Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Arboretum Outreach and Teacher Training

This year we have two new outreach sessions designed for primary schools.  The outreach programme runs from January to Easter and enables children across Oxfordshire to engage with the Arboretum collection without leaving their schools. 

“Spectacular Seeds”, the new outreach session for Key Stage 2, is divided into three sections.  In the first section, the children examine a range of different seeds to decide how they are dispersed.  This hands on activity encourages the children to explore the properties of each seed to determine whether it might travel on the wind, be carried by animals or self-disperse.  In the second section, the children have the opportunity to handle a range of exciting seeds from the Botanic Garden and Arboretum handling collection.  This year, the cone from the Bristlecone fir (Abies bracteata) and the seed pod from the Magnolia campbellii are proving to be the most popular and are capturing the imagination of children all across the county.  The final section of this exciting session is the Oak Life Cycle game, where the children all start the game as acorns, then must gain all the resources necessary for germination.  Those that succeed become seedlings, while those that do not become soil.  In order for the seedlings to become saplings, they must gain all the resources necessary for photosynthesis.  Those that succeed move to the next stage of their life cycle while the rest join the soil team.  Then finally the saplings must photosynthesise in order to become mature trees, so there is one more mad dash for resources to see who will survive.  This game has proved an excellent way for the children to consider the obstacles facing a seed as it tries to grow into a mature tree, while also helping them to understand why most plants produce so many seeds.

Cone from a Bristlecone Fir

“What is a tree?” is the new outreach session designed for Foundation and Key Stage 1.  By using our specially designed giant felt crab apple tree, the children have the opportunity to introduce seasonal changes by adding spring leaves and blossom to our tree, swapping the blossom for apples as the flowers are pollinated in summer, then exchanging green leaves for orange, yellow and brown leaves as summer gives way to autumn. Finally the children take on the role of the wind as winter approaches and the leaves fall from the tree to leave the branches bare once more.  This leads to a discussion on the purpose of the apples, and examination of the seeds in a real apple.  We then look closely at a range of seeds from the Botanic garden and Arboretum handling collection.  With this age group, the seed from the coco de mer is still the one which results in the best reaction although the cone from the Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri) is also proving very popular.

Our felt tree through the seasons

Friday 27th February was our Geography in the Great Outdoors continuing professional development course for teachers.  During the course, we made the most of the blue sky and sunshine while exploring different ways in which the teachers can help children to engage with maps and better understand them.  Our map-building activity was a great success with plenty of imagination showing through as we placed road, built bridges and marked woodland onto our 3D sections of Ordnance Survey maps.  A special orienteering course was set up in the Coppice at the Arboretum so that the teachers could test it and relate the options to their own school grounds.

Teachers taking part in a map building activity

Visit Harcourt Arboretum over the Easter holidays to take part in one of the following:

Shaping up for Spring trail – available throughout the Easter holidays
Arboretum Easter Egg Hunt – available from 10.30am on Tuesday 31st March
Family friendly afternoon: Shaping up for Spring, Animals – Tuesday 31st March, 1pm to 4pm
Family friendly afternoon: Shaping up for Spring, Plants – Tuesday 7th April, 1pm to 4pm

Or visit the Botanic Garden for:
Family friendly fun: Get Gardening! – Wednesday 8th April 11am to 1pm

Backpacks are available to borrow from the tickets offices at both sites every day of the holidays.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Excellent article! We are linking too this particularly great post onn our site. Keep up the great writing.
    Rib Boat for Sale USA

  3. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    Gardening Oxford