Gardening Club #11

There’s something about being caught out in a heavy rain shower that children just seem to relish. Whether it’s the sheer excitement of getting thoroughly drenched or the simple joy of jumping in muddy puddles, there’s a lot to be said for letting the little ones embrace nature.

The deluge certainly didn’t dampen spirits at today’s gardening club, in fact it had quite the opposite effect. Moral was high as the children worked together enthusiastically emptying chicken and vegetable waste into the compost.

The second tractor tyre also needed planting up and the children were so busy they didn’t notice the rain clouds looming.

They cut out the membrane, which they laid on the ground inside the tyres. The membrane will help to suppress weeds.

The children piled rocks on top of the membrane to help with drainage. Again, they got a lot of joy out of lugging the stones around.

The great thing about gardening is that most jobs require a great deal of team work. Every activity the children undertook this afternoon required helping one another, be it moving stones…

…or carrying bags of compost.

They worked together and made super progress.

Even when the rain started to come down, they persevered with great determination.

This photo really sums up the spirit of Oakridge children.

Once the planter was ready they started creating their lettuce ‘pizza wheel’, which they did by dividing the circles up into eighths.

Next, they carefully transplanted lettuce seedlings, which they had grown a few months ago.

Alternating the colours, they planted them between the stones. No watering was needed thanks to the downpour of rain!

It was lovely to see so much planting going on. Once the tractor tyre planter was finished the children sowed pumpkins. Fantastic for them to see the tiny seeds in relation to themselves.

There’s always time for a bit of pond investigation, the children love seeing how much the tadpoles have grown, and often try to catch the odd one or two!

Two sweet corn plants were also put into the ground. They had been donated by a parent.

Sunflowers also went in...

…as did lots of lovely sweet peas.

Finally, as the weather dried up, two of the children from KS2 tried out the theory of seed dispersal that they had been learning about in school this week.

Gardening Club #10

Today’s gardening club involved plenty of weeding and progress with the tractor tyre planters. The recent rain and warm weather has caused everything to sprout and so the children were tasked with clearing the raised beds, a job which they all found really fun!

While half the group enjoyed digging up the weeds and finding worms in the soil, the other half helped prepare the tractor tyres for planting. The children loaded the wheelbarrow with large stones and then helped each other to push it over to the tyres to unload.

The children showed great strength as they helped each other carry bags of compost and soil.

They poured the bags of soil into the planter and used their feet to help bed it all down. They had a great time buying each other!

Meanwhile a third group helped to make the new eco-board for the school foyer. The school is in the process of becoming a registered eco-school and there are seven steps it has to take in order to do this. One of the criteria is to put up an eco-board displaying all the things the eco-committee has been discussing.

Irrigation Project - Class 2

Class 2 have a new project for the Spring and Summer term: to design an irrigation system for the raised beds at the allotment.

It’s always great to see the children up at the allotment outside in the fresh air. There really is no better place to learn than from the world around them. Setting real life problems helps engage the children in the topic being taught. This method of applied, hands on learning increases their enthusiasm, holds their attention and promotes growth and togetherness within the group through the use of teamwork.

Just before the Easter holidays the children spent some time looking at how different countries use different irrigation systems. They then applied that knowledge to the problem of how to get water to the raised beds, a great way to turn a geography topic into a science problem for the children to solve.

Classroom work is brought to life with projects such as this. Not only does it get the children doing some real life problem solving, but it also encourages them to become a little more aware of the environment.

The class 2 teacher likes to involve all the children in topic work by encouraging the exchange of ideas in an open group where everyone respects what their fellow peers and friends are saying.

The children brought their findings from the allotment back into the classroom and turned measurements and recordings into models of their proposed irrigation systems.

Once the winning design has been chosen, the children will help to build it. We can’t wait to see the results!

Pond Dipping

Today the children enjoyed putting the first plants in the school pond. It was a great moment, signifying the first small steps in establishing the new wildlife area.

