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Striking a Balance

The "Animal Rescue Squad" was hard at work this last week during recess. As an environmental educator, I swing a little on how we treat critters. I want to be respectful of their lives which ideally means observing quietly from a distance. But children learn by doing and they connect to the world through touching. I want our children to develop a real connection with the frogs, pill bugs, and snakes who share our outdoor space. After quite a bit of discussion, they created a frog habitat and a habitat for decomposers (worms, slugs, snails, etc.). We talked about shelter, food, water, and other crucial ingredients to keep them happy. Any transportation of animals was done with a focus on trying to stay calm and quiet, bringing them in nets or buckets not our hands. As I watched their eagerness, I think we hit the right balance.

Theme: India to Chemistry

Having a multiage classroom means that sometimes I read a book that might be a little bit of a stretch for some of our younger children. When I decided to read Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi to the class, I wasn't really sure what they would take from the story. It's about not wasting and introduces the idea of passive violence. I shouldn't have doubted them. Everyone had ideas about how wasting resources can affect others. They talked about how when there is a limited amount of a resource (like when we are running low on paint) everyone has a hard time not hoarding the paint. Then they had lots of examples of passive violence from not including someone in a game to choosing to not listen to a friend's story.

We finished up our study of India this week by re-visiting the list of "Things We Know About India" the children made at the beginning of our theme. They examined their initial ideas and realized that many of them weren't true or were only partially true. Yes, India is hot, but it also has really tall mountains where it is very cold. Their understanding has become deeper and more nuanced. They also generated an impressive list of new things they had learned.

Then we jumped into chemistry. Like most of our themes, I asked them to start by helping me define chemistry. Then we got to work with some experiments involving solids and liquids. They discovered that while oil and water don't mix, a toothpick dipped in dish soap can mix them. We talked about dissolving solids into liquids and tried to figure out if there was a way that we could get the solids back again. Everyone did their best to make scientific observations. "It's really cool" can definitely be a reaction to a scientific experiment, but how can we use our words to describe what is happening? How can we make sure that someone who missed the experience knows what we saw, heard, and smelled?


This week Nancy was teaching everyone about insects. Everyone knows they have six legs, and many of the children can describe the head, thorax, abdomen, antennae, and wings. Nancy had brought lots of dead insects in magnifying boxes, so we could examine their eyes, their feet, and all sorts of other details. Then we headed outside, got a lesson in how to use a bug net, and everyone was off. As they collected individuals, the children carefully brought them to a big netted cage where we could watch them as they crawled and flew around. "They're all so different!" noted one budding entomologist, "I think there are a million kinds of bugs."

It Takes a Village

When I read the Jane Cowen-Fletcher book It Takes a Village to the class this week, I thought we might talk about how this African village seemed similar or different from some of the Indian villages we had studied. It presents a picture of a community market day and the adults who help to care for all the villages' children. The class took the conversation in a different direction, using it as a chance to talk about "stranger danger." Clearly they have been warned to be careful around adults they didn't know, and there was some genuine doubt that this child should have trusted all of these adults. I found myself trying to strike the balance again as we talked about how we might feel secure in a small community or how most adults really do want children to feel safe. I encourage you to talk to your child about how we relate to adults we don't know well.

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