Showing posts with label Eco Club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eco Club. Show all posts

Thursday, 2 September 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walking...Going Car Free!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Just shy of a month ago, I moved abroad. I left my little eco friendly car behind (no room for it on the plane you see!) and arrived car-free, but not quite care-free. The decision to go car-less for as long as possible was both purposeful and intentional and while I had a small moan yesterday on my blog, the reality is, I have found it a very blessed experience. I suppose, for me, owning a car is like owning a TV, it provides opportunities, but it is very easy to over-use. If a car, or TV, charged $10 for a 30 minute use and you had to pay to drive/watch I would probably find it easier to choose to walk when the car is in the driveway or find something else to do rather than stare at a screen...but alas "free" at point of entry is too tempting at times. And while I didn't own a car from age 17-24 I have gotten a tad too comfortable with the convenience of it all!

The weather has been hot, well over 100 degrees each day, yet my commitment to walking everywhere has meant I've simply found a rhythm which works for me, a rhythm which makes me be more purposeful and sacrificial, which chooses priority over apathy. I walk to a pool and swim (to exercise and cool off), walk to shops, job interviews, visit friends, run errands, go to the bank, volunteer or pretty much do anything else. Most of where I need to go is no more than about a 75 minute walk each way and to be honest, walking has opened up a whole new world. While I'm in a smallish city on my walks I've seen deer, beavers, raccoons, groundhogs, robins, blue jays, cardinals and an adorable yellow bird I've not yet been able to name. Friends of mine who go the same route in their cars have never, in 10 years (compared to my month), seen any such beauties. Through walking I've met people, happened on community farmers markets, found new places to explore and felt an incredible connection not offered by the disconnect which is an easy consequence of using a car to get from point A to B, B to C, C to D. I've noticed that many people are happy to "go for a walk" but not to "have to walk" to a specific point. Many people have asked me how I've walked in this heat and the answer is, I try to accomplish tasks early in the morning (which has provided a natural rhythm to my days), I wear long sleeves and a hat, I drink water and when it gets too much I simply "pull over" and find a new place to explore for a bit of a breather! I've also found that walking everywhere has made me need to be organized, I can't simply "nip to the shops" when the shops are a 65 minute walk each way, so being purposeful about my time has become a necessity!

The reality is, at some point I may "need" to get a car, because in my line of work 90% of jobs advertised list one as essential for being hired. Many years ago, I remember seeing a neighbour who lived 40 feet (1 house away) from the postbox drive down her drive and stop at the postbox, collect her mail and drive back. I asked her if she forgot something and she said she simply couldn't be bothered to walk. I hope, my couple of months with no car makes me choose to connect when possible rather than disconnect, helps me keep with the simple, frugal and green commitment of walking whenever possible and makes me less like my old neighbour and more like the person I am today.

While I know for many a car is a need, if for some reason I find a job which doesn't require a car, I am seriously considering trying to go a year without. When you add up car insurance, tax, petrol, break-down cover and (for many) the car payments, compared to my two working feet it seems like a very expensive want...or I could find some sort of a pay as you go system, $10 for 30 minutes which I think would mean I choose my feet a whole lot more and sitting behind the wheel a whole lot less.

Have you ever gone without a car out of necessity or circumstance? What did it teach you? Did you find it a simple, green and frugal choice? Have you ever cut down on your use of your car and how did you keep yourself motivated when it was there to be used?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Getting crafty, out and about!

Posted by Compostwoman, The Compostbin

Here are just a few ideas I use when working with children, or just playing in the woods with Compostgirl. Some are ideal for doing on a walk, some are an activity to do in your garden, all of them are fun. Some can be done without adult help.

Nature provides us with so many things. Some of these can be used to decorate our homes, or provide homes for creatures that help to pollinate plants and prey on garden pests. After you have made some natural craft item, using what nature provides to decorate your home, why not give something back, in the form of a bird feeder or minibeast home?

A few safety tips
Before you start, always get permission from the landowner if in any doubt!
Make sure children are well supervised and don’t collect anything poisonous.
Only collect loose, dead or fallen material from the ground.
Don’t pull bits from living plants or trees.
Only take items if there are plenty, and always leave some for the habitat or food source that they may provide.
Don’t touch bracken between July and September – the spores are hazardous.
Supervise children using sharp tools such as scissors, knives,needles, skewers etc.

