Science - Search high and low

15th March 2013 at 00:00
Children turn predator to hunt for camouflaged caterpillars

Bringing learning to life through purposeful outdoor activities is far more memorable than sitting in a classroom. Gardening outside is a great way for children to learn about habitats and food chains, growing healthy food and plant science. For them, the garden is an ever-evolving world of wonder inhabited by strange beasts, colourful flowers, tiny shoots, towering trees and strange sights, sounds and smells.

Reading a seed packet, counting out and sowing the seeds and then tending to a crop will inspire children of all abilities to understand and enjoy plants and nature, and learn where their food comes from. These experiences can then be used as a basis for many cross-curricular projects.

Interdependence and adaptation, for example, are key elements of key stage 2 science and the garden is the ideal arena in which to teach them. Ask students to study plants around the garden - can they spot any that are specially adapted? Why do some flowers give off a scent and why are they so vivid in colour? Then move on to wildlife by explaining how moths changed their colour to blend in with dirty tree bark during the Industrial Revolution. Minibeast hunts will excite all age groups and link well to The Very Hungry Caterpillar for younger children.

A lesson could be built around "caterpillar camouflage". Scatter coloured wool mixed with browns and greens around the school garden. Ask students to play the role of hungry birds hunting for food by swooping down on hidden caterpillars one at a time and sticking them on a board in the order they are found. You will find that the brightly coloured caterpillars are found first. Can the children explain why? By playing the role of predator, a child's understanding of survival and adaptation techniques seen in nature is enhanced.

Some teachers I work with do not feel confident about setting up their own school garden, but you do not need to be Alan Titchmarsh to make the best use of your outdoor space. I am one of a team of Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) advisers who work directly with schools, and we hold regular free workshops with teachers, covering gardening basics and offering ideas on how to teach outside. Already, more than 8,000 teachers have attended 600 workshops, helping us to get more than 3.5 million children learning in the garden.

Anne Gunning is an RHS regional schools adviser. For more information and ideas go to

What else?

Resources from TES partner Growing Schools encourage hands-on involvement with food, farming and gardening.


Find a selection of open-air activities in a range of subjects in the TES Outdoor Learning collection.


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