We had a lovely sunny and warm day today! Our warmer weather day brought us opportunities to easily play in a variety of spaces, and to teach some basic skills and concepts to children. The warmer weather makes it easier for us to find insects and other invertebrates, which was an opportunity for the teachers to share some basic life science concepts. We also played in multiple spots where spaces could be tight children had to learn some basic skills of expressing their own wants and needs, understanding others wants and needs, negotiating conflicts, solving problems.
The teachers want children to be able to talk about what they want during their play, and understand the needs and wants of other children. When we are all playing in the same space, this can be difficult and give us many opportunities to do those other two important skills mentioned earlier- negotiate conflicts and solve problems. It is important for us to remember that young children do not always have the words to express their needs or wants, and that our job as teachers is to recognize when direct instruction on how to develop this skill is needed. Today, Sammy, Wendell and Felix were playing in a tight space under some fallen tree limbs. They had carved out 3 rooms and were busy at work inside this hideout. A complex game was developing among them, but they were also having to negotiate being almost on top of one another and feeling frustrated when on child got in the way of another child. Cristian noticed the play and crawled over into the space, wanting to join. A crowded space got even more crowded and the first thing the boys said was that they only had 3 rooms, so there was not space for Cristian. This was an opportunity for the teachers to help the children express their own wants and needs, understand another child’s wants and needs, and solve a problem! Amy decided that this problem was not one the children were ready to solve on their own, so she commented that it looked like their play area was very crowded, so it would be hard for four people to fit. But it also looked like Cristian thought they were playing a cool game and just wanted to know more. She wondered if there was a way to make the play area bigger, so they could get the more space that they really needed and Cristian could get what he wanted- a place to check out their cool game. The boys were not sure, and explained to Amy that there were only 3 spots. So, Amy tried a different observation. She mentioned that at her house there were only two bedrooms, but she needed a third bedroom for when more people came to live with her. So- they made a third room on the house (we turned a small office into a small guest room). She wondered if they could build more rooms on their space to give everyone more more places to play, which is what they wanted from the beginning. The boys agreed that building a new room was acceptable, and started to find sticks and a place to make the new addition. Amy helped them find the sticks they were looking for, and they began a new type of play that required them to figure out just how to make an addition to their “house”.
The warmer weather reminded Amy of a continuous theme at Forest Kindergarten: bugs. We have several children that love to find bugs, and have learned to turn over rocks and logs or search under leaves for bugs and other invertebrates. An important thing Amy learned from reading research in environmental education is that solely imparting knowledge does not lead to children or adults who actively choose to engage in environmental behaviors. Instead, directly interacting with nature and having a mentor that helps you wonder about nature leads to people that behave in pro-environmental ways. This is one major reason that the teachers at Forest Kindergarten do not give children a worksheet to color about the life cycle of an insect or plan a circle time where they show kids pictures of insects and tell kids all about how insects have 3 body parts, six legs, etc. Instead, we allow the cognitive learning about insects to emerge from our experience in the forest and build children’s understanding of concepts about insects by asking them open-ended questions when we encounter a bug. Amy has kept track of how interested we are in insects, and how several children always look for them and enjoy touching and holding them. They have different questions about how they live and what they do, and we discuss those. Today, Amy also brought out a book we had already read before to engage the children on the topic of insects and gauge what they remembered and where their interests in insects were heading. We read A Mealworm’s Life, by John Himmelman. (John Himmelman has a very lovely, simple series of natural science books for young children that Amy has found are beloved by children! She has been reading her daughter the books since she was an infant, and they are some of the most requested books we read at bedtime these days!). The vivid illustrations and simple text capture children’s attention, and provide many opportunities for children to ask questions about insects and wonder about their life cycle. While reading, we wondered if we could find a mealworm. We wondered why the mealworm sought a warm place in winter, and why it became a pupa. We wondered if other insects became pupa- and some children new about how caterpillars make cocoons or chrysalises (the children knew these words) and then become butterflies. The next time we find a mealworm, we may wonder about what it is doing in its lifecycle. Do we think it is looking for food? What do we think it might be eating? Is it going to become a pupa? Will this mealworm become a beetle like the one in our book? How could we find out? As the weather works its way towards spring, we will probably find more mealworms and other insects and invertebrates to wonder about and observe, and we will continue to help the children develop their cognitive knowledge of these animals through active engagement and wondering questions!
Books we read:
A Mealworm’s Life, by John Himmelman.
Daydreamers: A Journey of Imagination, by Emily Winfield Martin
Use Your Words: How Teacher Talk Helps Children Learn, by Carol Garhart Mooney
Although this book is geared to early childhood teachers, Amy has found it invaluable as a parent. She also used it as a reference for much of this blog, since many of the things she saw today at Forest Kindergarten are outlined in the book. It is simply written and gives excellent guidelines on everything from giving directions clearly to ways to correct behavior and discipline children that are developmentally appropriate.