Willow Projects

One of the projects I love doing with children is creating living willow projects in their school grounds.  It's a great activity during the winter months, when cold and rainy days often enforce "wet playtime" - for which read, staying indoors during breaks. In our experience, children are happy to be out and about in any weather, providing they are suitably clothed....and they love to create something they've identified a need for and designed, adapting on the way if necessary.

Living willow domes, tunnels, wig-wams, and fedges provide great opportunities for collaborative work, maths, design and technology and problem solving, as well as wonderful opportunities to learn about gardening techniques and the life cycle of plants. The inherent pride that children feel in having designed and constructed such a structure is evident in their continued careful maintenance.

In this project, with children from year 5 and year 6 we started by measuring out the circle for the dome, and parallel lines for the tunnel. We measured the spacings for the willow holes accurately and worked out how many willow withies we would need of each colour variety. We divided jobs between making the holes with stakes and mallets, and planting and digging in.

We worked in small groups of 8 to dig and plant the willow supports, bent them over and tied them in: carefully working out the height  and devising ways of making sure it was level.

We used ash poles to provide the main structure...If we had 6 poles within the circle where should they need to be placed if they are to be spaced evenly? The children learned to tie knots and to do lashings in order to stop the support structure from springing open.

We adapted the design to incorporate a few windows of different shapes, to let the sun in, to spy on others. We decided to make the windows at different heights so even the small children could see out of them, and so we wove window frames.

Schola Foris provided seating logs and woodchips for the interior.

We incorporated a variety of coloured willow so that the tunnel would have a different appearance to the main dome. Years 5 and 6 will have a perfect living outdoor chill out area/ classroom, that they built themselves.

Our final team from the 2 day project enjoy a well earned rest after all their hard labours and admire our willow weaving. Our structure was tested to the hilt over the next week, with very high winds but the children's work was more than match. New shoots are appearing and they children will  continue to photograph the growth throughout the season, cutting back when necessary according to the "after-care" programme we gave them.

And nursery benefited from the left overs - with a wig-wam den in white, yellow and purple willow!

Our living willow outdoor play spaces provide endless opportunities for years of play and exploration. If you would like to know more about building a willow dome in your school, please contact us. These projects are best completed between December and the end of February, with some leaf evident during the first season, so that children can see , quite quickly,the fruit of their labours.

If as a school you have an eco garden, structures can be interplanted with climbing fruits and vegetable plants such as peas and beans as well as native climbing plants that introduce beautiful smells as well as encouraging butterflies.

1 comment:

  1. That is gorgeous Alex, & I bet they take such pride in it. I know when ours first sprouted the parents were amazed, they hadn't realised they were 'real'!! Kierna