Francesca Greenoak welcomes the publication of a teaching pack about plants. Plant life, usually a poor runner-up to furry animals, has achieved unusual prominence at present and Plants Across the Curriculum has arrived at just the right time to take advantage of this fortuitous publicity.
In fact, good educational materials on plants are long overdue and since the appointment of the percipient Professor Prance as director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, many educationists have been watching in a state of high anticipation for materials from its education department.
I am glad to say that this cross-curricular pack (aimed at children at key stages 2 and 3) justifies those expectations, both in terms of its content and organisation.
The main substance of the pack consists of eight wallets, each exploring a subject area through a series of photocopiable studentcards, worksheets and activities which explore plants in art, English, geography, history, maths, music, science and technology.
Some of the items refer specifically to Kew the comparison between the 19th-century Palm House and the modern Princess of Wales conservatory, or the story of the Marianne North gallery of plant painting for example but a good case could be made for regarding these as national rather than local treasures.
Most of the activities could be related to a local botanic garden where a school would be likely to get support and extension work relating specifically to its region. The English unit is slightly disappointing but it must be said that pupils have plenty of opportunity to explore English in the other subject areas.
One of the principal joys of this pack is that it is so far-ranging, fulfilling the generally modest demands of the national curriculum in an exceptionally exciting and imaginative way. Art is prompted by sculptures from natural materials by Andy Goldsworthy, and there is an inventive investigation of music made with plant materials.
The projects suggested involve an understanding of environmental and economic concerns. The maths, technology and art activities demand a close inspection and appreciation of the form and lifestyle of different plants.
One of the bugbears of cross-curricular activity especially when it has to conform to specific curriculum demands, is the difficulty of keeping a grip on organisation while at the same time promoting an environment for learning, wherein the children can naturally follow the ideas which stimulate their interest.
The highest praise must go to the teachers and educationists who together have made this package so simple to put into practice. Each subject is coded for ease of recognition, with cross referencing to other subject areas and to the photo-packs and posters and the sprightly introductory videotape which make up the rest of this pack. Although the subject matter is so wide-ranging, one is always certain of the subject and skill in view.
The pack is inexpensive for such overall high quality, making it well worth the investment even for schools which have given little attention to botany. It is ideal for teachers timid about approaching a subject possibly considered rather too specialised, because it offers so much support to those teaching it as well as the children learning.
It is encouraging to discover that Ghillean Prance considers it one of Kew's main objectives "to help children to understand the plant world" and develop a familiarity which will give them an understanding of the need for conservation.
This pack will open the minds of all who use it and bring that goal a little closer.