds, which is why one of the first workshops we are keen to organise relates to seed guardians. Seed guardians grow one or two crops for seed in their own gardens or allotments, and donate that seed to the seed bank. Down to Earth, who run the Stroud Seed Bank, offer ongoing support and the chance to be part of a growing community. In Spring they hold a training session for seed guardians and in Autumn they come together for a harvest meal with swapping of seeds and stories from the year. We believe it will provide a wonderful opportunity for the children, giving them a real sense of purpose not only their planting but also to themselves. To become the first school in Gloucestershire with its own army of seed guardians would be something really quite magical.

It hasn’t just been the local’s who have helped. A national seed bank also sent a wonderful box of goodies bursting with beans, beetroot and butternut squash!

Christmas presents have also helped to tot up the total. One little boy from school was so excited to receive seeds from his Grandmother that he stuck them on his wall proclaiming they were his best Christmas present! Delightful stuff.

Some seeds have led to much intrigue. This giant tub of rainbow chard was kindly donated by the Stroud Seed Bank. They didn’t come with any sowing instructions, which made the whole learning process even more exciting! It took a bit of digging, (excuse the pun) to unearth (excuse the other pun) as to how they should be sown and harvested.

These broad bean seeds were kindly donated by Nailsworth Garden Centre. This incredibly kind bunch of people also gave the children a bird feeding station, bird food, trugs, sowing labels and pens and lots of bags of compost manure. The total value of the donation was over £100.

Another wonderful seed source has been Learning Through Landscapes. They recently awarded the school with a £500 nature grant and with that came a huge bundle of seeds and sowing packs.

Thanks to everyone’s generosity and support the children now have an incredibly extensive and varied seed collection. Crops such as cape gooseberry for example, are something most of the children will have never tried, so it’s fantastic they now have this opportunity.

Of course, with all these seeds comes plenty of opportunity for harvesting and ultimately cooking. When the weather warms and the fruit and veg start to ripen we hope to invite local cookery companies to the allotment to give the children some outdoor cooking experiences with food picked straight from the soil.

It’s not just all about the fruit and veg, flowers will also form a key part in the school’s allotment plan. With a large area of the site reserved for wildflowers the hope is that lots of pollinating insects will visit. It will also be visually stimulating for the children and provide yet more educational content.

There is so much in the news at the moment that is so relevant to everything the school is trying to put in place. Plastic is a big one, as is sustainably sourced food. Mental health is an endless subject for debate with many citing increased screen time and reduced time outside being the key reason for the rise of mental health problems in children. The allotment project at Oakridge tackles all these really big issues in one swift blow. The children are extremely fortunate to be a part of something so special where the underlying current pushing it forwards is them.

Gardening Club #02

Last week’s gardening club followed in the same theme as the previous week - bird hide building in readiness for the RSPB Big School Bird Watch, which the children are taking part in next week.

There’s a lot of love for the great outdoors at Oakridge School, a philosophy that the children’s parents and teachers try to instil in the children on a daily basis. The school’s new gardening club is just one way that ensures the children appreciate and care for the world around them.

We were blessed with another beautiful afternoon of brilliant sunshine, and although pretty chilly, one could feel Spring might be just around the corner.

Having cut all the trees up the previous week it was time to build the frames. The bird hides use a very simple a-frame, much like a tent only with a couple of viewing slots in the side. Once the frame was in position the children helped to tie the trunks firmly together.

There was a great deal of concentration involved as KS1 pupils helped tie the netting onto the frame. Great for their dexterity and problem solving.

Next the children helped to cover the netting with all the foliage from the Christmas trees. Again, it was a simple technique that involved grabbing branches and sticking them through the holes in the netting.

Much fun was had trying it out for size to see if it would actually stand up, (it did!)

The finished piece has much charm. It is delightful to look at and gives a great deal of satisfaction knowing all the little hands and hearts that went into building it. The children will take great pleasure in using it next week to study and count birds.

