The Butterfly Inquiry

DSC09257

Have you ever had live creatures in your classroom? There is something quite magical about having a living, breathing part of nature in the classroom to inspire some deep thinking. Beyond the obvious scientific connections, having live creatures in the classroom also provides opportunities for social development around respect, responsibility, care-giving, and self-regulation. Over the years I’ve had many insects, amphibians, and animals come through my door but butterflies are definitely my favourite. The whole process of watching and waiting for metamorphosis to occur provides endless opportunities for observations, predictions, hypotheses, and of course, lots of excitement!

This inquiry project turned out to be quite all-encompassing and there is a lot I want to share here. This post will be mainly photo based, with some captions for the photos to describe what we were doing. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars from Boreal Science.

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars (Painted Lady Butterflies) from Boreal Science.

DSC03339

E.A. thought our caterpillars should have names – here, she made name tags for two: “Zigzag” and “Stripey.”

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, a student records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, F.S. records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

DSC03319

The children take time to record their observations of the caterpillars in their science notebooks.

A closer look at the science notebook.

A closer look at the science notebook.

 

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle's famous story.

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle’s famous story.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

We found this idea on Pinterest - recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

We found this idea on Pinterest – recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

 

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, "I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs."

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, “I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs.”

 

One of our main questions was "how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?" This led us to think about how to create a  habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and looked for their materials in our outdoor classroom.

One of our main questions was “how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?” This led us to think about how to create a habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and gathered their materials in our outdoor classroom.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children's work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but of our own learning and understanding.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children’s work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but the growth and change of our own learning and understanding.

More documentation.

More documentation.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bird Feeder Project

DSC02317

Here in Toronto this year we have been having an exceptionally cold and snowy winter! Despite the weather, some of our feathered friends have remained in our outdoor classroom. One day when we were outside, some children began to wonder about the birds – weren’t they cold? How were they finding food under all this snow?

DSC02413

After reading Ricki’s Birdhouse by Monica Wellington, a book about a boy who constructs a birdhouse for the birds in his yard and proceeds to feed the birds throughout the year, the children were interested in making their own bird feeders for the birds in our outdoor classroom. We set up a provocation at the science table including planning sheets, our Ricki’s Birdhouse story, and iPads. Using the iPads, we googled “homemade bird feeder” images and the children looked for designs that appealed to them. Then they set about creating their plans. We encouraged the children to label their plans with the materials we would need to build them.

DSC02228

DSC02193

DSC02202

After giving the children ample time for the planning process, we gathered up the materials the children requested for their bird feeders. I sent a letter home asking the parents to send in any materials they may have at home to help us with our project. Then we set up our bird feeder making centre! For the most part, the children really stuck to their original designs when making their bird feeders. Other children who weren’t initially interested in making their own plans stopped by and got inspired by their classmates’ projects. The children were really in charge of this activity from start to finish, and were so proud of the feeders they made!

DSC02260

DSC02314

At the end of the week, we took our feeders outside to hang up in the courtyard. The children were beyond excited to share their creations with the birds. It felt like a bird feeder hanging party!

hanging

Update: After the weekend, we took the children outside to see if there were any clues that the birds had enjoyed the birdseed. We had had another dose of snow, so the children noticed that some of the materials we used did not hold up in the extreme winter conditions.

E.A.: The bird feeders made of Kleenex boxes and toilet rolls with honey stayed up.
F.S.: The snow covered the paper plates and they fell down.
A.C.: The tissue boxes and the buckets are good to make feeders because they stayed up.
J.M.: The apples stayed up too and some of the food was missing.

When talking about whether or not the birds enjoyed the feeders:

M.F.: The bird seed is gone!
B.L.: That’s because the snow is covering the seeds. I can see it if I dig down.
H.K.: I think the birds look fatter!

