Moving into June, we said, “goodbye” to our worms and said, “hello” to our Painted Lady caterpillars! The entire kindergarten division ordered these ahead of time so we knew they were coming. However, since we had studied our worms so closely , had the inquiry steps almost down pat, and were always full of wonders, we were more than ready for our next study. Having caterpillars also inspired us to broaden the scope of our inquiry from one exclusively focused on worms to one that included the entire subject of insects and creepy-crawlies.
When we received our caterpillars, Madison gently placed them into their new temporary home (a laundry hamper with mesh sides). She showed us the mushy food that we needed to put in the hamper so that the caterpillars could get big and strong enough to climb up branches or the sides of the hamper, attach themselves to something, and form chrysalises.
The caterpillars didn’t lend themselves to as much of an interactive study as the worms did since they needed to be left alone inside of their mesh hamper. However, they taught the children the art of careful observation and patience.
We set our new friends up where our worms used to live. This became our little observatory. Every day the children would come in and check to see how the caterpillars were doing and if any of the caterpillars had formed chrysalises. We made a predictions graph to guess when we thought our caterpillars would form chrysalises and later on, we made another graph to show our predictions of when we thought they would emerge as butterflies.
Investigating, Exploring, Wondering
Students enjoyed sitting here and recording their observations or predictions of our soon-to-be butterflies. They flipped through books and looked and photos of what painted lady butterflies looked like and imagined how ours would look.
As always, creative expression of learning was a popular activity for the children. They loved looking through books and watching videos about butterflies and other mini-beasts and then drawing or painting what they saw. Making their thinking visible in this manner, seemed to really help solidify their understandings and enhance their knowledge.
Through stories and non-fiction books, children learned about different types of caterpillars and the differences between them. They found out which caterpillars turned into moths and which ones turned into butterflies. They got straight to work every day to show us what they had learned.
We supplied the children with many opportunities to look at pictures of different butterflies. We noted the different shapes and sizes of wings as well as the different colour patterns on them.
The woolly bear caterpillar became a quick favourite of the children after reading “The Secret Life of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar” by Laurence Pringle.
Just as we did with the worms, we discussed and learned the main parts of the caterpillar and of all insects. We found out that all insects have a head, thorax and abdomen and if a creature didn’t have those parts, it wasn’t considered an insect (e.g., worms, spiders, etc.).
In the above example, you can also see a drawing made by one student who wanted to inform us that she had spotted caterpillars and butterflies when she went for a walk on the weekend. Many students shared similar stories of the insects, worms and other creepy-crawlies they found when not at school. Sharing stories like this is an easy and effective way to bring the home and community environment to school learning and to bring school learning to the home and community environment.
To prepare for the “birth” of our butterflies, we learned that like worms, butterflies also have a proboscis (see diagram above). The difference is that on a butterfly, the proboscis is very long and curls up when not in use.
One day, the children were excited to find that a caterpillar had formed a chrysalis! It was a matter of a short few days before all of the other caterpillars had also formed their own chrysalises. We kept track of how many chrysalises we had by counting them every day.
Once the chrysalises had been formed, the children could barely contain their excitement. They drew pictures and constructed models of how they imagined the painted lady butterflies would look based on the books they had been reading.
One day, a few children spontaneously began building a model using Lego. They explained that it was a butterfly conservatory. Each piece was carefully placed to create a meaningful element to their model and they could describe all of the parts. It really blew me away and reminded me of the many unique languages of the early learner.
Check out the finished product! This became quite the intricate piece and showed deep understanding of all we had been teaching and learning.
As we waited for our butterflies, we began to study other insects. One of our Littles came in one day super excited and exclaiming that she had come up with the perfect sign idea for our classroom door: “Welcome to the bug shack!”. We thought it was pretty much the sweetest thing ever and allowed her to get straight to work at bringing her idea to life.
Children used tree blocks and insect figurines to build habitats and homes for insects. You can see a lot of thought in the design of some of these structures. For example, the butterflies were normally put at the tops of structures and the children built little contained areas for the insects that like to crawl on the ground and rest in spots that are protected from predators.
I loved listening to the children’s descriptions of their creations. They could explain all of the parts of their design and the functions for each.
Of course, we had to make insect gak for the kids to experience. They loved creating homes for the different insects and many children began wrapping the caterpillars up in the gak, explaining that they were in their chrysalises. Some children made webs for the spiders and showed us how flies and other insects got stuck in the webs. They also loved pressing the different insects into the gak and noticing the kinds of imprints they would leave behind.
We also used these insect figurines in other ways. For example, the children sorted them by colour, by creature name (i.e., spiders, caterpillars, butterflies, grasshoppers, etc.), and separated the insects from the non-insects (spiders, scorpions, centipedes). Most of the times, they counted and recorded their results on paper.
