Santa & Snowflakes Lesson Plan

Oh, the wonder of Nature at this time of the year.

Lesson Plan.
This workshop is also about toning down the excitement of the commercial aspects of Christmas and bringing things back to basics, the Holly, the Ivy, the Evergreen trees, the fallen leaves on the ground which provides food & shelter for all the insects and bugs which have gone into overwintering mode, and the hedgehog & bats that need to go through true hibernation. It is a reiteration that this is natures quite time, time to regenerate, rest and ready for Spring again.

I am happy to say all the children I visited knew the date, Month, Year, and that we were in the Season of Winter. The start of Spring appears to be a puzzle for most and a confusion for most. Some said we were in the Season of Christmas – I don’t think they are too far from the truth on that one!

If you look at Met Eireann’s website they clearly say Spring starts on March 1 st.
From a very reliable source: Traditionally in Ireland, winter started on Nov. 1st and ended on Jan. 31st. Samhain marked the end of the old year and February (Brigid’s Day) the beginning of spring. Yes, it is confusing if Autumn starts at the beginning of August but that is our belief.

The first big Science Question?
Do they think Nature knows it’s the 1 st February – this caused a lot of debate and discussion, I know I asked a tricky question but I would also reiterate that a tree doesn’t know how to read, count, or read the calendar so these are, either way, a human constraint of nature. Nature knows that the soil is warming, the sun is shining, the daylight hours are longer and living things are waking from their slumber of overwintering or hibernation.

Snowflake Science.
The next part of our workshop we move onto Snowflake Science. If we study the formation (not growing as that would imply a living thing) of a snowflake. We see that it always forms a flat 3D structure, given enough water the shape will be a full Hexagon, given less water it will have more gaps. I like to relate this to a fingerprint – that each child is unique and special like a snowflake, but we all have similar characteristics (in humans we have arms, legs, head); and in snowflakes, they all look the same but are all different. So how do they look the same?

Ask the second big Science Question?

 So how do they look the same? What makes them look similar?
 Then you will get the list of facts from the children – tell them if they describe what they are seeing they can’t be wrong.
 They are white
 They are made of ice
 They are made from water freezing
 The original catalyst forming the centre point or a place to form was a piece of dust or pollen in the atmosphere
 Then the snowflake will form the strongest shape in nature a Hexagon. A Hexagon has 6 sides and six corners. The snowflake will not fill the gaps to make a full Hexagon if it has not got the right conditions.
 I believe water in addition is responsible for this hexagonal shape explained through chemistry, the shapes are symmetrical, have a centre point, and a line of symmetry.
 Interesting that bees and wasps also make this shape.
 Supposedly it is a very strong mechanical shape in nature.
 Some children would say they are beautifully designed.

Then we watch the snowflake forming under a microscope (a film that has been made by a clever guy – credited on my website his name is Slava Ivanov). We watch some other inspirational video clips, and moving music and do an activity. You can see the link and video here – 

It is an emotional lesson and a great one to end the busy term. It also gives a chance for the teachers to take a well-deserved breather from the intensity of the day.



Interactive biodiversity lab

I’ve just finished a three-day lab for a large school in Wicklow. I delivered the workshops from junior infants to sixth class over three days. The time allocation were 40 minute time slots – this worked like a dream with all age groups. I had six classes per day….

Pictures of birds, spiders…loom bands, microscopes, leaves, tadpoles, feathers and even glitter!!

Glitter looks really good under the microscope, hey hang on a minute – what’s that got to do with biodiversity…..well nothing – it rather happened by chance & the children found it fascinating and even better scattered over the birds feathers, quite a work of art….What I found amazing is that this is a material that children know and use quite frequently – if anything it helped them to understand magnification….if they were really interested they could study the actual task of studying the feathers locking mechanism.. What prey have we here? Bees, Habitats of Wicklow, Map of Wicklow and loom bands…

The star attractions – tadpoles ‘the wet table’ or ‘messy table’ where we prepare to roll up sleeves….

