Guest post by Christie of Childhood 101
Just recently my five year old daughter could not attend the swimming lessons that were part of her school program due to a nasty head wound. As she was so disappointed to be missing out on swimming, I wanted to be sure that we did something fun during the two extra hours a day we would have together, while also making the most of the time she would be away from school – being engaged, productive and learning together.
She had recently expressed a renewed interest in frogs, playing often with a collection of small frog figurines. With the idea of using a short project-based approach to learning, I decided to make the most of her engagement and curiosity to set her a challenge – to create a home (habitat) for her frogs. As well as being good fun, the project process provided me with valuable time with my daughter (something I have missed since she started full time school) and although I set the challenge and acted as a prop manager and guide, it was very child directed – allowing her to take ownership of her learning, though to be honest she was having so much fun that I am pretty sure she didn’t even realise she was learning! The steps shared below were spread out over the course of one week.
1. Brainstorm: On the first day we headed off to our local library to find some books to fuel our research. On the way we talked about what my daughter already knew about frogs and their habitat and any questions she had that we might be able to find answers for. A simple brainstorm at the commencement of a project provides you with valuable insight into a child’s prior understanding of a topic, and their questions – “Do frogs live in salt water?” – and even their misunderstandings can provide a useful springboard for guiding the direction the project takes.
2. Research: As well as choosing some non-fiction books about frogs from the children’s collection at our library, I showed Immy an age-appropriate video from You-Tube about the habitat and life-cycle of frogs. Magazines, audio recordings, field trips, pictures and infographics are all useful research tools for use with young children – just be sure to vet the information first. As we conducted our research (investigation) we looked for clues as to what we would need to include in our habitat.
3. Plan: As we talked about what would need in our frog pond, Immy suggested we make a list. She has been learning about the sounds letters make and letter formation at school this term so as well as being a great tool for keeping us on task as we collected materials and got into constructing, I knew a list would provide a meaningful way of reinforcing her letter-sound learning. We sounded out the words together, with her writing the letters that she already knew and my assistance with those she wasn’t sure of. I used a highlighter pen which provided her with the option of tracing over my letters should she wish to.
4. Collect: The next step involved lots of problem solving and decision making as together we decided on materials to use to represent each feature of the habitat. We went on a walk to collect sticks, rocks and leaves, cooked playdough together and gathered other creative materials such as plasticine, buttons (which we had thought to use for the frogspawn but didn’t end up using) and fairy stones (for my five year old daughter, fairy stones have a place in everything!)
5. Create: Once all of our materials were ready Immy got to work constructing the habitat. We talked as she worked but I stayed hands off unless I was asked to help with a particular task. Her completed frog pond (which somehow I did not get a photo of!) included;
- Playdough to represent water and sand
- Rocks, leaves (as lilypads) and sticks
- Blue/green fairy stones to represent algae for the tadpoles to eat
- Plasticine tadpoles and frog spawn (shown above)
- Plastic frog figurines
Without a doubt, the greatest outcome of this project was the extended imaginative play that resulted following the construction of the frog pond. It provided the perfect opportunity for Immy to meaningfully reinforce her newfound knowledge about the frog lifecycle, behaviour and habitat.
What suggestions do you have for make the most of your child’s curiosity to extend their interests?
Christie Burnett is the mum of two very busy, little girls and a qualified early childhood teacher with many years experience working with children in kindergarten, early elementary school and day care. Eagerly awaiting the launch of her first book, Time to Create, Christie now works as a freelance writer and blogger, sharing her parenting adventures and passion for early childhood education on her award winning blog, Childhood 101.