We set out this water play provocation for children to explore pond insects and other creepy-crawlies. As is always the case with water play, this activity was big a hit. I found this one had a relaxing effect on the children and they would sit at this table for long periods of time, picking up the water with the buckets, pouring the water gently from the watering cans onto the lily pads and insects and swishing the water around with their hands.
Water play inherently lends itself to the learning of many scientific concepts, including ones that are math- and physics-based. For example, while the children played here, they observed the flow of the water from the watering cans and buckets (and how it changed based on the angle and height from which they poured) and the motion the water took in response to the pouring. Children compared the maximum capacities of the various containers and discovered equivalencies between container capacities. To draw out these findings, Madison and I interacted with the children and focused on asking open-ended questions about what they noticed. We followed up with statements of affirmation that modeled the use of special mathematical vocabulary and reinforced the children’s oral language development.
To mimic the look of a garden, Madison and I created this sensory bin using beans (as dirt), insect math manipulatives, gardening tools, insect catchers, and pieces of fake grass. The children loved exploring this bin because of all of the possibilities it had for play. For example, some children enjoyed collecting a certain colour or type of insect manipulative in their insect catcher, while others like pouring the bins in and out of containers. Many children used it as a small world play activity and acted out stories and scenarios between the bugs.
Like with some of the other activities, Madison and I occasionally entered the children’s play when it seemed appropriate and reinforced or taught concepts relating to volume, measurement, among others. We had meaningful conversations with the children relating to what they were doing as they explored and asked questions that led them to new discoveries. For example, when children were putting insects into one of the catchers, we asked them to find out how many insects could fit into that catcher at one time.
In the above photo, you can see some children engaged in the insect and bean sensory bin. They also loved creating little habitats inside of the insect catchers for their insects. They would scoop the insects up using the gardening shovels and then create beds of beans on which for them to lay. This seemed to inspire actual insect catching since many children came into school describing the insects they had caught in their own catchers at home the previous evenings. We always reinforced the idea of letting the insects go after observing them for a little while.
The bottom photos show the play we had in our insect goop bin. This was extremely messy but definitely lots of fun! We used water and flour to create this goop and put in stretchy insect figurines, funnels, bottles and spoons. The children practiced many of the concepts I discussed earlier related to their water play.
One day a child came in with a container of snails! She had gotten them from her garden and said she wanted to do her own snail inquiry. We were so happy to see such initiative from our students and to watch them blossom into independent learners in this way. She and some friends named themselves “the Snail Team” and they sat and drew their observations, tracked and measured trails of snail slime on black paper, and recruited their peers to come and join in their fun. By honouring her and her classmates’ interests, the children felt secure in their learning environment and became motivated to extend their own learning.
A mother of one of our Littles came in to teach us about mosquitoes one afternoon. She studies them in her professional career so she had a lot to teach us! She taught us the parts of a mosquito, about where they live, and their life cycle. She brought in some baby mosquitoes (pupa) and showed us how they swam around in a cup of water. She explained that when they became adults, they would grow wings and fly out of the water.
Our guest also brought in some dead mosquitoes and we put them atop white sheets of paper to see them more clearly. The children went straight into “scientist mode” and knew just how to observe closely and learn what they could from what they saw.
After some careful observations, children went to record their findings – a routine they were now used to at this point in the year. Our special guest had brought in mosquito diagram sheets and the children loved colouring them in and then labeling the body parts.
We were allowed to keep the mosquito pupa in our classroom even after our special guest had left. We set up a mini inquiry area for our new mosquito friends so that the children could visit and observe the changes in the pupa as days went on.
Senior Science Laboratories: Weaving Science into our Dramatic Play
Throughout our Insect & Mini-Beasts Inquiry, The children brainstormed ideas for our dramatic play area. Although we took an formal vote (as we always do), an overwhelming number of children wanted to have a space to “practice science”. We had been telling the children they were scientists all year long, had been practicing the inquiry steps and strategies, and many children had visited science museums with their families. They really wanted a science lab and a science lab is what we gave them!
We wrote down all of the things we wanted to include in our lab and made a list of materials we would need. Some children donated items and other items were collected by Madison and myself. They also created the signs, created the backdrop (the beakers on shelves) and decided how to keep the materials organized and the lab tidy. This was definitely one of our most loved dramatic play centres this year!
The story, “Pirate, Viking & Scientist” by Jared Chapman was a huge hit with the children. It inspired them how to behave as scientists when playing in the Lab.
The children loved exploring all of the different scientific tools in the Lab, such as the microscope, bottles filled with coloured water, magnifying glasses, and much more. They also enjoyed putting on their lab coats, safety goggles and gloves to help them feel more like lab scientists. We taught the children some of the common lab safety practices and then watched as children mimicked them in their play (e.g., washing their hands thoroughly before and after handling materials and rinsing their eyes out if they accidentally got a chemical in their eye – see photos above).