 January – Winter lecture series – From the Amazon to Wicklow

 February – Signs of spring

 March – Signs of spring

 April – Signs of spring

 May – Flower – pollinators

 June – Flower – pollinators

 September – Trees – Autumn colours

 October – Trees – Autumn colours

 November – Trees – Autumn colours

 December – Snowflakes

General – All about the bees in trouble, habitat awareness, ecology orienteering, planting for nature, let’s take a hike, nature walk to the local park…


Biodiversity Workshops for Secondary Schools 2016 – 2017

Biodiversity Workshops for Secondary Schools  2016 – 2017ericthebirdman

  • ‘Study of Ecosystem’ on school grounds;
  • Biodiversity Hike; Raptors/Birds Study;
  • Hike to the local Park.
  • Biodiversity & Variety is the Spice of Life !

Plan a workshop for this coming year with the following choices for Secondary Students from ;

  • The Kites in Wicklow
  • Our own wonderful Amazon jungle in the Wicklow Mountains National Park
  • Learn All about the Bees in trouble

Perhaps it’s a workshop on your school grounds; Perhaps a Hike in Wicklow Mountains National Park; A talk all about the bees in trouble, Kites, Buzzard & Peregrine Falcon in Wicklow.
How can we help?

We have good availability from June 2016 (as of today)

Sample Packages:
Customize an Interactive ‘Scientific Ecology Study of an Ecosystem’ on school grounds. Compulsory field study in preparation for Leaving Certificate Biology Programme. For two experts!

Group of 30
Paper packs printed by school

Biodiversity Hike in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
For both experts 10am-1pm
Group of 30
Paper packs printed by school

Indoor Winter series of talks
For both experts 10am-1pm
Group of 30
Paper packs printed by school

We are both Garda vetted
Contact the following from the Wicklow Heritage In Schools Expert Panel.
Call Eric Dempsey;
Bird & Biodiversity Specialists
087 907 5669
Twitter: @EricTheBirdman

Call Grace Garde
Ecology & Biodiversity Specialists
Twitter: @GracefulLands


Junior Pollinator Plan – All about the bees in trouble

Junior Pollinator Plan – All about the bees in trouble.
15 subsidised days left for this calendar year.

help save our bees

What are we going to talk about? 

  • Honey?
  • Who & what are pollinators?
  • Why are they important?
  • The wonderful world of bees inside the colony?
  • Why are pollinators & bees in trouble?
  • Junior pollinator plan
  • What can schools/families/parents do for bees?
  • How can I help?
  • Let’s get planting
  • Understand what food the bee needs?
  • Understand why he visits the flower?
  • Why are a third of our Irish Bees in decline?
  • We can all do something to help?
If you wish to have other biodiversity workshops please contact me directly, I work with a number of specialists in the Nature World.
I am garda vetted, completed a child protection, first aid, & hill walking course.

Interesting fact – did you know that
Bumblebees sit on their eggs? bee




Interesting scientific Labeling of the morphology of a bee bee2




How do bees see? Why not like us?
How does that effect the flowers that see? bee3


Subsidized primary schools visits €100/€60 Full day

Heritage in schools scheme
Wicklow Panel
Visits to Wicklow & Dublin
Mobile 0871477507
Landline 01-2819275
Twitter: @GracfulLands
 days available

Santa Snowflakes workshop

One last Santa Snowflakes workshop on Monday 21st December and that’s a wrap.
I delivered the workshops from junior infants to Fourth class in five schools in Dublin and Wicklow. The time allocation ranged from 30mins-1.5hour depending on teachers requirements, age of children.


Deer Santa

With the older children we spoke about all the elements of Christmas that we get from nature; Robin; Wren; Holly; Mistletoe; Christmas Trees; mention of smells of the Turkey; spuds & Christmas tree were in the air. Then we studied the formation of a snowflake & studied the fantastic snowflake forming…

snowtime from Slava Ivanov on Vimeo.

Then we saw the wonderful snowflake falling:

and then of course walking in the air

Then we made either reindeer food bags or a pine cone activity….


Winter Snowflake Science

The workshops coming up are as follows:


 January – Winter lecture series – From the Amazon to Wicklow
 February – Signs of spring
 March – Signs of spring
 April – Signs of spring
 May- Flower & pollinators
 June-Flower & pollinators
 September-Trees & Autumn colours
 October-Trees & Autumn colours
 November- Trees & Autumn colours
 December-Snowflakes


Call or book me for classes 


Tinahely National School – Heritage in schools visit – 4th September 2015

I got a call to visit the Tinahely National School in May 2015 and I was booked in for a September slot, 4th September 2015.

