Tyler, Ann, and Selena are examining amaryllis, measuring its growth with "inchworm" blocks. They have watched the plant grow since TyIer's mom first brought it to the classroom, and they're surprised at how much the plant has changed since the last time they measured it several weeks ago. "we need two more blocks this tine!" shouts Tyler. "Pretty soon it'll grow to the ceiling!" giggles Selena. "How big will it get?"
Children are naturally curious! They try to make meaning of the world around them as they watch things grow and notice dramatic changes in science and nature. Sometimes they amaze us with their ability to think, to imagine, and to figure out how the world works, we can support children's investigations, as well as their growing capacity to notice and understand growth and change, by listening carefully to their questions and searching for answers with them.
Observing Change Together
When the amaryllis bulb first arrived in the classroom, several children wondered how this brown object could turn into a beautiful flower. By encouraging them to ask questions and explain their theories about how this might happen, and by recording their comments, the teacher has helped the children learn that their ideas are important. Their conversation sparked group-time discussion, helped them consider other ideas and perspectives, and guided further investigations.
You can help children present their ideas and observations in multiple ways. For example, as the amaryllis grows, children may want to record their observations or ideas about what is taking place through drawings, dramatic play, or by writing in their journals. While 4-year-old Jamie may choose to represent his ideas in clay, enjoying the sensory experience of that medium, Sarah may prefer to study and sketch the amaryllis in her journal with a pencil, which allows her to erase and make changes as the plant evolves. John might make a brilliantly colored painting, while Raven might select a computer software program that allows her to dictate a story that captures her excitement as the amaryllis blooms!
Here are some exciting classroom experiences you can offer children in your program to help them explore growth and change:
Introduce tools for measuring, then provide opportunities so children can practice and use them on their own. Children can use rulers, unifix cubes, or other measuring devices once they learn how.
Supply a snow stick or rain gauge so children can monitor precipitation.
Encourage children to use a graphing mat and cubes made from small milk cartons that have an image of each child attached to the side. Graph answers to important questions that arise daily, such as "What is your favorite type of apple?" after sampling red, green, and yellow apples.
Invite children to create collections from found natural and recycled materials. Store the collections in zip lock bags, and use them to practice such math concepts as sorting, patterning, counting, and classifying.
Provide magnifying tools for taking a close look at things like leaves, which change over time. Children can use hand lenses, magnifying tables, or microscopes.
Offer clipboards and writing tools for observational drawings of plant growth, worms, or other topics of investigation.
Create classroom science journals so children can organize and reflect on the evidence of growth and change.
Supply children with cups of water, either clear or tinted, and trays so they can practice creating and mixing drops of water. What happens when water drops are placed on squares of wax paper, paper towels, tin foil, sandpaper, sponges, plastic wrap, cardboard, or square or triangular foam blocks?
Invite children to care for and study a variety of plants in the classroom. Encourage them to notice differences and similarities among the plants as they grow.
Provide enough time and space and materials for children to explore. Offer a variety of blocks, play figures, vehicles, balls, ramps, tunnels made from sections of tubing or pipe, which invite exploration and testing at varying levels of complexity. For example: How far will an object travel when I change its size or shape, the angle or type of ramp?
Set up displays in the block area, including photos or drawings of children's constructions and their comments about their structures.
Create an "Our Building" book with children, using photos that document their work and explorations in the block area. You can continue adding samples throughout the year. Keep this book handy; it will serve as a springboard for discussing how and why their block constructions changed over time.
Encourage experimentation with materials that can easily change form, such as clay or play dough.
Provide a variety of tools to support children at different stages of development. For example: "Helping scissors," such as double-handed scissors, loop scissors, scissors that open after each snip, can provide needed support for children learning how to cut. Crayons, pencils, and paintbrush handles of different widths and shapes might be easier for children to hold.
Set up a work-in-progress area that provides children with varying artistic styles time to reflect, revise, and complete projects over time. When children and adults look at work collected at the beginning and end of the year-self-portraits, drawings, photos of sculptures and three-dimensional work-they'll see the changes that have taken place.
Look for ways art materials can support current investigations When studying air, you might provide materials to create wind socks, or you might brainstorm with children about what materials they would like to have to further their understanding of air.