Squirrel Nests…a Nature Walk Adventure

DSC01896

A fabulous resource for talking about nature with young children is Discovering Nature With Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth. These authors have really thought about all aspects of exploring nature with young children and have presented their ideas in a practical and useful guide. Many of the ideas for this experience I borrowed from this resource.

After our bird nest explorations the children were beginning to talk about other animals that live in nests. Since all the leaves had finally fallen from the trees in our neighbourhood, more nests had become visible. I had a book about squirrel nests, and many children said that they had spotted some squirrel nests in the trees on their way to school. I thought that this could be a good focus for our nature walk.

In order to prepare the children for our nature walk goal, we looked again at our squirrel nest book and found some pictures of squirrel nests online. We asked those children who had said they had seen squirrel nests already to give us some pointers on where we should look. Here were some of their suggestions, which I recorded on the SmartBoard.:

“Look in the tree branches.”

“You have to look up!”

“Look for a big nest. Bigger than a bird’s nest.”

“Look for a clump of sticks and leaves and mud.”

To build excitement for our squirrel nest hunt, I also provided the children with materials to make ‘binoculars’ (of the paper tube variety…). Small details like this can really help build excitement and help children focus on the goal at hand. I could tell my students felt like professional science explorers with their handmade binoculars in hand.

binoculars

On the walk we found so many squirrel nests! The children were busy running from tree to tree, shouting and pointing upwards. The highlight of the walk was the tree we found with not one, but 5 nests, which one of my students referred to as a “squirrel apartment building.” The noisy excitement was only quelled when we happened to spot a grey squirrel on the lawn nearby. The children immediately understood that we needed to keep quiet and calm in order to see what the squirrel was up to. We watched as the squirrel scrambled into a pine tree and looked down on us. We wondered what he was thinking about. In our follow up discussion the next day, our brief encounter with the squirrel produced a lot of questions and predictions from the students:

A.M.: I wonder why the squirrel ran away.

Y.T: I wonder why the squirrel was watching us.

J.K: Maybe the squirrel thought we might put him in a cage.

J.M.: I think the squirrel ran away because he thought we were going to eat him.

F.S.: I wonder why squirrels are afraid of people.

Some other questions that arose were:

I wonder why squirrel nests are bigger than birds’ nests.

I wonder how many squirrels live in one nest.

I wonder if squirrels have acorns in their nests.

I wonder how squirrels know how to make nests.

As a follow up to our nature walk, we created a provocation at the science table that asked the children to make a nest for our little squirrels. Again, it was another way for children to ask questions, demonstrate what they learned from our discoveries, and connect more deeply with the topic.

DSC01972

DSC01970

The Colours of Fall Inquiry

Image

In October we went on our first nature walk of the school year. In the weeks leading up to our walk, many children had begun to notice the changes that were happening outside. Leaves were being brought in to school, the children were wearing warmer jackets, and our special Maple tree out front had started to turn red.

Before our walk, the children were given a job to do. They were asked to look for evidence of the colours of fall. While we were outside we took pictures and collected samples of the children’s discoveries. The next day, we put all our leaves, pine needles, maple seeds, and pine cones in the middle of the carpet and talked about the colours we noticed. We decided to sort our items by colour to make it easier to see what we had found. The children identified the colour piles we would need and we placed coloured construction paper mats in brown, red, green, orange, and yellow down on the floor. Then we sorted! Each student was given an opportunity to sort some leaves. It was quite interesting to see how the leaves were debated amongst the group. Here is a conversation that arose during the process:

S: “I’m not sure about this leaf. Is it red?”


[some children say no, others say yes]


J: “Put it on the red mat and see.”


S: “It doesn’t look like the other red leaves”


Ms McD: “What does it mean when we say something is red? Is there one kind of red?”


[the class thinks there is one kind of red]


J: “Turn it over. The back is red. The front is just dark. It’s still red.”


[some children are satisfied with this]


W: Yes, there is more than one kind of red. There’s red and dark red.


E: And light red too.