Life at Oakridge wouldn’t be complete without a sunset and a child jumping up and down on a heap of old branches as if they were a trampoline. It defines childhood and everything it should comprise. At Oakridge our children are blessed.

Gardening Club #01

After school gardening club at the allotment started today and what a great success it was. The allotment has been months in the planning and so it was extremely pleasing to see the children enjoying themselves, working together and generally being so happy outside in the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

The activity for today’s session was making bird hides out of old Christmas trees in readiness for the RSPB’s Big School Bird Watch the children are doing in February. The hides are an A-frame constructed from the stalks of seven trees. The foliage is then used to cover the frame and camouflage it. It’s a great lesson in reusing and recycling.

There were nine children at today’s session and with fourteen trees to strip in just under an hour, they had their work cut out. Unbelievably, they got through eleven trees - a remarkable achievement!

Everyone got particularly excited when a bird’s nest was found hiding among the branches of one of the trees. No one had ever seen anything quite like it. Just a few weeks ago all these trees had been stood in people’s houses looking beautifully decorated for Christmas. Why no one had spotted it sooner was mind boggling. Still, the children had fun guessing which kind of bird might have made the nest.

Everyone worked incredibly hard to strip the branches off the trunks, even our youngest members gave it a good go, assisted by the older ones.

The children found their own methods for stripping the trees. Some attacked the branches with such vigour one felt they would wear themselves out within the first five minutes, while others adopted a more methodical approach. Ultimately, both methods had the same outcome!

The children were extremely proud of their efforts and quite rightly so. The branches, particularly around the lower section of the trees, were quite thick and it took a great deal of strength to cut through them. The foliage was also rather spiky and didn’t relinquish easily.

The children all showed great determination and drive, there was much jubilation every time another branch was dismembered from the trunk!

With tired hands and arms, the children teamed up and made light work of the final few trees. A thorough health and safety check had been done at the beginning of the session, drawing the children’s attention to the possible dangers involved in the activity and to the tools they were using. It was nice to see them all being sensible and looking out for one another.

All of the gardening club sessions will have two adults, which equates to one adult per six children. It was pleasing to see that the club was nearly at maximum capacity, even on a cold and rather damp Winter’s day.

The stalks were piled up and will be pulled into A-frames at next week’s gardening club. Viewing slots will be created using canes and netting will be stretched over. The foliage will then be pushed through the netting and held in place by its own weight.

Thankfully the children showed much more excitement and enthusiasm than pooch here!

Gardening club finished at 4.30pm and by the time everyone had packed everything away we were treated to the most stunning sunset. The children were mesmerised. There was no better place to be other than standing on the allotment watching the sunset for those few minutes. An incredibly enriching and rewarding session for all those involved.

Family Day

Last Saturday was an action packed one as work got underway transforming the new school allotment. It was a triumph of team work, dedication and determination as the foundations were laid to transform a scruffy patch of grass into a productive vegetable and wildlife area.

It was wonderful to see so many families from the school come together with one common purpose in mind: to provide something better for their children. It was lovely to feel support from the wider community too. Local residents popped down to say hello, dropped off tools and tins of biscuits.

Work on site began early with the children helping to set out using string and pegs. Together, they carefully measured the space for the wildflower area before marking it out. Even those as young as five were keen to help, with this little one in the picture below reeling the string off the roll.

The children at Oakridge are a practical bunch. It was refreshing to see so many little bodies getting stuck in getting their hands dirty. The older ones helped the younger ones not only with the tasks at hand but also with words of encouragement.

There was a lengthy task list. Key jobs included digging over the grass for the wildflower area, making the raised vegetable beds, building the compost heaps, erecting the greenhouse and digging out the pond. It was this last job that proved the most challenging. The soil in the area is notoriously stoney and after just a few minutes of digging the Dad’s soon reached bedrock. Not to be defeated and with pick axes at the ready, the hole gradually began to take shape.

Small pockets of parents tasked themselves with different jobs. Alongside the pond building, another team built the raised beds. All the timbers were very generously donated by Jewsons in Stroud. There was over £200 worth of wood so it was extremely kind of them. They even delivered it all for free.

