This week, we have a guest writer, Clare Revera. She is a consultant and trainer who co-runs Out to Learn Willow with graphic designer, Mel Bastier. Their company specialises in training adults and children in the traditional craft of willow weaving, using dried and living willow. Clare and Mel design and build beautiful structures and sculptures to enhance school grounds, gardens and community areas, such as this:
So why does every school need willow structures? Clare has summarised her reasons below. But do visit the Out to Learn Willow website for more information.
Why do schools need willow structures?
Benefits for Wildlife
Willow is a native British plant which has a wide range of benefits. As a habitat it is superb for wildlife sustaining over 200 different types of insect . This means your willow structure will be a magnet for birds. It is also one of the best carbon capturing native trees we have in the UK.
Benefits for children
Willow weaving is an ancient traditional rural craft which must be preserved. If the children are fully involved in the construction of your structure then they have the opportunity to learn the rudiments of the craft such as using willow to make patterns and learning weaving strokes which are strong and structural. Many schools who work with us become hooked and also either run follow up days for pupils to learn further basketry skills or send teachers on one of our courses such as Basketry for Teachers or What to do with your Willow.
Willow is a very forgiving and flexible (in both senses of the word) material for children to work with. Willow weaving is a completely kinaesthetic learning experience. You simply have to do it to learn it. Many children who don’t achieve at much else are extremely adept when working outdoors using practical skills. It is marvellous to see these children gaining success. And the benefits of working outdoors for children – freedom, space, fresh air, exercise, motivation, enthusiasm, learning to respect the environment, practical skill development…to name a few.
Encourages free play outdoors
Children who are involved in the process of construction are also more likely to use the structure – In the school where I taught, the willow dome at the school was used as a bomb shelter, an igloo, a woodland princesses palace and a bird hide, to name a very few, in freely chosen play. And that was just in one week! These structures are great for developing imagination!
A place for shade and shelter
In the summer willow structures provide shady areas to sit and relax especially if children are provided with something to sit/lie on e.g. portable seating mats.
Developing environmental stewardship
Structures also need maintaining on an annual basis and provide an interesting task for members of eco groups and gardening clubs.
Benefits to teachers
We have found the most fantastic enthusiasm and excitement amongst teachers for working with willow and have now trained over 400 in various aspects of willow weaving. Willow weaving is incredibly therapeutic, just what you need after the bustle of the classroom. Many schools locally have now planted beautifully coloured basketry willow beds in their schools so that they have an entirely self sustaining and cheap resource which just keeps on producing year after year. And the benefits of working outdoors for teachers – freedom, space, fresh air, exercise, motivation, enthusiasm, learning to respect the environment, practical skill development.
Benefits to your school
Willow structures are extremely beautiful to look at. They enhance outdoor areas. Your school grounds send important messages to both pupils and parents. It is probably the first place visitors see – your shop window. School grounds are just as important as the inside of the school and deserve as much care and thought and time.
Many thanks to Clare for her thoughts and beautiful photographs. I can’t wait to get planting!
Earlier this year, Kathleen Bagot published her doctorate about the impact of nature inspired playgrounds. She established a clear correlation between the amount of trees, shrubs and nature in a school ground and the positive impact on attainment in literacy and maths. Her study involved working with 500 children in 14 primary schools in Melbourne, Australia. Having willow structures and growing willow is one way of facilitating this link in your own setting.
Scottish willow workers Clare and Mel are based in South Wales. For Scottish people, help is at hand. I put a call out to the Grounds for Learning Network of School Grounds Professionals who suggested the following people and organisations:
- The Forth Environment Link website has a list of suppliers and Di Blackmore who works for the FEL can also assist
- Have a look on the Willow Scotland website
- Karin Chipulina, based in East Lothian and Edinburgh, who is also an artist and Forest School Leader. She is highly experienced and always works with children, staff and parents to build the structures.
- Alain Kane, based in Larkhall
- Gus Egan of Earth Calling, based in Edinburgh
- Kate Sankey who runs lots of courses near Stirling
- Andrew Saunders who lives in Insch, Aberdeenshire, tel: 01464 841358
- David Powell is an artist based in Girvan, South Ayrshire who builds outdoor classrooms out of living willow and works with school children. Tel: 01465 715621
- Ian Paterson, who is a ranger with Highland Council has done a lot of willow work with schools. Tel: 01549 402638
Finally, thank you to Peter Kyburz who sent in the link to his willow dome structure planted in a school in Switzerland. The YouTube video is short, sweet and a lovely souvenir of the planting event!