Vampires? Botany and Ecology! Oh my!

“Could it be… VAMPIRES?!” says Julia, 12, soggy garlic bulb in hand, eyes widening. “Oh errr, my heart is thumping now” says Francis Smith, the architect turned horticultural expert behind Studio Cultivate.

That’s the small London based outfit getting young people learning about, fascinated by and understanding their part in nature. How? A carefully crafted series of action filled workshops for festivals and events, schools, teachers, nurseries and homeschool settings, where nature, growing and compelling storytelling is front and centre.

Image of child using a pipette as part of Studio Cultivate's workshop at the London National Park City anniversary

Like the one held at London National Park City’s anniversary celebration at the In a Field By a Bridge festival, where Francis led transfixed visitors into Victorian England to discover the insect culprits behind British superstition and recreate their own plant powered remedies concocted to repel them.

“Thoroughly enjoyed it and now we’re going home to rub antipest all over her sister” Julia’s grandmother says triumphantly. They leave the workshop, vampiric fears quashed, an explosion of thoroughly investigated oils, plant parts, flasks, pipettes and pestles in their wake and a vial of wildlife-friendly mosquito repellent in hand.

You can find a video from the session on the Studio Cultivate YouTube channel.

Child watering vegetables as part of a Studio Cultivate kindergarden programme

Engineered differently by age and space, time spent with Studio Cultivate isn’t uniform. It’s programs, Kindergarden and Meristems are all about storytelling, celebrating local ecology and garden creation where teams of London’s two year olds+ are taught to grow; often leaving a workshop with seed-filled pots and hopes of home-grown tomatoes in tow. Pupils develop edible gardens with Studio Cultivate in their nursery or school too, alongside nature-based workshops with activities adapted to each season.

One week, the mini naturalists are building habitats for garden superheroes accompanied by stories; slug slurping ground beetles and aphid munching lacewings readying for hibernation are favourites! Another week, earthworms to the eyeballs, magnifying glasses at the ready; pupils examine soil and the peculiar ways of its important inhabitants. Next it’s harvest time! Queue theatrical transformation of pupils into chefs, slicing, dicing and devouring nursery grown plants, remodelled into carrot sushi. Delicious and nutritious!

Children with home grown rhubarb as part of a Studio Cultivate programme

Studio Cultivate’s multisensory botanical immersion goes deeper with its PlayGreen and Natural Curriculum provision, designed for older children. Both boast cross country and cross curricular accolades. Play Green’s event based workshops have travelled as far as Geneva, while the Natural Curriculum has been digitised to literally be followable by families, educators, and almost anyone, from almost anywhere. Both centre nature and storytelling while weaving in history, science and many more subjects.

Getting young people engaged with the natural world regardless of access to nature-rich spaces has been a long time goal for Francis and his team. Inspiring his newest programme, the Natural Curriculum  that was developed together with his brother and former primary school teacher, Hugo Smith, to be run independently.

Children learn immersed in a series of exciting cross curricular adventures, as protagonists within stories set in a factual timeline, that have been digitised into text and audiobook format. Navigating nature is central to these stories, which have been designed to be fully lesson planned so families and educators can follow regardless of access to nature. ‘Bulbs, Blood and Bites,’ the workshop enthusiastically attended by Julia and grandmother, is a lesson chapter from the Natural Curriculum. 

Heralded as the ‘holy grail in cross-curricular education’ for its methods, Studio Cultivate’s nature based approach to learning is exciting. Growing, tasting, crafts, theatre, stories, ambitious new vocabulary and engaging delivery are among the many key features of their work. The x-factor? The union of these elements, geared to children while making sure to involve their adults too. Teachers and parents can expect to hear about the work they do.

Excited workshop attendees are followed by activity reports sent weekly. So when little Charlie returns boasting of escapades as a giant bee, singing “head, thorax, abdomen” on repeat in the tune of better known ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes,’ parents and educators can join in the fun. Meanwhile adults can literally have and follow the programme themselves, in the case of its provision for older years. Amid the declining state of nature, an ever-strained education system and need for change, there’s so much potential here! 

Join Studio Cultivate’s newsletter HERE for oodles of family friendly nature activities, access to their programs and adult training CPD day courses as well as updates on their whereabouts and social channels.

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