“An animal has been here! Look! Look! I see their tracks!” The West Side Christian preschool students recently had the opportunity to explore the beauty of winter and discover some of the secrets of animal survival during this cold season. This sensory investigation lead the students to discover how animals in their nearby natural area get their much needed food, water and shelter during the winter months.
During this experience, the outdoors served as the teaching tool to engage the young children in their learning. The children used the natural setting to investigate, question, compare and contrast, describe and work to make sense of the world around them.
“How do animals survive in the winter?” Rich literature served as the catalyst to fuel the children’s sense of wonder. Throughout the story the students were encouraged to ask questions, make predictions and infer how animals really do survive in the winter.
Once students entered the nearby woods, they searched for clues to answer their question. Quickly they discovered tracks and searched out the evidence for how the animal that left the mystery tracks was able to find food. With great excitement, one child noticed a squirrel quickly scamper up the tree. Venturing in search of clues, the students deciphered the squirrel tracks and the nearby hole. “That must be how he gets his food!” Another student chimed in, “Oh, I have seen squirrels burying their nuts!” In reflection the students shared, “Wow, they need to remember all the places they hid their acorns! They may forget where they hid some.” It was apparent to the students that the squirrel found food and was able to survive.
“What else do the animals need?” Through a role-play game of fox and squirrels, these students quickly discovered the need for shelter. This unique play experience spontaneously ignited their curiosity, initiative and imaginations. In addition to learning that the variety of plants gave the animals their needed food, the students discovered that plants provide shelter too.
This winter’s explorers experience brought the early childhood learning standards outdoors enhancing the students’ learning, and also help meet the critical need they have to connect to the natural world. As a result of these outdoor learning moments, the students left the experience with new discoveries about the world around them and a greater sense of wonder to find out more.