When I was younger I was a very dedicated member of the Girl Guides Association, especially as my mum was the District Commissioner! I spent many happy hours on girl guide camps, camping out in large bell tents, making camp furniture with bits of wood and lashings and cooking on campfires. A highlight of the camp was always the sing along around the campfire at the end of the day. Songs such as ‘On top of Old Smokey’, ‘Gin Gan Guli’ and ‘My ship sailed from China’ would be sung with gusto as the fire crackled away in the middle. One of my favourite songs was ‘Land of the Silver Birch, home of the beaver’, always sung as a round towards the end of the evening in a round. Although the song is a traditional Canadian folk song, the birch is probably one of most recognisable trees in this country and, probably like many of you, we have many birch trees growing in our woods and school grounds.
In the Celtic Tree Calendar the birch, Beith in Celtic, represents the first lunar month (24th Dec – 20 Jan). It represents new beginnings, new ideas and opportunities. Its association with new beginnings makes the birch tree the perfect tree to focus on during Forest School and outdoor activities the beginning of 2015.
Our Top Birch Tree Facts
1. There are many different species of birch trees. Silver Birch, a native tree is probably the most common and the easiest species for children to recognise.2. A deciduous tree with distinctive white bark, heart shaped leaves and catkins. The Woodland Trust produce an excellent fact sheet about the silver birch on their website Nature’s Calendar.
3. Children love to attach names to trees. The birch tree is often referred to as the Lady of the Woods.
4. Birch bark is infused with a highly flammable resin and therefore makes outstanding tinder for firelighting. All our firelighting kits include a small pile of birch bark and our older children collect the bark whenever they see it! The twigs themselves are also very useful as kindling. Avoid stripping bark from the tree as it allows disease to enter.
5. The bark of birch trees is water resistant. The inside of the tree rots away and leaves the bark, hence why it easy to collect the bark for fire lighting and activities! The bark has been used through out history to make containers, maps and documents. The native American people used the bark to make canoes and wigwams.6. The wonderful red fungi, Fly Agaric often grows near birch trees. The birch bracket or razor strop fungi grows only on birch trees. This fungi can be used to sharpen razors, hence the name. In 1991 when ‘Otzi the Ice Man’ was found in Germany, his possessions included two birch baskets with birch fungus in. The story of Otzi would be a great focus for a Key Stage 2 enquiry based history topic on the Stone Age.
Our Top Birch Tree Activities
1. Make a witches broomstick using birch twigs. Birch twigs are still used to make besom brooms. In Russian myth, Baba Yaga lives deep in a birch forest and uses a broomstick made of birch twigs. Nature Detectives provides a great activity sheet ~ “perfect for young witches and wizards to fly around or play Quidditch”2. Silver birches have very deep cuts across their trunks and this, together with their silver colour makes them instantly recognisable. The story of Winabojo and the Birch Tree is a Native American tale about how the Silver Birch got the cuts on its trunk. The story provides a great focus for making bows and arrows.
3. ‘The Dancing Silver Birch’ is a delightful story about a young girl who dances around the silver birch. We are sure children would love dancing around the silver birches in your wood and making special treasure boxes to keep their ‘silver’ leaves safe.
4. Use birch bark to make stars. Use a piece of birch bark and cut out a star shape. Put a small hole in one point and then thread wool/ribbon through the hole. These can be hung for the trees in your wood. Let the children use their imagination, what other shapes/animals can they make?
5. Birch bark has traditionally been used to write on. Draw maps and write secret messages, using dragons blood ink!
6. Make mini boats and canoes from bark. See the brilliant download from Nature Detectives for ideas.
And finally, at the beginning of the Spring Term, when you and your class set your resolutions for the term, write your resolutions on heart shaped leaves and hang them from a birch tree in your woods or school grounds. Who knows the magic of the birch tree may help you achieve them.