Some children took their learning of scientists and science labs into other areas of the room. Here, we can see one Little who created her own science book! She’s totally got the concepts down – asking questions, making predictions, and seeking answers. Way to go!
Just as scientists keep a record of all of their findings, the children have been creating documentation portfolios over the course of the year. I thought it might be helpful for some of you to see how this works.
Months ago, we explicitly taught the children how to use these portfolios. Together, we made a set of criteria that helped us decide which pieces to add to our portfolios: we had to have taken our time, added details to our work, wondered about something / predicted something / explored something / or discovered something, and challenged ourselves. Children with varying abilities and levels of learning and development were able to participate and follow this set of criteria because although it was specific, it took into account individualization. The criteria helped children be selective and not just create pieces for the purpose of putting them into their portfolios, rather, authentically create pieces and then decide if those pieces were good examples of deep thinking and worth storing to look back on later. They punched holes in their pieces themselves and learned how to use the binder rings to secure them inside of their portfolios. True scientists, I think!
A Break From Inquiry for Some Father’s Day Fun!
I wanted to include some photos of our Father’s Day Games Day. We took a break from learning about insects and waiting for our butterflies to emerge to honour the upcoming holiday and bring our families into our classroom. We invited fathers, uncles and grandfathers but also mothers or other family members so we could be as inclusive as possible for all of our children. We spent the afternoon playing outdoor games, facilitated by the father of one of our children. We had a blast spending time with our families, playing cooperative games and cooling off with Popsicles at the end of the day.
The Arrival of our Butterflies
One morning we came in to discover that some of our butterflies had emerged from their chrysalises!
It was fascinating to watch the butterflies slowly unfold their wrinkled wings and eventually fly, growing stronger by the hour.
The next day, we decided it was time to let our butterflies go free. After all, the hamper was not big enough for them to fly around in and live naturally as butterflies do. Madison gently took out the branches that the butterflies perched on and we watched in awe as they flew into the sky and out of sight. It was bitter sweet, really. Just as the butterflies were ending their stay with us, it was a matter of days before our Littles would be leaving us and preparing for a year in first grade. It was also a matter of days before I would be leaving the school and beginning a new journey at a new school.
Around this same time, our class was invited to the grand opening of a new, nearby entertainment area in the city. For the grand finale, our students got to let butterflies go (how perfect, right?!).
We had so much fun, spending one last out-of-school adventure together before the end of the school year. I remember thinking, that day, how tall the children all looked. They had grown so much physically, cognitively, personally and emotionally. They were definitely ready for Grade One.
Our Last Day Together
Driving into work on the last day of school was hard. I didn’t want it to be the end. I wanted to stay with my students whom I had grown to love and to continue learning together with them. What made it more difficult was knowing that I wouldn’t get to see them grow into first graders and beyond because I would be leaving the school. However, what kept me going was knowing that they were prepared and that Madison and I had a part in that. I felt proud of our accomplishments and how far the children had come from September. I was sad but also excited for them because I knew they were capable of so much.
As goodbye gifts, Madison and I put together little packages that were meant to remind the children that they were and always would be scientists so long as they continue to use the strategies they had learned this year. Our message to them read: “Be a scientist. Do your own inquiries. Never stop wondering.” Inside the bags were notebooks so they could record future observations, Sharpie markers to remind them to always keep drawing and writing, a magnifying glass to encourage them to look at things closely and a slideshow of their year in our classroom and all of the amazing things they accomplished.
The last day of school also happen to fall on my birthday. To my surprise, I walked in to find the classroom decorated, a tray of homemade cupcakes by Madison and even some homemade cards by the kids as well as gifts! Who planned this? Madison, of course.
Leaving the school, unfortunately, also meant leaving my partner in this grand adventure – Madison – and that was extremely difficult in itself. But seeing the room like this helped me to draw the entire year’s experience to a conclusion in my mind and to bring me some closure. It was the perfect cherry on top and I couldn’t have been more surprised, more humbled and more grateful to Madison for giving this special day to me.
I received many hugs on this day and fought through the tears so that I could keep my memories happy and clear. Finally, as the day came to a close and I sat at my desk trying to collect myself before dismissing the children, one of the Littles came up, asking me to help him zip up his back pack, which was stuffed to the brim with papers and pieces of art. I couldn’t help but begin crying just a little bit. I loved these kids so much and would miss them deeply. He looked at me and said, “Ms. Fleras, why are you crying? I love you.”
And that was how I knew. The bond created between me and those kids was something that would live on. The impact I had – though small compared to a lifetime of experiences – was still important. Hopefully when they look back at this year, they remember many special and wonderful moments. I know that I will.
Here’s to the Class of 2015!
As I look back at these photos, I hope my kids are still being little scientists and are enjoying being in First Grade. I hope they remember their year in SK and remember their teachers. I hope they know how much I miss them and care for them.
Until next time…