Provide a different kind of art exposure that allows children to predict what will happen if drawings made with markers or crayon are placed outside in the rain or in the sun. Paint that is thick or runny, paper that is round or triangular, smooth or corrugated offer variations that can inspire interest and new artistic studies.
Plan activities and materials for the dramatic-play area that help children explore growth and change. Children can act out various roles such as weather reporter, farmer, scientist, or baby.
Brainstorm with children to identify dress-up clothes and props needed to explore these roles. Be sure that materials represent a variety of cultures, ages, and abilities.
Take photos to record different stages of friendships, play, and solving problems. Create display panels with photos and text that communicate the importance of the play and serve as a "memory" that can be reviewed and used to inspire new ideas and direction.
Look How I've Grown!
By observing changes in the world around them, children begin to notice their own growth and development. As children observe and record data about daily weather changes, discuss their observations of seasonal changes, such as why leaves change color and fall off the trees in the play yard. This process can serve as a springboard to get them thinking about their own growth and change.
Here are some other things you can do in the classroom to help children investigate their own development:
Round up Resources. When questions about their own growth and development come up, help children learn to look for answers. Use your classroom library and computer, or take a field trip to the community library to locate resources related to big questions about growth and change.
Play "What's New?" Invite children to play detective, looking for and reporting changes they see daily. Check out clouds, weather, and seasonal changes, worms when it rains, and bird nests. Then discuss what's new with the children themselves. Invite them to identify or show new skills and abilities they have now that they didn't have earlier in the school year (cutting with scissors on a curved line, walking all the way across the balance beam, reaching the sink without using the footstool).
Look Closely. Ask children "What tools can we use to take a closer look at growth and change?" Introduce such research tools as a magnifying lens, a tape measure, and a clipboard and pencil for making observations and drawings. Later, discuss the ways each of these items can be used to help children explore their own growth and change. Invite them to look closely at their skin with the magnifying glass, or to measure their height, the length of their arm, the width of their face, or the size of their foot with the tape measure.
Take Measurements. Tape paper to a wall and create a "measure me" surface. Use a pencil to record the date and mark the height of each child in the classroom every few months. Help children learn how to use a ruler so they can measure the growth themselves. Later, invite children to explore other ways of measuring their height, including building block towers as tall as they are; using lengths of rope or yarn; or tracing their bodies on large sheets of paper several times throughout the year.
Create a Nature's Notebook. Create a notebook for collecting and storing drawings, photos, children's questions, and more documentation from walks and field trips. Look at the information together to notice commonalities, such as what living things need to live. Extend the discussion to include the things children need if they're to continue to grow and change.
Documenting Growth and Change
Observations of children's growth and development, along with samples of their work, can be collected throughout the year and stored in portfolios or shared through documentation panels. Staff can review these observations to understand what is important about what took place and use this information to guide curriculum development and support each child's learning. Sharing the observations with children and families helps them see and understand children's growth and development.
Documentation can include
- Samples of children's work, such as self-portraits, drawings, or writing
- A language sample of children's storytelling, possibly taken as they use the flannel board to tell a familiar fairy tale or one they create
- A dictated dialogue about their work as they create a piece of art
- Photographs of children's three-dimensional work, such as woodworking projects and block constructions
- Audio or short video clips about literacy, creativity, problem solving, and other areas of development
- Anecdotal notes, including verbatim renditions of what children say and do as you observe them
- Technology tools, such as digital cameras and handheld devices like PDAs, which are increasingly being used to collect rich data samples
The end of the year is a great time to review documentation, reflect on exciting changes, and plan what to document and how to accomplish it in the year ahead! Children should be involved in collecting and evaluating their work.
Involving Children in the Process
Children can help collect data. They can
- Experiment with writing their names, perhaps assisted by name cards or mailing labels with their names on drawings or paintings
- Help select work they believe should go in their portfolio
- Learn to work a scanner, digital camera, or use the audio-recording aspects of software programs to talk about the picture or work they have created
Consider the work that needs to be documented, and look for ways children can be involved and help out.
Whether it's noticing changes in the world around them or investigating their own growth and development over the year, a classroom that encourages observation and exploration and documents the exciting changes taking place is a classroom that celebrates growth and change! ECT