One of the parents at the school is an ecologist, so he lead today’s session. Armed with wellies and a net, he talked to the children about the eco system of a pond, why algae is so important and the role water snails play.

It was fantastic to see how life had already begun to establish itself. The children were very excited to spot tadpoles, and even more excited at the opportunity of trying to catch a few too!

As well as planting up the pond, work also got underway with the new tractor tyre planters. The children just loved rolling them across the allotment and into position.

It took the help of a few parents to lift the giant tyres into place. There are three in total and the aim over the coming month is to lay a membrane at the bottom of the planters, piled with stones on top for drainage before finally adding a good mix of compost and top soil to plant into. We hope to create giant lettuce ‘pizza wheels’ which will be a good exercise in maths as the children use fractions to work out how to divide the circle into eighths.

Last week’s session involved yet more planting and weeding, with the focus being on the wildflower area.

The children helped to prepare the ground for planting wildflower mats. Over the course of the next few months more seed mats will be planted so that eventually the whole strip will be bursting with colour and pollen rich plants.

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!

Potato & Bean Planting - Class 1

Last week class 1 enjoyed planting the first vegetables on the allotment, and what a wonderful sight it was!

Mrs Hayes, the class 1 teacher, is a real legend. She’s an incredible supporter of outdoor learning and is always so enthusiastic. It really rubs off on the children. Here she is helping the children to plant their seed potatoes.

Once the potatoes were in the ground, it was time to plant the beans. Mrs Hayes showed the children how to tie the supporting canes together before they all had a go themselves.

The children applied themselves to the task and did a really good job, not only with their own canes but helping their friends too.

Planting the beans was great fun. It was a joy to see the children enthusiastic about what they were doing and getting their hands dirty. The hope is that, over time, the allotment will become an integral part of the children’s curriculum, providing a valuable learning resource for a multitude of subjects.

Finally, there was just enough time to water the freshly planted area before a well earned play in the adjacent playing field.

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.

Gardening Club #5 Book Worms

Today the children enjoyed a World Book Week themed gardening club with local worm and soil expert, Fred Miller, who works for local community group, Down To Earth Stroud. It’s a great network of people who have been incredibly supportive of our school’s new allotment adventure.

Fred came on board to help install the children’s new wormery and provide guidance about how to use it as well as give insight and raise awareness about the importance of our wiggly friends.

The session began with a talk about worms, the roles they play and how to go about finding them. Very quickly, a dozen or so children were enthusiastically digging up the soil to find the biggest and most wriggliest of them all!

Who knew there were so many different varieties? The children found compost worms, brandling worms, green worms, red earth worms, worms with a saddle, worms with yellow rings and rosy tipped worms. There was much excitement. It always gives so much joy to see children outside, getting their hands dirty and really appreciating the natural world and everything it has to offer.

Attention soon turned towards the school’s new wormery and Fred gave an incredibly useful workshop about how to set it up and look after it.

The children helped gather organic matter and carefully separated the banana skins and apple cores from the citrus fruits, (worms don’t like the acidic flavour of oranges.)

The session ended on a real high with a spot of worm racing, a suggestion made by one of the parent volunteers. It went down extremely well. Those children who had been squeamish about handling the worms were soon picking them up and cuddling them as if they were cute fluffy bunnies! Great to see so much love for these fab little beasts.

Worm racing turned out to be captivating , edge of your seat entertainment!! The objective was to see which worm could get it’s whole body out of the circle first. Wonderful to hear the children screaming words of encouragement - the worms were true professionals and weren’t at all phased by the pressure!

As with most competitions, it was a close race and although there was no photo finish, there was clearly some discrepancy over the winner!

The session ended with a few worm facts, which the children read out helped by a worm puppet sock! A thoroughly entertaining, educational and enthralling gardening club. Heaps was learned and loads of worms were found. Knowledge has been passed on from one generation to the next. A big thank you to Fred for giving up his free time to come and talk to the children and share his enthusiasm.