The schools request was to: “To enable the teachers and class groups to learn about the main plants/shrubs/trees that are growing in our school garden. Our hope is to map the garden and list all major trees etc. to act as an aid to future lessons, and transfer the information onto a Habitat Map

I had all 5 classes ranging from junior infants to sixth class. We had an ok day fairly overcast – temperatures ranging about 12-13 degrees. The weather pickedup in the afternoon. I knew there wouldn’t be any pollinators about.

The night before, I did a recci on ‘google maps’ and studied the school grounds and layout, and took approximate measurements of the school. This helped me to understand what equipment I required and what I needed for the school grounds. I brought a long measurement line so that it would help use measure out the perimeter of the hedgerow. Then using a photocopy of the OS map of the school, we used this as our base template to start recording species. We started with the sixth class, as they were able to write the species, hold the maps, and walk and understand what was happening with the hedgerow. While we walked and talked we numbered species along the map and recorded their common names, if Latin names were known they were also provided.

The hedgerow was a typical mature hedgerow in the countryside which had been recently coppiced.

The dominant large species of trees were Horse chestnut, Ash, Oak, Beech, the small trees were Rowan, Birch, and in the understory field layer we had Ivy, Herb Robert (still flowering), Nettles, Brambles, Cleaver, Foxglove, Alexandra. We noticed a section of sick trees that were probably effected by some kind of fungus – honey fungus perhaps as a section of trees and shrubs were sick for around 10 m or so. The children were fascinated to understand that trees get sick too. There were a family of robins in this hedgerow, but not so many other some birds for some reason – perhaps too cold? When I returned to the hedgerow there were a large flock of little birds (when all the children had disappeared probably foraging on the berries etc.).

With the younger groups we studied the mature hollies that had berries – they were still green – so the children understood that Santa hadn’t started shopping yet! We found a lot of insects in this area such as spiders & their nests, shield bugs, baby ladybirds, mature ladybirds, greenfly, a very tired hungry bumblebee (so we got sugared water). We identified the species at the front of the school and transferred this onto the habitat map. There was a beautiful apple tree, too, but it wasn’t ripe just yet. We noticed how the conifer trees were a great habitat for spider’s webs, in particular and there were a good few nests around.

The younger children got their clip boards and crayons and we did leaf rubbings and prints with a few common species of trees. I was very impressed with the school and how well they kept their school grounds with a huge focus and interest on nature. They had a few handmade insect hideouts, and a compost bin. Their growing garden areas were fantastic.

Well done to Tinahely National School for all their hard efforts & interest in natural heritage and using the school grounds to create their habitat map. This will help the school branch out to broaden the children’s knowledge of the local biodiversity, and natural heritage in their area.

Signing-off – Grace Garde

Heritage in schools Wicklow Heritage Expert

Speaking on East Coast Radio FM

I’d like to give a big shout-out to Moira Byrne & Ann Fortune who bring you up-to-date news on what’s happening across Wicklow, with ‘County Watch’, every Sunday on Don Swift’s show. A big thank you to Don, too!

We discuss the new ‘Man shed’ in Newtownmountkennedy, the up n’ coming streetfeast, all the crafts and tidy towns efforts going in to make the sense of community even more apparent in our beautiful village.

So, keep the 13th and 14th of June free and come to NewtownMountKennedy – you can listen to the show on hour two – just follow the link below for all the news…

Signs of Spring

Detective Spring!

Teachers… this is a great activity to do with your class on your school grounds.

I call it the ‘Signs of Spring’ worksheet.

Spring flowers –
Typical spring flowers out now would be Lesser Celandine, Herb Robert, Dandelion, Daisy, Primrose, Chickweed, Common Speedwell.
An excellent website I could highly recommend is

The next item I ask the class to look out for is nest building materials. The children love to build their own nests out of material that they find i.e. feathers, loose moss, and sticks. Birds are great recyclers of all materials found in nature and if they have heat value they will be used.

Most trees are just in the stage of ‘bud burst’ right now – interesting to ask the children what emerges out of the buds –
the answer should be leaves, but often you will get an answer such as ‘apples’ or the like. It is helpful to explain the process of “bud burst” with the children.