The children were debating each leaf and from those debates were emerging concepts about colour and categorization. We decided to save our sorted colour piles by gluing our artifacts in place and pursue the children’s thinking further by creating a colour provocation at the Art Studio. Here is what our colour provocation looked like:

Image

At this centre we placed our colour-sorted leaves, photos from our nature walk, paint chips from the hardware store, and paint for mixing. The children were encouraged to look at the objects on the table and create their own special fall colour. After mixing, the children were asked about their process: What colour did you make? What name might you give your colour? How did you make it? Where might you see this colour outside?

Image  Image

When it came to naming their colour creations, the children were quite inspired by the variety of names we read off the hardware store paint chips – names like “brilliant sun,” and “orange fiesta.” These descriptions helped the children come up with their own unique names such as, “swamp green” (J.M.), “Dark, dark, orange corn” (J.K.), “twirly brown” (W.W.), “dark super purple” (A.F.) and “jewel pink” (A.A). An important part of this project was documenting it. We decided to place the children’s paint samples (which they painted on small canvasses) along with their colour names and descriptions on the wall ‘gallery style’. We included in our documentation all of the artifacts and photographs that gave us inspiration for the project. The children love to look at the work they created. They particularly enjoy seeing the beautiful range of colours their classmates created. We can definitely feel that the idea of colour will be something we will likely revisit throughout the year.

Image

Has your class embarked on a colour inquiry? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Learning in the Outdoor Classroom

Image

It was a frosty 10 degrees on Monday morning and our schedule for the day included time in the outdoor classroom first period. I was a bit worried that the children would not be enthused about spending time in the chilly yard. For today’s lesson, I put together a special bin of magnifying glasses, mini clipboards, sticky notes and paper, crayons, and our class iPad. Before heading outside, I informed the children that today I had a question for them: “What do you notice in our Outdoor Classroom?” I showed them our special bin of tools for helping them with their noticing. Hands shot up when I asked who might require a magnifying glass. I distributed the materials to the students and we headed outdoors. (*I should mention that I only had about 6 magnifying glasses and 4 clipboards. I had enough paper and crayons for the whole class. In my experience, limiting materials encourages turn taking and sharing).

Image

Any worries I had about the children not being excited to be outdoors disappeared the minute we got outside. The children spread out all over the yard, crouching under bushes, turning over logs, and digging in the soil. Immediately they started recording their thinking and noticing on sticky notes and paper. Some children used the sticky notes to label what they found – placing them on top of flowers and rocks and mushrooms.

Image

Image

Image

When the period was done, we gathered up our materials and headed inside for a sharing circle. Once again I reiterated today’s question: “What did you notice in the Outdoor Classroom?” Seeing as it is only the beginning of the year, I was surprised by the children’s ability to listen to each other’s findings and ask questions. They were truly interested to see and hear about what their classmates discovered. The discussion gradually began to focus on a handful of worms that a group of boys had collected and brought inside with them. We wrapped up our sharing time by deciding as a class that our worms needed further investigation at our classroom Science and Nature Centre. Stay tuned for the interesting discoveries that emerged from our extended worm exploration indoors!

Image

Does your school have an area for outdoor exploration? How do you use the outdoor environment to enhance your Kindergarten program?

Reflections and preparations…

The summer break always brings with it a sense of rest and renewal. One of the things I like to do over the summer is reflect on where I am in my teaching practice by asking myself some of the following questions:
What are some things I was successful at last year?
In what area(s) did I have the most growth? How did I implement changes successfully?
What do I think my students will take away from our learning together? What do I want them to remember?
In what areas do I still need to grow? How am I going to get my practice where I want it to be in these areas?

I am already thinking about changes I want to make come September and have started reading some new resources to help me prepare for my new learning. After teaching FDK in a shared space I will finally be teaching in my own classroom and am excited about the changes and opportunities this will provide.

What are some of the questions you are thinking about over the break?