Monday, 18 May 2009

Miracles of Nature

In my post 'Fleeting Delights’ I mentioned long tailed tits and the pleasure their little dance had given me in a mundane moment one morning at home. Equally special was the nest (pictured above) I found lying on the grass shortly after we got home after the Easter holidays. I couldn’t see where it had come from, but it was just lying on the lawn in all its quiet splendour, and I had no idea what bird had constructed it. It had clearly been blown out of somewhere by the high winds.

I took it into the village school with L as their topic this term is ‘Holes’ – and it struck me that the opening into the nest was a perfect example of the topic. After looking at the way the nest had been so beautifully constructed with moss, lichen, feathers and fibres, it was gently placed in a box and put on a side table. I had been muttering to the Head Teacher for a while that I thought we should try and find space for a Nature Table, and I’m delighted to say that bringing in this nest seems to have kick-started the process. When I came back into school that afternoon to pick L up, the nest was accompanied by some information sheets which had been pulled off the internet, together with a drawing of a long-tailed tits nest which was absolutely identical to the one I had found, confirming it was made by those little feathered friends of mine I had watched with such delight.

I did a bit of my own research and have learnt that these elaborate domed nests are often placed in the middle of thorny bushes, such as gorse. The nest has an outer structure, which is then lined with up to 2,600 feathers, a process that may take up to 39 days to complete. The birds prefer feathers which are between 2 and 4cm long and it seems that the Long-tailed Tits use the feather lining to regulate the temperature within the nest and are able to accurately gauge how many feathers they need to get the temperature they want. You may want to click here to learn a little bit more, together with this BBC Nature link.

It is simply incredible to think how these tiny creatures could build something so extraordinary in its engineering and design – and identical to the pictures we found. Who teaches them how to do it? Is it just some intuitive force of Nature? It really is quite remarkable and shows again how Nature never ceases to fascinate and amaze.

Hence my belief in the importance of the Nature Table, and I am delighted that there has recently been a move to bring them back into schools. The Nature Table was something that my generation grew up with – a generation whose young lives were so much simpler than they seem to be now. Computers as we know them today did not exist, let alone the World Wide Web and a generation obsessed and reliant on technology that such advancements have spawned.

While I can appreciate the good things it has brought, I cannot help but be nostalgic for a world that was slower and perhaps a little more in touch with the fundamentals of life. These days we spend so much time rushing around or staring at screens, whether computer or plasma TV, that many have not learned (or, at best, have forgotten) the importance of stopping, looking, touching, listening and smelling. There is so much beauty and wonder around us and far too often, it seems to me, it is overlooked or unappreciated.

The example of the Tit’s nest is just one tiny one in a micro world that goes on around us every day.

For me, bringing back the Nature Table in schools is just one small but important step in reminding our children that the natural world is a place of endless fascination, from which many lessons in science, geography, engineering and social behaviour can be learnt, and which can build a loving appreciation of our own place within it. In short, it can help re-connect us with where humankind ultimately came from and, as such, my hope would be that it could also encourage a greater humility and a renewed connection with, and appreciation of, our natural environment.

Footnote: Country Living has been running a campaign to bring back the Nature Table in schools. For more information, click here.


Working mum said...

I agree. I had forgotten about the Nature Table: pine cones, conkers, pussy willow, those sticky, prickly things you threw at people that cling to your clothes - it's all coming back! It keeps you in tune with the seasons; something we can easily lose as we spend more time indoors or in the car than we used to. Yes, Nature Table must come back.

Mark said...

I agree, nature tables must come back. And observer books! And I spy books - now there's a topic - shhh, I've a collection of those too(about 20p a go on ebay).

I spend about half my life in Wales, near the beach, which is a sort of huge nature table in itself. Kids love it; education in the true sense of the word.


Loved this blog, and delighted you set up a nature table in your local school.I remember doing the same thing when our children were small, and I made a little bog garden from bits and pieces we collected on the bog while having a picnic. Children become so interested, and it stimulates their awareness and observation skills. As you say bird nest building is amazing, and now it is so easy to access extra information on the net. Well done.

Pondside said...

We had nature tables over here, too, when I was in school. Where else will some children ever really see a nest, or a jar of tadpols or any other wonders of nature?

Rosie said...

One of my most abiding memories is of my village school and the nature table full of jam jars and milk bottles holding branches and twigs like catkins and sticky buds and wild flowers - we knew all the names. Also of our nature walks into the woods nearby walking two by two collecting things for the table. I know we can't turn back time but things like this should still be a part of a child's education.

According to my recent RSPB newsletter the long-tailed tit is new at number 10 in the top ten most seen species in our gardens in Jan 2009 - the first time in the 30 years they have been doing the survey.

Nutty Gnome said...

I always loved the Nature Table when I was at school!

I had an ongoing nature table (on our hearth!)when my daughters were small. It varied with the seasons - pebbles, shells, pine cones, conkers, leaves, catkins, feathers, a biscuit tin of tadpoles ....!The choice was endless and we had great fun collecting things too. Bring back Nature Tables!


Hello everyone - I'm so glad you are all as enthusiastic as me on this one. It is such an essential part of childhood, I think - as all your own memories proove.

Milla said...

we've been watching a fat thing, some sort of dove or pigeon, crashing about in a fir tree, in ou, in out, endlessly, with little twigs. Very touching. And much calmer looking than ourselves doing our extension! It's also in the child, though. F10 has been a little nature boy since the year dot while his older brother is Social Kid. Just how they were born.


Hi Milla - you are right, some are certainly more inclined than others, but I still think it's good to get them all exposed to it whether it's entirely in their nature or not. Love the idea of your bird nesting versus you and your extension!!

Ouch, sorry! I think I mean 'prove' not 'proove' in my comment above. I didn't think it looked right, but couldn't quite work out why until just now. So much for the linguist in me!

Maddie Grigg said...

I'd forgotten about nature tables. We used to have nature walks too, and we'd always have to turn round because the same child needed a wee, every time.

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