Saturday, May 10, 2014

Inside and Outside: Teaching Naturally

Sometimes life in a child care center is routinely extraordinary. We live our lives together, adults and children, looking for every opportunity to learn and to teach. In our program we blend the outside and the inside to create an organic whole where our children make connections no matter where they are, and they contribute at least as much to the curriculum (as defined by NAEYC, our professional organization) as we teachers do!

Even though we went on several amazing field trips via walking and metro, the crux of our exploration has been the connection between inside and outside.

It rained recently and a child noticed while the windows on one side of the room had raindrops on them, the windows on the other side did not. She commented on this and asked why. So my teaching partner, Sue, brainstormed with our older children on what might be the reason. Here are some of their hypotheses: "The rain is grey and camouflaged",;"One side is used to it"; If you are close to the window you see more"; and "The wind is blowing the rain sideways".

Some of these answers show where the children are in their cognitive development. One child says the windows on one side are "used to it", indicating personification of an object, a classic sign of preoperative logic.  Another comments that the dripless side isn't visible because the rain is grey and in camouflage, an generalization from prior knowledge of how things can seem invisible. The last comment comes closer to the truth (wind makes rain move). A great guess!
Sue designed an artistic experiment by giving the children paper, pipettes, and blue water. The children dripped water on paper and experimented with turning it in different directions, waving it about, to see how the drips traveled. No final decisions were made about the cause of the dripless window, but the children learned about the effect of gravity and movement on water drops. Here is the result:

The Virginia Foundation Blocks, our Pre-K standards, state that children should be able to "ask questions about the natural world related to observations" by the end of the year. This was what that first child did, and it resulted in a learning activity related to both science and art.

Looking for worms

The boys above are looking into a raised bed filled with dirt. They are looking for worms. As every preschool teacher knows, worms and slugs and bugs excite preschool children, both boys and girls. They worked with some worm-loving girls to create a "worm hotel". It's interesting to note that another field of study has been building and construction, so hotels are an interesting application of that learning! Here is the worm hotel:
Worm Hotel

Worms gathered for the honor of staying in a ring-shaped hotel with sturdy rubber walls rest or dig in the dirt. They also can lounge on an "easy chair" provided by a leisure-loving girl:

Worm on a chair.

The whole worm hotel is situated in our dirt box, a wood-bound dirt pile specifically dedicated to digging. In dirt. With small shovels that are modeled on adult models. Yes, we encourage getting dirty, and yes, the children are encouraged and cheered on in this endeavor. My adult students express frustration with their own situations when I share this information with them. They work in centers where parents are unhappy that little Sarah or William are dirty at pick-up. The teacher is held responsible, and the administration doesn't support this research-based, "best practice". Shame on them! Playing in dirt is healthy.

Inside/outside learning is the most healthy and natural kind of learning for young children. It is engaging and whole-child oriented. We read a book on worms inside to support the engaged exploration of the children outside. 

Outdoor learning is becoming more respectable these days and with good reason. In my next post I will share some examples of indoor/outdoor music.