Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hide and Seek: Spotting Animals

As we continue our love of the great outdoors this summer, we wanted to draw your attention to helping children become nature observers. Be sure to point out the ways animals hide or camouflage themselves. Ask children to think and explain why this is important. Help them to see creatures in the grass, in the water, in fields, or even in the mud as they become keen observers and critical thinkers. 

We spotted this frog in the muddy water along a walk. When you see a frog in a place like this, a few probing questions can lead children to consider the wonderful ways of natural camouflage. You might ask, "Is it more difficult to see this frog in the muddy creek than in the green grass?" Listen and ask follow-up questions like, "How does blending into the creek help this frog?" 

When walking in a different habitat, you could spot an animal like this toad hiding in the grass and dried leaves. This yields a discussion about why certain habitats are more inviting for animals than others. Ask children questions like, "Why does this environment protect the toad more than grass that was all green would?" You may want to imagine the view of this toad from a treetop. Pose questions like, "What animal might try to eat this toad? How would its coloring in this habitat protect it?" These help children to think about scientific concepts. Hold 'grand conversations' and follow-up with children's responses. 

Take the opportunity to spot nature "at work." Then what may be scary to children, like this harmless snake, can become a normal and accepted topic for a discussion about the wonders of the environment. Children may be more likely to consider ideas like the snake's coloring and how this helps it, then be fearful of its presence.

These are just examples from our part of the world. What camouflage can be seen in animals where you live? These kinds of observations and prompts will encourage an appreciation for nature and will develop oral language along with encouraging critical thinking skills. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.G.03
Head Start -  XI.B.1

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Looking and Questioning When Outdoors

Walks anywhere can be fun for classrooms, summer camps, and families. When you have a chance to walk in a park or along a woodsy pathway, you can encourage thoughtfulness about nature with children. What may seem like a simple sight to you, can provoke age-appropriate critical thinking for children. For example, the stem of a dandelion, with an empty stalk and flower head can be the source of questions. "Why isn't this dandelion yellow anymore?  What happened to the seeds?"  These kinds of discussions can help children develop analytic thinking skills and to "think like a scientist." 

You may see a dandelion in bloom, one with its fuzzy head, and another with just a stem. This is a perfect scenario for discussion and questioning.
Stop to examine a tree on the ground. Is its trunk cracked? Is it uprooted? Pose questions like this to spark curiosity in children. Encourage them to make connections between a recent windstorm and the observations they make on a hike. Talk about what happens to animals that might depend on the tree. Did the squirrels 'scurry' off somewhere else? When we question like this, we are developing a sense of concern for nature. 

A walk on a sandy shore line or dirt road might yield animal tracks that can lead to more questions. "What do you think was here? What were they doing?" Asking children to imagine and make hypotheses based on these visuals helps raise curiosity about nature. 

Asking questions like, "What do you think made these tracks?" helps heighten curiosity about nature.
Walking along a sidewalk? Stop (at a safe distance) to look down at an anthill. Discuss the build-up of sand around the opening. Ask children to verbalize how this might have happened. You may see streams of ants busily going to and from the hill. Ask children to describe what is happening. Then encourage them to use interesting words (see the blog post titled Colorful Words) to connect language arts and science. 

Even an anthill, lodged between sidewalk cracks, can lead to important nature discussions.
You may even be lucky enough to see something like this: 
These kinds of discoveries can open a world of inquiry about animals and their habits. The child who was lucky enough to spy this, returned home full of questions about beavers. His family found several YouTube videos so that he could watch and then answer his own questions, based on the observations made from viewing the videos. 

Standards Alignment: 
NAEYC - 2.G.03.   
Head Start - XI.B.1.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Wonderful Wildflowers Provide Sequencing Lessons!

There are so many wonderful opportunities that nature gives us. A bonus is that not only do our children develop an appreciation for our Planet but all of this is free educational material! We recently took a close look at the wild environment around us and made key observations. While the plants may be different in your community, the idea is the same - help children to discover how nature sequences the blooming of wildflowers. 

These blooms like to hide. You need to know where to look to spot these tiny wildflowers.

In the northern forests and fields, one of the first flowers to bloom is the shy Mayflower or Arbutus. As soon as the snow melts, the blooms on this plant hide beneath the big leaves, close to the ground. Help children to discover the first wildflowers of spring in your area. 

Yellow Trout Lilies are "early risers" in the northern U.S. forests.

Subsequent excursions, will show you that soon other wildflowers will follow. In our area, we next spot Yellow Trout Lilies and the Buttercup. What blooms next in your area?

It is always exciting to spot a Lady-slipper! They are delicate!

The appearance of these flowers means we should keep our eyes peeled for the elusive Lady-slipper wildflower. This gem can be difficult to find, but you will be rewarded if you know when to look. Watch for the blooming of the more common wildflowers for your signal to search for the Lady-slipper. Help children to discover which flowers mean that others will also be in bloom.

Then, share the tale of this unique wildflower by reading the book, The Legend of the Lady's Slipper by Kathy-jo Wargin. This connection helps your budding botanists to appreciate the long history of wildflowers and the stories told by generations. Check for books, legends, and tales about wildflowers in your area!

As the summer continues, look for other plants that bloom. Take photos and sequence these pictures to show the story of the growing season through wildflowers. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.G.03.  
Head Start - XI.B.1.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Eco-Systems for Pre-Schoolers

How can we teach our young children to appreciate and respect the way in which ecosystems work?  One of the fun and meaningful ways we found is a fish tank that shows the interdependence of plants and fish. Take a look at this child's betta tank - 

This was not showing the child that he needed to take care of a pet. But changing the water and having it at the right balance was beyond the child's developmental level. The solution? We heard about fish tanks that demonstrate the interaction of nature. 

The waste created by the betta in the tank is pumped into the plant section. This waste helps the plants to grow and thrive. What a wonderful way to show children that in nature everything has a place - even waste!  Since the waste is removed from the water, it is clean and clear, making the water a perfect habitat for the betta.  What's even better is the plants grow fast as they love the fish "food" that is recycled to them. Children have a fish that lives in a healthy environment, a garden, and a wonderful example of how an ecosystem works! 

Soon the plants will sprout. They are herbs and can be used in cooking. What an ecosystem where everyone and everything benefits!

Standards Alignment:  
NAEYC - 2.G.03.  
Head Start - XI.B.1.