Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Greening the next generation - running an Eco Club.

Posted by Compostwoman, a revised and updated version of a post from a few months back in The Compostbin

Several of you have asked me about the environmental education activities (Forest School, Eco Club, Gardening Club, Master Composting) I get up to, so this is the first in a series of posts about them. This post is about the Eco Club I run after school at Compostgirl's Primary school. I hope, as always, that you find it interesting :-)

Eco Club aims to:- foster an understanding and appreciation of the natural world; let the children gain a hands on appreciation of what is around them in real life rather than just watching it on a TV screen; discuss a more simple, reduced consumption, reused and recycled way of living; and shows the children how to use natural and recycled materials to make new things so challenging the concept that "things" can only be made by "other" people and purchased from a shop.

Eco Club also teaches practical skills such as plant and animal identification, tracking, gardening and various crafts, and it gets the children out in the fresh air taking "free range" exercise. All these things help to promote positive self esteem in the children, caters to their various different multiple intelligences and encompasses children with different learning styles.

Oh, and did I mention it is FUN? :- ))

So, what is a "typical" Eco Club session like? Our sessions at Eco Club run after school from 3 15 to 5 pm. Membership is voluntary and we charge a small termly fee to cover the cost of various memberships. We have so many children wanting to be in Eco Club (which is nice!) that we have had to hold two duplicate sessions each month. We usually have around 10- 15 children in each session, Sue (Yr 2 teacher) and I lead them with a couple of parent helpers, usually Compostman is one of them, bless him. Sue and I are both qualified First Aiders, any non teaching staff have CRBs and we take a register at the start and end of the club to ensure the safety of the children.

We have found mixing children aged from 5 to 11 in a meeting is a really good thing as the older ones help the younger ones. We duplicate sessions each month so each group (Ants or Bees) does roughly the same thing as the other group. We get lots of external support as an RSPB Wildlife Explorers Club, a Woodland Trust Nature Detectives Club and we have been a Wildlife Trust Watch group. Each child is an individual member of the RSPB and gets a magazine every two months as well as various goodies from the Woodland Trust or RSPB on occasion.

We start with the children getting changed into old clothes in the classroom (we want everybody to be able to have fun without worrying about getting cold, hot, wet or mucky so old clothes, warm coats and wellies/sun hats and sun cream are essential wear. We than have a drink, a snack and a general chat about what we plan to do in the session; this is also the time for the children to share any exciting news with the rest of the club, or show a book or magazine they have found. Sometimes we look at a web site or a DVD which relates to what is planned for the session. We also talk about what we would like to do in future sessions and ask the children what they would like to do.

Unless the weather is really vile, we tend to be outside, starting with a few environmentally based games (more on those in another post) or just a general "free run around" time. This is a very important part of the session! Children who have been in a classroom all afternoon NEED to run around and let off steam! Then it is on with the activities planned for that session. Eco Club activities cover a wider range of “green” interests. For example; we talk about recycling and make recycled paper (more on that in a later post),

We have planted native hedgerow trees, have made and put up bird feeders all over the school grounds, have instigated a paper recycling bank at school, have made bat and bird boxes and erected them around the school,

We have made a hedgehog hibernaculum, we take part in various RSPB and Woodland Trust events and we make insect shelters in the Autumn. Eco Club has several raised beds in the school grounds where we grow herbs and insect attracting plants. We go on regular rambles to see the changing seasons unfurl around us.

We make a lot of compost as well, bug hunts in the compost heap whilst “turning” it is always a VERY popular activity! We have held HUGELY successful fund raising events, for the RSPB Albatross appeal alone we raised over £300.

We do a variety of recycled-based crafts.

and a LOT of bird and plant identifying throughout the year and above all we have FUN.

What we are doing is part of a bigger message, that of living in a more sustainable way. This encourages the children (and hopefully their families) to compost, grow veg, recycle etc at home as well as at school. It has benefited the children in oh so many ways, they all seem to love what we all do and come up to me in town to tell me so :-)

The school has also benefited in many ways and is now working for the highest level an Eco School can achieve, the Green Flag award. We have also won recently won a prestigious Woodland Trust award at Gold Level.

All this is a lot of work! The planning and organising the sessions and memberships, having meetings and exchanging emails and phone conversations with Sue to arrange it all, all takes time. I do it as a volunteer so I don't get paid BUT I enjoy doing it and I love helping the children to see the wonders of our natural world, as does Compostman. We both feel very privileged to be able to share our knowledge of the environment with the next generation and that is worth a lot! I am also lucky enough to have converted my interest and passion for educating about sustainability/the environment into a whole new career as a Forest School Leader/Environmental Educator, all springing from becoming a volunteer Master Composter and volunteering to garden at school.

So, if you have similar skills, why not think about helping at YOUR local school or other youth group? It is really worth it :-)