Thursday, March 26, 2015

Learning About Mammals

Our ECE gets some Goat Love.

Action shot...I get nibbled on the chin by a loveable goat baby!

Each child got a goat high-five when it was time to say goodbye.

One of the benefits of teaching at a rural school (and of living on a hobby farm) is that there are always so many creatures at hand to be brought in to the classroom. My principal once joked that she was going to have to start patting me down at the door because of my habit of bringing animals into the classroom. Chicks, ducklings, and baby bunnies are just the start of the list.

Children are naturally curious about living things, and I have always felt that modelling the gentle and compassionate treatment of animals while sparking the children's sense of connection with other living things is an essential component of what we teach in Kindergarten.

This morning a goat-farming, soap-making friend was gracious enough to bring her baby goats in for a visit! Before they arrived, we had a discussion about goats as mammals, in comparison with humans. With a few "leading" questions, the children were able to deduce from their previous knowledge that mammals:

  • have fur or hair
  • give birth to live babies
  • are warm-blooded
  • make milk to feed their babies
Many of the children have baby siblings and were able to relate to the notion that baby mammals nurse from their mothers. One of the children said, "Even YOU, Mrs. Pinkerton?" (they know I have a toddler) and they took it in stride that I also make milk to feed my baby! I also mentioned that many farm babies as well as human babies are bottle-fed. 

We discussed the uses of goats: for meat, for milk, and as pets. We talked about what can be made from goat milk. One of the children brought up the fact that there are also wild goats who can climb mountains. 

We were asked to create a "play structure" for the goats as it would encourage them to stay in one place. We had generated a list of ideas last week (one of which was that we should put the goats in buckets and pull them up into the loft using rope). We settled for some large cardboard pallets leaned on our upturned recycling box. 

The children did so well containing their excitement in order to be calm and quiet when the goats were with us! The little fur babies pranced from child to child, wagging their little tails, nibbling on ears and fingers, and trying to climb on everything and everyone. They were certainly adorable! 

When it came time to write in our journals, every child wrote about our visit from the baby goats. 

Tonight we'll be getting our piglets to be raised as meat. I suspect I may be bringing one (or two) of them in for a visit soon! I also have a tame chicken but my principal has asked me to draw the line at bringing our ponies to school. Too bad, isn't it? :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Have You Seen Birds?

Inquiry can be a funny thing. Like a flock of birds, it can start off in one direction but before you know where it might be going, it changes direction. Some of the birds go one way, while others go another way. It can be challenging to keep track of them all, but exciting to witness!

Our students had so many questions and conversations about birds. We always start our inquiries with some little activity or book to spark the children's interest, followed by co-creating an "I think I know" chart. We call it this because it allows the children to "change their thinking" if the knowledge they gather through the inquiry contradicts a preconception they may have had. It also allows us to get an idea of the children's background knowledge and previous experience with the topic we are exploring. 

Once we have an idea of the kinds of questions the children have (by creating an "I wonder" chart), we create a "map" for ourselves of ideas for discussions we might have, resources we can gather, and ways to link their explorations to the Kindergarten Document. This is an exciting task, revealing the vast possibilities presented by following the children's interests. We don't write anything in stone, because as I mentioned, the direction can change quickly (and often in ways that we can't anticipate!). 

A combination of books from our classroom, school, and community libraries ensures that the children have many resources to explore!

The books we gather inform much of our inquiry, and inspire the children to ask deeper questions. Themes of diversity, compassion, healing after loss, caring for the environment, and the connection between humans and animals flow through the rich literature we read aloud to our students, and we're continually amazed at the children's ability to grasp of deep topics.

Activating prior knowledge is a powerful tool before we read a rich text.

Soon, the exploration spills into other centres around the room, particularly the creative centres. Without prompting, the children create play dough birds complete with feathers, eggs in nests, and mama birds to sit on them. As they create, we circulate and discuss their work with them to learn more about their understanding of the topic of inquiry.

"Why do you think the mother sit on the eggs? How long do you think it takes for the eggs to hatch? Do you think the father bird help? Is the baby bird in the egg when the mother bird lays it, or does it grow?"
A key component of inquiry is that we do not GIVE answers to the children, but discuss questions with them and help them find information they need. The end result is not necessarily the RIGHT answer, but a deepening of their ability to ask questions about the world around them.

As the days and weeks pass, the children widen their exploration into dramatic play (by building nests with blocks and flying in search of food), science (by observing the birds that visit our feeders, studying our field guide, and enjoying non-fiction texts and videos), language arts (through read-alouds, poems, and fingerplays), and mathematics (keeping track of bird visitors on a tally chart, graphing types of birds we've seen, and learning about egg sizes). 

The word family list on the right arose spontaneously as the children noticed the rhyming words in this poem. They were very excited to think of lots of "est" words!

We investigated bird behaviour through the seasons when we read this beautifully illustrated fiction text while learning about how a bird-loving boy takes care of the wildlife in his backyard. We also enjoyed reading Riki's Science Journal as we read the story.

With the warm weather, we've observed the return of the Canada Geese, and are starting to hear a greater variety of birdsong! This is an exciting time of year to delve into the feathery world of birds!