Make a Mobile
Collect cones, leaves, seeds, nuts, feathers, sticks etc.
Find a stick you like.
Tie or thread the collected treasures on to long pieces of string (if you want to thread them get an adult to help make the holes).
Tie the top end of the string to the stick.
Continue making more strings of treasures (using different length strings can look good), and tie them along the stick until you are happy with the effect.
Then make a loop from string and tie this at the centre of the stick to hang it up with and you have made a natural mobile!

Make a Wild Crown or Bracelet
Take a piece of thinnish card (cereal box card is good) and cut it into strips about 5cm wide by 50cm long (for a crown) or shorter for a bracelet. You can adjust the size to fit and then fix the ends of the card together with glue or tape.
Put a long strip of double-sided sticky tape all the way around the outside of the card strip. Make sure it’s completely covered so that your treasures will stick well.
Now, go for a walk, gathering any nice natural materials that you find and sticking them on the tape as you go. Remember to press them firmly onto the sticky tape on the bracelet or crown so that they don’t fall off easily.
If you prefer, you can go collecting first and then this activity can be done back at home later with all the treasures you have gathered.

Colours from the Wild

Cut some stiff cardboard into squares or rectangles (approx. 10x10cm or 8x10cm) and cover one surface with double-sided sticky tape. Collect small pieces of natural materials to make a textured mosaic on the surface each one. The finished effect can look really beautiful, so why not make them into a collage, or frame them? Or use them to make birthday cards?

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Dollies
Gather a bunch of grass, corn or lavender with good long stalks.
Tie the stems firmly together just under the heads and trim the bottom ends of the stalks with scissors so that they are all level.
About mid way down from the heads tie the bundle again. This is to make the body. Then below this divide the bundle in two – these will be the legs of the dolly. Secure them just a little back from the very ends with string, leaving a short piece that you can bend up for the feet. Now take a smaller bundle of stems and cut off any flower heads and fasten each end. This will be for the dolly’s arms. Using a pencil or a small stick, carefully ease the stalks apart just underneath the ‘head’ of the dolly so that you can push the arms through (you might want to get an adult to help you). Now tie across and around the body and arms of the dolly, to secure them. Your dolly is now finished! Decorate with flowers, leaves or whatever else you fancy. Similar dollies can also be made using thick string or raffia.

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Plaits
Tie 3 stems of corn (or grass or lavender) just below the heads. Plait the stems until you are happy with the length of your plait. Tie the ends of the stems with string or ribbon and trim.
To make a hoop, bend the head end of the plait round so it is overlapping the stems and the top of the head is just below the ends of the stems. Then tie them together with string or ribbon and make a loop for hanging.

Bark Rubbing
Place a sheet of paper on an interesting tree and rub over the paper with a wax crayon. Find as many different textures as you can and use lots of different colours. Use them to make a picture or collage, then stand back and admire the result!

Feeding the Birds
Collect large open pine cones and/or washed and dried yoghurt cartons.
Tie a length of string around the cone so that you can hang it from a branch or bird table. Smear bird food mixture (see the ‘recipe’ below) into the cracks in the cones (warning – this gets messy!).
Make a hole in the bottom of the yoghurt carton. Tie a knot in a length of string and thread it through the hole with the knot inside, so the pot hangs upside down. Make sure the knot won’t pull through. Now fill up the yoghurt pot with the bird food mixture and leave to set (right way up) in a cool place.

Hang your feeders out in the garden and watch the birds enjoy their treat!

Bird Food Recipe Mix
Check no one is allergic to any ingredient before you start! Make sure you have put plenty of old
newspapers down, and wear old clothes or an apron (and don’t forget to roll up your sleeves!).
For your special birdseed recipe mix you will need:
Birdseed, raisins, grated cheese, and a selection of other suitable seeds if you like, such as pumpkin or sunflower which are both good.
Take 100g of softened vegetable fat or lard (put it somewhere warm for about an hour) and cut it into small pieces.
Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and squash together with your hands (messy!).
You can now shape it into balls around twigs, squish it into pine cones, or fill up yoghurt pots with it.
Leave everything in the fridge to set, and when they’re firm hang them outside for the birds to enjoy.
Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’ve finished!

Making Homes for Minibeasts
Help minibeasts survive in your garden by making them houses!

Ladybirds, beetles and minibeasts of all sorts: These little creatures like small places to roost. Tie bundles of twigs (hollow ones are even better!) tightly together with string. Wedge the bundle in a place on the ground, in the fork of a tree, beneath a hedge or anywhere out of the way in your garden where it won’t be disturbed. Minibeasts will hopefully find it an ideal home over the winter. Red mason bees will particularly like bamboo bundles done like this.

