A project starts from an experience, an observation, a wonderment... and all of the above! Here is one classroom's adventure into the study of ants and plants.
It all started one day when the children were eating oranges out on the playground. While peeling oranges, the children noticed that some of the seeds inside had "little tails" on them (sprouts). What could that be? some children wondered. A hunt to find more seeds with "tails" and new plants developed around the playground, leaving the peels and pieces of oranges forgotten on the ground. Much later when the children returned to clean up the orange remains, they were amazed to find all the pieces totally covered with ants. More questions arose: Where did the ants come from? Why did they climb on the oranges? A project was born.
Do you have ants and plants in your playground? In your room? You can use them as a starting place for a project on observing growth, change, and life. April is the time for renewal of life. The dormant insects and plants start waking up, and they catch children's attention. You can further stimulate children's interest and evoke their questions with these group-time activities.
Waking Up the Earth
At this time of the year; children are wondering: Where do all the bugs and new plants come from? Gather children together to discuss this question.
Make an experience chart of their ideas. There will be some interesting observations! One child said: "Ants and plants all hide in the winter clouds until it is warm enough to come out." Then you might ask: "How can we find out?" One way is to use a large clear plastic tub or box as a terrarium.
- Together, fill the box with dormant soil dug from outside.
- Invite children to observe the soil (without disturbing it too much) and record in pictures what they see.
- Ask children to place the soil in the plastic tub and water it.
- Cover the entire tub with plastic wrap to create an airtight terrarium.
- Place the terrarium in the sun.
- Invite children to dictate, draw, and/or write what they think will happen to the soil as it warms in the sun.
Over time, plants and seeds will start to sprout. Ants and other insects will wake up, creating a miniature ecosystem for children to observe.
Feeding Like Ants
As the insects wake up in your terrarium (or in your classroom!) the question always arises: What do they eat? They certainly enjoyed the orange peels! Children may notice that ants are congregating by certain items and not others. Invite children to make predictions about what the insects will eat. Then test out their ideas in different places, inside and out!
Living With Ants and Plants
Any observation of the earth and insects "sprouts" the question of where animals live. The Lady and the Spider, by Faith McNulty, is a wonderfully compassionate book about a woman who finds a spider living in the lettuce she is about to eat. Read it to spark a discussion about where insects live and how we can live in harmony with them. Use children's ideas and questions as the basis for extending their ants and plants investigations. Perhaps children would like to go on a hunt to find examples of insect homes. They may choose to create different types of insect homes and put them out in the playground to see who moves in!
Remember to have children record their questions, observations, and findings throughout the entire project.
Moving With the Ants
Here is a group-time activity to get everyone up and moving! As children observe the ants and other insects, they will notice that some slither, some crawl, some jump, and so on. The question may arise: How do ants and other insects move?
- Make an experience chart of children's suggestions and then try them out.
- Define the group-time space as a garden in spring.
- Put on some spring-like music (such as "Spring" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons) and invite children to pretend they are different types of insects waking up from their winter's sleep. How would a many-legged insect move? How would a bug use its wings to move?
- At the end of the activity, slowly turn the volume down on the music as it becomes nighttime in the garden and the insects go back home to sleep. Shhhh...
Expanding the Investigations
After experimenting with these activities at group time, encourage children to help you design the rest of the project.
- Ask children to consider how they can take their investigations out into the world.
- Children might want to make field investigations about insects throughout the school and playground.
- Children may want to go on a "new life" treasure hunt, examining and drawing in field books.
- Other field trips might include a local park, pond, zoo, garden, or science center. These trips are bound to inspire further investigative experiments back in the classroom.
- You can also invite "expert" visitors to the classroom. These might include a gardener or any scientist who deals with insects and plants.
Celebrating Bugs and Life!
Throughout the project, invite children to refer back to the original questions in order to examine what they have learned and what new questions they have. Toward the end of the project, you can invite children to suggest how they would like to celebrate what they learned. Perhaps children can return the soil to the playground with a special ceremony that includes food for the insects and for themselves, with original dances that celebrate life!