David Drew MP

On Monday the children were very excited to welcome David Drew to the allotment. David is the shadow minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Our new project was of great interest to him!

After briefly meeting with class 2 for their own form of Question Time, David planted some seed potatoes with class 1, which had been chitting on the windowsill in their classroom for the last few weeks. It was fantastic to see the first vegetables going into the ground!

David thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the children, he was very impressed with their energy and enthusiasm.

It was lovely to start my week in the spring sunshine with these young environmentalists. I learnt a lot about their plans for their allotment and am inspired by their ‘seed saving’ initiative, and the whole allotment project.
— David Drew, MP

It was an absolutely beautiful morning to be on the allotment. After planting, Mrs Hayes asked the children to form a circle where they had a discussion about life cycles, the function of plants and the jobs they do. It was wonderfully idyllic.

After unearthing multiple worms, it seemed very appropriate to sing a little song about these magical mini beasts. The children joined in with the actions before skipping back down the village lane to school.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire

BBC Radio Gloucestershire visited the allotment last week to find out more about the project, the inspiration behind it and how it has brought the community together. The piece will be aired next Sunday morning on their farming and gardening program.

The recording was a real success. Half a dozen children walked up to the site with their brilliant TA, Mrs Chapman, and were met by Alan White, a local village resident who kindly donated £500 to the allotment fund. The photograph below was taken by one of the children.

The children were asked lots of different questions about how they have been involved in the project, what jobs they have enjoyed doing and what their favourite things are. They talked a lot about building the bird hides, their love of digging and the rat that was found at gardening club! As a by stander, it was extremely insightful. They all did the school proud.

To help give the interviews some context, the presenter wanted to record lots of different sounds, which included splashing in the pond…

…throwing stones in a wheelbarrow…

…and digging over soil.

Despite the rather foggy conditions, it was clear to see just how much the children get from the allotment. Projects such as this enhance their ‘Super Skills’; including participation, teamwork, perseverance, empathy, resilience, inclusion and creativity. The school places a big emphasis on these skill sets so it’s great to get the local radio coverage as it really helps champion everything the school is trying to achieve.

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.

Gardening Club #3

Last week’s gardening club was another great success. Class 1 had come up to the allotment in the afternoon to help finish building the bird hides for the RSPB Big School Birdwatch and after school club finished off the work they started. It was lovely to see the children so committed to their purpose and helping each other, and their teacher, to get the job done.

It was a real group effort. The netting forms a key part of the bird hide because once the frame is covered it means the foliage from the old Christmas trees can be pushed through the holes. The children helped their teacher to cut the netting down to size, which they then tied onto the frame.

The children worked well together to cove the hide in the net.

All that hard work, it’s a good job there’s the odd water butt lying around to have a sit down on! It was kindly donated by a local resident from the village, and the school couldn’t be more grateful. Over the next couple of weeks, parent and children volunteers will help to hook it up to a gutter on the shed so that it can start to collect water.

It’s wonderful to see how happy the allotment makes the school children feel. Perhaps it is a combination of being outside in the fresh air or just a bit of physical labour, but it brings a real smile to all their faces.

The children also helped to dig over the ground where the wildflowers will go.

A good job done. The hides are up and just in time. They look great.

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.

Our First Donation

Last Friday myself and another parent from the school headed over to Nailsworth Garden Centre. The lovely bunch of people there very kindly agreed to donate some materials to help get us going on the allotment, and what a generous bunch they are.

Thanks to their generosity the children are now in possession of two colourful trugs, a bird feeding station, two bird feeders, bird food, lots of packets of beans, six bags of manure and various plant labels. The total value of the donations is over £100.

They have very kindly agreed to continue to pledge their support on a seasonal basis, which is extremely kind of them. We are very much looking forward to putting all these wonderful new items to good use on the allotment very soon.