The local and wider communities have been so supportive of the school’s allotment project. As well as all the free timber, a local resident offered to deliver a whole heap of manure too - free of charge. Others have donated gardening tools and made cash contributions. All of these things will go such a long way in making sure the allotment is a huge success for the children both now and in the years to come.

As parents we have a responsibility towards our children not only to keep them safe but to give them the freedom to judge risk for themselves - a vital quality to possess. Being outside in the fresh air, feeling at one with the countryside and doing some manual labour teaches so many valuable lessons. It sure beats the screen time that so many children seem to crave these days.

As well as helping to dig out the pond, the children raked the soil over in the raised beds and picked out bindweed roots…

…the very small ones enjoyed eating chocolate biscuits.

While the parents talked, the children worked…

…and the dogs rested.

There were a total of six raised beds. All were marked and measured out before being cited into position. Cardboard was placed underneath each one to create a natural, organic membrane between the wood and the grass, on top of which tons upon tons of compost, manure and soil were placed.

The soil that came out of the hole for the pond was reused in the raised beds. Given how stoney it was one volunteer had the bright idea of sieving it prior to it going into the beds. This was a remarkably successful technique.

To help keep motivation high there was a lovely big fire pit. Folk caught a whiff of the smell of sizzling sausages as smoke soared into the wintery sky. The scrumptious food was a warm welcome after a hard morning’s work.

For all the work the children did, equally there was plenty of play too. The compost bins made great dens and parents would often peer into the top of one to find half a dozen children inside with Saphie the dog on their laps feasting on chocolate biscuits!

The allotment is a beautiful space. Surrounded by open fields and big skies, there is a real sense of peace and tranquility. There are many parents in the school who are looking forward to using it as a place to come and picnic in the Summer months, to chat and gather with friends, perhaps garden together or simply sit and enjoy the countryside.

It was a rather momentous moment when the first buckets of water were poured into the pond. It took nearly the whole day to grind the hole out of the rocks, there was great cheer as the water flooded the cavity.

All of the waste materials dug out of the ground were reused in other ways. For example, the soil from the hole of the pond was dug into the raised beds, the rocks were reused to make a hibernaculum, (reptile house) and the grass from the wildflower area was used to cover it. In time the hope is that the grass will start to grow therefore forming a seat for the children to sit on.

The greenhouse was erected in one corner of the site. It is without glass, (for obvious safety reasons) and instead the open sides will be filled with plastic bottles. This is a future project for the children, in the mean time, parents have been asked to start collecting lots of 2 litre bottles - it’s going to need a lot!

There was plenty of fun and cheer to be had, even as the sun was setting. Children have a stamina that just goes on and on, it’s wonderful!

As with everything, this is a work in progress. Once the wildlife area is planted up and the grass recovers it should be bursting with life and colour. The hibernaculum will be enhanced with the addition of corrugated sheets that will provide a habitat for grass snakes etc. The turfs of grass on top will hopefully root and once the grass takes will provide some much needed seating for lessons. The children will help plant up the pond, which will provide an endless resource of learning for them over the coming months and the bird feeding station will become the focal point of the school’s RSPB Big School Bird Watch, which is happening in early February.

The six raised beds will be where all the vegetables are grown. The school has decided to adopt a no dig method, which means the soil is left undisturbed and in turn makes for stronger, healthier plants. The first vegetables the children will be planting are broad beans and they can start planting these over the next few weeks. They can also start to chit potatoes. The school is very excited about how the vegetable garden will support the children’s diets at school, particularly at lunch time.

Now that the first phase of the allotment is complete, phase two is already underway. Plans include building a willow fence around the perimeter of the plot as well as the pond and wildlife area, building a sunken fire pit, erecting a shed, building the plastic bottle greenhouse and buying a large work bench for class lessons.

Fundraising continues and if you would like to donate please go to https://rocket.fund/p/oakridgeallotment/.