Habitat Map - specifically dealing with 'Trees for Bees'

Habitat Map – specifically dealing with ‘Trees for Bees’

Often the buds and the bark are the only distinctive features at this time of the year, so doing bark rubbings can be useful so they can really study and feel the texture of the bark on the different types of trees.

The insects will all be hiding at this time of the year – the temperatures are only starting to warm up to get them moving. Any ladybirds that have survived will start moving around. You might see Bumblebees / Butterflies if you are lucky.

2 7-spot ladybirds overwintering in under cover of a fennel plant in the local allotment

2 7-spot ladybirds overwintering in under cover of a fennel plant in the local allotment

In our recent workshop because the school garden had great woodland trees in their garden they had a great selection of local garden birds that we were able to study. This ranged from the Blackcap, Chaffinch, Robin, Goldcrest, and Goldfinch, along with the common starlings, blackbirds, pigeons, and rooks.

An excellent website I could highly recommend is

Wherever you find all these animals – you have found their habitat – and you are ready to draw up the spring habitat map! If you find it difficult to find any animals on your school grounds you will need to create more habitats for them to live in!

The children love finding spiders & their webs!Detective Butterfly

Just to note**
Top trees for nectar production:
Most of the honey is collected between mid-June and the end of July when many flowering plants such as white clover and blackberry are in bloom. Trees and Ivy are also rich sources of nectar. The top trees for nectar production are Willow, Apple, Hawthorn, Maple, Pear, Cherry, Lime, Horse Chestnut, Alder, Hazel, Sycamore, and Holly.

Local school in Wicklow: Testimonials

Testimonials & The schools expectations of this visit are: Detective Butterfly

To raise the children’s awareness of their own environment.

“Grace Garde has already spent two days in the school where she delivered the Bug Detective and Acorn Detective programme to eight of our classes ( Senior Infants, 1st and 2nd classes). These days were a great success with the children, allowing them to explore the school environment and learn about the plants, animals, insects and minibeasts all around them. The school has participated in the Discover Primary Science Awards since 2006 and this visit from an expert to the school will be used as one element of the application for 2014-2015.”

And a lovely card to say thank you 🙂 What it’s all about !!

A Thank you Card

A Thank you Card

Winter Project: 6th Class learn all about Bees!

Labelling of the Bee

Labelling of the Bee

This Autumn I worked with a Primary school in the South Dublin suburbs and they requested that we start a project on bees initially for submission to the Young Scientist competition. They wanted to: To learn more about Bees, their habitat, and their impact on our lives – working with two sixth class groups of 16 and 18 at different times. It was a fascinating project for all concerned. We primarily focused on the Irish Honey Bee, although they were aware of the other 100 bee species native to Ireland. We focused on the casts within the Hive, the morphology, behavior, and dynamics within the bee colony throughout the year. The children made hand-made models of bees out of art materials.

We also completed a ‘Trees for Bees Habitat Map’. This will tie in very nicely with their Biodiversity Flag as they must do a habitat map for this flag. There were 83 mature trees on the grounds hundreds of years old. So we used an existing arborist report and mapped the 83 trees onto a large a1 site map of the school. The students went out with ipads and took morphological pictures of the trees inc. leaf & bark rubbings. Then we isolated the trees known be beneficial to the bees and recorded them on the map specifically – out of the selection these were noted as ‘Horse Chestnut, Lime & Sycamore trees’. There were significant hedgerows with a large Ivy/hawthorn/bramble/ populations but this would be recorded on a separate piece of work.

The children learned how the bees communicate through the ‘waggle dance’, and the ‘tremble dance’. They learned about pollination and the flower morphology. They were fascinated to learn about the Queen, we even dedicated a ‘Queen Bee workshop’!!. The breakdown of functions within the hive depending on the age of the bees and the time of year, and what the bees do with the pollen and nectar they collect. Every week, I went away with questions such as ‘How long does it take for the bees to produce a wild hive, how long does it take for the hive to get to 50-60k bees?, how many stings would it take to kill a human?, why are African bees so aggressive?, what’s in the queen bee sting? – is it different, who makes the queen cells?, is inbreeding an issue in the colony?, explain the evolution of insects?, how many queen cells are there?, what are the differences between a Bumblebee and wasp colony?……It was a real pleasure to work on this project with 6th class children.


This piece originally appeared on the Heritage in Schools website.