Bumblebees: Take a medium-sized plant pot with just one hole in the bottom and loosely pack it with dry shredded paper, straw or grass. Dig a hole big enough to bury it completely in the ground, ideally in a sunny place in some undisturbed corner with long grass. Bury the plant pot upside down in the earth so that the hole in the bottom is level with the surface of the ground. Carefully fill in around the edges with soil. You can re-cover the top with turf, just as long as the hole is still clear of dirt so that the bees can find it.

Slugs, snails and woodlice: Make a big pile of leaves in a shady and quiet corner of your garden, and watch all the little wigglers move in!

Beetles, centipedes and millipedes: Make a nice mixed pile of logs and twigs in a shady corner (you might want to ask an adult for help with carrying and positioning bigger pieces). You could put your pile of leaves next to it!

I hope this post has given you some ideas for things to do outside!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Greening the next generation, some ideas for things to do at an Eco Club..

Following on from my last post,I thought I would do a post on some of the memberships and resources I have used. Some are free, some require a small membership fee, all are really good and I can personally recommend them. I also have listed some books and ideas sheets where you can find out more about some of the games we play and crafts we do at both Eco Club and when I am out and about working with children as an Environmental Educator/Forest School Leader. The ones which involve memberships are obviously UK based, but their web sites are internationally down loadable, I guess? I expect there are US, Au and many other parts of the World equivalents, and I would love to know what they are, as I get asked about this via email.

Eco Club is an RSPB Wildlife Explorers Club. As part of the RSPB Wildlife Explorers club membership fee each child is a member of the RSPB and gets a magazine every two months as well as various occasional goodies from the RSPB. I also got to go off on a weekend in Bedfordshire for training as a Wildlife Explorers Leader ;-) The RSPB provide a lot of support and help to their clubs. Our RSPB membership is great and the children love the magazines and of course we take part in the Big Schools and Big Garden Birdwatch every year! There are lots of good, free ideas on their website as well.

Eco Club is also a Woodland Trust Nature Detectives Club , again for a small fee. The Nature Detectives Club is run by The Woodland Trust and they also produce the most amazing free resources as well which are available on their website to download and print off. The spotter and I.D sheets are especially good. The Woodland Trust are also responsible for "Springwatch" and Autumnwatch" as part of the UK Phenology Network, which records when natural events happen.

Eco Club regularly gets free trees and tree seed growing kits to plant, as part of the "Tree for all" scheme (in November and March) This is a scheme run by The Woodland Trust where children are encouraged to plant trees.

We are also registered as a BBC Breathing Places school so we receive emails and information packs from them with more good ideas in them for activities. This is free!

These are just a few of the resources I use. I have many feet of bookshelves full of books and info which I use in my environmental education work :-)

We start most Eco Club sessions with a game or two and here is the link to an an idea sheet I wrote in 2007 on playing environmental themed games. I use these games quite a lot and they are good fun(the children say so, so it MUST be true!).

We also make various craft things in Eco Club and Forest School sessions and here is an ideas sheet I wrote in 2007 on making craft items from natural materials ( bird feeders, mini beast houses, mobiles etc)

I used lots of these ideas when I worked for our local Nature Trust as an Environmental Play worker and have used them since in various places.

There are some very good books with ideas for all sorts of activities and games as well. “Sharing Nature with Children 1” and “Sharing Nature with Children 2” by Joseph Cornell are inspirational books as is “Natures Playground” by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield. Also “Earthwise” by Carol Petrash is very good. These are available from Amazon via the link at the top right of my personal website, or your local library may have them. The Woodcraft Folk Games Book is also very good, but I think that will have to be borrowed from a library. If your club joins the RSPB they provide very good guides on how to run a club with great ideas for things to do.

I hope this is all useful information :-) There is a lot of very useful and free stuff on the Internet, I hope these few links are helpful to anyone who either is thinking of helping at a club or just wants some interesting, fun stuff to do with their own children! The UK RSPB Wildlife Explorers Club and UK Nature Detective Club are not just for schools and youth groups, both offer family memberships which are also very good and again, I can personally vouch for that, as we are family members here at Compost Mansions.

So, now you have all this lovely information, why not go and play :-)AND if you can add to my list of useful resources please feel free, either via the comments box or by emailing me at

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 :-)