After school gardening club starts tomorrow. The first two sessions will focus on building bird hides out of old Christmas trees in readiness for the RSPB Big School Bird Watch the children are doing in February.

Fundraising Video

This video has been a bit of a team effort by various parents at the school but I think this is the final, polished version!! The subtitles really help get the children’s message across.

The children are trying to raise funds to buy gardening tools and equipment for their new allotment, your support would go a long way in helping them to achieve their goal. To make a donation simply follow the link below.

https://rocket.fund/p/oakridgeallotment/

There are so many benefits the children will gain from growing their own food, not least being outside in the fresh air doing some physical exercise and getting their hands dirty. The allotment will teach the children about the importance of growing food locally, not just in terms of the health benefits it provides, but also from an environmental perspective and the importance of sustainability. It will give them a solid understanding about where food comes from, what's involved in order to grow it and the satisfaction of knowing that they grew it all themselves.

Tree Planting Ceremony

The children planted an apple tree at the allotment today to celebrate National Tree Week and to celebrate the fact we have got this wonderful new outdoor learning space.

It was a rather poignant moment because it was the children’s very first visit to the allotment. We weren’t quite sure how it would go but it turned out to be a very positive experience for everyone involved. It was fantastic to see the children working outside in the fresh air together doing something so engaging. One can see instantly how enormously beneficial having this space will be.

It was decided that the apple tree, being the first thing to be planted on the allotment, should go right in the middle of the site. The children worked out the centre by pacing from each of the four corner posts.

Next began the real hard graft of digging the hole. Despite the rather stony soil, all the children had a go, even little Elin, who is our only pupil in Reception. Jumping up and down on the spade proved a remarkably successful technique!

The older children helped the younger ones and there was a real sense of team work as they pulled together to make the hole big enough.

You’ll always find a smile wherever you go at our school. It’s a great reflection on how happy and content the children are.

It wouldn’t be a proper day at the allotment if we didn’t find the odd worm and this one was a whopper! It provided a lovely impromptu chat with the children about the importance of earth worms and the job they do to keep the soil in tip top condition.

Once the hole was dug, the children all took great pleasure in filling it back up again with soil. Many hands make light work and there were plenty of gorgeous, grubby little fingers by the end!

One of the final jobs was to whack a stake in to help brace the tree. The children all had a go with a little bit of parent help to overcome those stubborn stones.

Class 1, along with two representatives from Class 2, all had a super time celebrating National Tree Week and doing their bit to help the trees. We are all looking forward to seeing our tree grow over the coming months and can’t wait to pick our first crop. Oh the fun we’ll have eating, cooking and stewing the delicious fruit.

From The Ground

Our project, ‘From The Ground’ is a whole school initiative founded for the children, created by the parents and supported by the teachers. The sole purpose of the idea is to enrich the children’s learning. The allotment will be a wonderful space, providing a cross curriculum learning platform and opportunities for practical, outdoor lessons.

The allotment lies in the heart of the village of Oakridge Lynch, nestled between Stroud and Cirencester, in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

At present the plot is just lumpy grass, but we have big plans! The area is to be segmented into three zones: class 1, class 2 and a family area. The class zones will provide space for curriculum related activities, while the family area will take the form of a more traditional vegetable plot. We also hope to create a teaching area.

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We have recently applied for a Learning Through Landscapes Nature Grant and if successful we will be given £500 to spend on seeds, books, ground cover sheets, kneeling mats, a wildlife camera and a bug hotel. The allotment and the nature grant are just the first steps in obtaining Eco-School status and a Green Flag Award.

Work on the allotment is due to start in January 2019, when we are holding a family day. Some of the turf will be dug over but we are also going to adopt a no dig policy. It’s very important to us to help the children understand the ecology of the plot and with that in mind will look to support our vegetable growing by planting a wildflower meadow and other pollen rich areas to attract lots of birds, bees and insects too.

There will be plenty more news coming from the ground over the next few months so stay tuned for more blog posts, pictures and updates.