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!

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Teacher Tom March 5, 2010 at 02:05

There are many types of willows that grow around here as well. We already have plans to grow bamboo the use as a natural construction material. Maybe we need a little willow too!

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Tonya's Books March 5, 2010 at 02:34

I love those structures. I have never seen anything like that here in California. Thanks for sharing such a neat idea.

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Sophia March 6, 2010 at 21:08

We would LOVE to develop willow structures in our playgrounds but it is considered an environmental pest in Australia and we arn’t allowed to grow it. We are trying to find something that can be used in the same way that is native to Australia. Any one know of any alternitives?

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CreativeSTAR March 7, 2010 at 18:05

Hello Everyone

Thanks for your comments. I’m learning a lot here! Generally willow likes damp places like river banks, etc. So I’m fascinated that it’s a pest in Australia. However I bet there’s a native tree that would do instead.

We’re limited in Scotland – grape vine and sunflowers don’t like our cool climate so making dens from these plants doesn’t work as well.

Best wishes
Juliet

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peter.kyburz March 16, 2010 at 12:47

We (parents and kids) planted a big willow house this winter on the schoolground. If you want to see it “grow”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UNpbAZHj2k

Now we’re waiting for it to sprout… 🙂

Best regards

Peter

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CreativeSTAR March 16, 2010 at 21:30

This is a super video. Thanks for sending the link Peter. I’ll add it to my post!

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willowpool September 27, 2010 at 09:52

just come across this blog and thought that folks might like to know about our work.
We are Steve & Simone known as Willowpool Designs and have been working with schools to create willow features for many years! Some of the companies mentioned in the feature are direct copies of our work and have even used our images (apparently unwittingly) to promote themselves.
We have worked with willow for over 30 years and have created willow structures both in the UK and overseas. Many primary schools in the UK now have willow features. the new season starts in November.
checkout our website at http://www.willowpooldesigns.co.uk

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