The joys of research-based Learning
Over the last six weeks, our foundation phase have been learning about minibeasts. The children spent time in the school garden finding and observing minibeasts, sketching and photographing minibeasts, identifying characteristics and behaviour, and exploring similarities and differences. The children created sound pictures, using percussion instruments to portray the minibeasts moving (sound pictures), and designed and made a home for a minibeast considering what a minibeast needs. At the same time in English, we read two texts; a fiction book The Cautious Caterpillar and a poem Minibeasts.
As we started the project, the children were asked to share what they thought they knew and their wonderings. We used this as a basis to explore and research the minibeasts that live in our school garden. At several stages during the six weeks the children had the opportunity to share further learning, both individually and collaboratively, enabling the children alongside the teacher to decide what to focus on next. Throughout, the adults documented the children’s learning; recording their observations whilst in the school garden, and conversations /reflections during group meetings. In reviewing the documentation, several key themes emerged.
Being an ‘explorer’
The children were excited about the prospect of being an explorer; to learn directly from their surroundings. They talked about themselves as scientists, considering the tools they would need (magnifying glass, bug-viewers, boots, hats), and how / what they would need to record what they discovered (clipboards, paper, pencils, pencil crayons, pastels). Further tools – cameras – were introduced to support the children to record their observations as the project developed.
Exploring the children’s interests
The project enabled the children to explore what particularly captured their interest within the broader theme. One child was particularly interested in grasshoppers, and kept returning to explore them in more depth. Another child was especially interested in the relationship between slugs and snails. Her wonderings led to the whole group observing a slug for 45 minutes.
The children focused on how the slug moved, the relevance of the ‘slime’ and wondered how and why it is different to a snail; considering whether slugs and snails are part of the same family.
A love for learning
Whilst outside, the six and seven year olds really wanted to share their observations with the adult. It gave them something concrete to talk about, and their ability to form their thoughts into sentences developed as we worked alongside individuals; listening and responding. During this time, we observed a love for learning being ignited as the children had the freedom to follow their own lines of inquiry.
Building on current understanding
The project also enabled the children to build on previous learning. Children referred to what they knew about mammals, reptiles, camouflage, predators, germs and aerodynamics. As a group, we had learnt about camouflage as we focused on wild animals earlier in the term. Spending time in the school garden afforded the children the opportunity to experience this first-hand as they observed minibeasts in their natural habitat. Whilst exploring animal homes, the children remarked:
CS – You cannot see the tortoise, his legs and the head are camouflaged, but the shell is not camouflaged. The shell is too hard and predators cannot harm him.
LM – I would like to add on to CS… if a predator comes and the tortoise goes in its shell, they won’t notice it. It looks like a rock.
IM – The tortoise shell looks like it has got different pictures of animals on it.
Following the children’s lead
Throughout the six weeks, we were able to follow the children’s lead as they proposed different areas to focus on:
- PN inspiring the group to observe the characteristics and behaviour of a slug
- LM in provoking the group to consider how to group the minibeasts in to families
- JN in suggesting they write their own versions of the poem ‘Minibeasts’, and LM in proposing that they work with an other to write their poem
- JN in suggesting designing and creating homes for minibeasts
- LZ in provoking the idea of creating a Minibeast City with the different homes (building from our project on cities in 2020)
Ensuring the fiction texts, we read as a whole group in English, connected to the overall theme, supported the children in developing knowledge and understanding about minibeasts, alongside their research. Their hands-on exploration also meant the children had concrete experiences to relate to as they created mind-maps and wrote their own version of a poem.
Minibeasts; observing and noting characteristics, how they help and / or harm us is part of the Grade 3 life skills curriculum. Through exploration and reflection, the children have developed knowledge and understanding of minibeasts, and at the same time developed a love for learning, being able to explore their own lines of inquiry and express their thinking creatively, worked collaboratively, developed skills in critical thinking, built on previous understanding and learnt in relation to one another. What a life-giving and beautiful way in which to learn.