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Pollinators - May The 4th Be With Them

We continue to work with localising the Sustainable Development Goals and showing how they can be part of people’s daily lives through engaging with local events and opportunities. So, on a sunny May weekend, we returned with our Seanchai-in-Residence, and CoDesRes artist, Sean O'Laoghaire, to the “May the 4th” festival, in Portmagee, Co.Kerry. Once again, our STEAM workshop was hosted by The Skelligs Experience Visitor Centre.

One of SDG 15's targets is: by 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services.

Unlike many of the other goals which have a target year of 2030, this goal, due to importance and urgency, has a target year of 2020. We decided that our theme for our 'May The 4th Be With Them' workshop would be pollinators and their importance for biodiversity. Our workshop was geared towards younger children (4-12), but younger and older children (and adults) were not excluded. We feel it is important to start early, in ways that children can understand and explore, supporting and encouraging them in continuing to build environmentally-aware citizens and generations of problem-solvers. If we are to meet the goals and have a chance of a resilient future, we need to be working together, in focused tangible ways.

The Iveragh Peninsula's landscape is dominated by the uplands of the MacGillacuddy Reeks and the native woodlands of the Killarney National Park, ' often considered Ireland’s rainforest' ( 2019). The climate is mild and with the moisture levels and the pure air quality, the conditions are ideal for mosses and lichens to flourish (ibid). Kerry has a wealth of biodiversity, with half the county designated in the Natura 2000, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. Yet one third of Ireland's bee species are threatened with extinction, due to a drastic reduction in the amount of food (flowers) and safe nesting sites in our landscapes.

Plant regeneration relies on different types of pollinators; wind, birds, insects, bees, butterfiles and bats. While pollinator decline jeopardises a balanced ecosystem, increasingly links are being made to food security, with pollination management becoming more prevalent due to monocultures and food requiring pollination, outweighing pollinators in some regions. With only a few weeks until National Biodiversity week, 18th - 26th May 2019, we decided to focus on animal pollinators, particularly insects; bees, butterflies / moths, beetles and flies.

Our team Seán O’Laoghaire - Artist, Dr Anita McKeown - Artist and Eleanor Turner  - Marine Biologist set about creating the flow of the workshop designed to explore the different types of pollinators and their importance in the ecosystem. With our focus decided, Seán created a beautiful story around Áine 's garden. After hearing the story, Eleanor Turner, Marine Biologist, explained to the children how pollinators interact with flowers to ensure that the pollen is transferred from the male to the female parts of the flower so that pollination can occur.

Eleanor then explained that the flower had different parts and like a puzzle needed to be connected, the pollinators connected them by taking pollen from one part of the flower and delivering it to another. She also explained how plants advertise with shape, colour and smells to attract the pollinators to do this job, with the pollinators getting food in exchange. We call this mutualism or a symbiotic relationship, but for small children it's enough to know that it's a fair exchange. Even very young children are taught and learn about fairness or 'give and take' and engaging on this level can be used to being to explain complex biological relationships in a way that shifts the understanding of an ecosystem and our part in it.

We then talked about the importance of helping pollinators and in exchange that they can help us with growing food. Before making our pollinators, Anita re-enforced Eleanor's points; including the different shapes of plants and the need for different shapes of pollinators, showing them some of the body shapes we had as a way of illustrating the importance of different types of pollinators. This moved into talking about colour and what materials were available and things to think about in making their pollinators.

After this introduction we were ready to create!

The children selected a body shape and then began decorating and adding features based on what they had heard in the introduction and remembered from Sean's story and the needs of Áine 's garden. We allowed them to express and explore their ideas using the available materials. Each individual connected with the information in different ways and this was expressed in their artwork, enabling them to have a personal learning experience.

Pollinators, May the 4th Portmagee, Kerry 2019

The Role of the Arts in Learning

CoDesRes is focussed on localising the SDGs, through STEAM place-based learning interventions. STEAM places value on the arts for their creative methodologies, ways of knowing the world and tangible modes of knowledge production (Mckeown, 2018). In addition, the arts can also disseminate STEM knowledge in a more accessible manner by ‘making connections between diverse ideas and provok[ing] unexpected conversations’ (Wellcome Trust, 2017, para 3). STEAM can also be adapted to suit any age, therefore it also has a valuable role within early learning.

Active learning in combination with creativity and personalised learning experiences enables children to make connections that build context and meaning. Art is a meaning-making process. Arts activities within active learning experiences stimulates childrens' imaginations, which research has shown (Wright, 2015; Narey, 2008; Thompson, 1995) develops flexibility and inventiveness, giving them more opportunities to explore creating and constructing meaning, while developing a range of other capabilities e.g. physical, emotional, and mental capabilities.

By linking the story of Áine 's garden and the need for biodiversity and the role of insect pollinators we were able to connect the children with the key aspects of biological adaptation required for pollination. They integrated the knowledge that was shared verbally by expressing this in the pollinators they made. Throughout the process we encouraged conversation about the pollinators they were making, which further embedded the knowledge, through the activity. Over the course of the two days, we had 63 children participate in the workshop.

We cannot definitively say if this process will connect them to the pollinators they may see in their back gardens or where they live, but there has been substantial research (Inwood, 2010; Soetaert, 1996; Dungey, 1989) on the arts facilitating a connection with nature. On its own, this approach will not address the decline of biodiversity, but as part CoDesRes's strategy to develop STEAM learning integrating art, design, ecology and storytelling, we hope to contribute to SDG 4 by developing, trialling and openly sharing approaches to education.

SDG 4 - Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

  • TARGET 4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development


Caddy in Campbell, J. 2011: Eco art education notes draft. Carbonpartnership, Tasman.

Dungey, J, 1989: Where arts, imagination and environment meet. In D. Uzzell (Ed.). Heritage interpretation Vol 1. The natural and built environment. Belhaven Press, London, 229–231.

Inwood, H. 2010: Shades of green: Growing environmentalism through art education. Art Education, Nov 2010, 33–38.

National Biodiversity Data Centre

Soetaert, R.; Top, L.; Eeckhout, B. 1996: Art and literature in environmental education: two research projects. Environmental Education Research, 2(1): 63–70.

Thompson, CM. (1995) The visual arts and early childhood learning

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