Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning by Exploring

Since I will be staying home with Gordon Lee again for the next several months, I have felt the need to enrich himself and myself in this time.  I feel like I just can't stay away from teaching, and I also want to make sure that Gordon Lee is engaged in something that is going to expand his thinking.  So, an idea formed.  I can't take complete credit, so I will explain the process of this idea.

1.) The local library where my mother lives started creating backpacks of books on various topics.  She had checked one out on digging in the dirt.  It came complete with a small shovel, magnifying glass, and other dirt-exploring fun. There was a nice variety of books to help a child understand soil better (The beginning of my idea).

2.) While I worked with preschoolers, I was introduced to the Creative Curriculum.  The approach of the creative curriculum is to encourage children to explore through their own natural curiosities, to enhance those curiosities, and to consequently provide the most enriching educational experience for a child.  When I first saw it, I was skeptical.  It seemed so empty (unlike some other curriculums that had a specific structure in each unit).  The approach is to take a unit of study and spend 3-4 weeks exploring the topic in every possible way. From my personal experience with 3-year-olds, I found that the only downside to the curriculum was the amount of time spent on one topic.  They could only sustain a heightened interest in the topic for about 2 weeks before it became too repetitive for them.  Ultimately, it sort of backfired on itself because they wouldn't want to talk about the topic at all anymore after the last week.  So, I thought, good idea.  I like the exploration approach.  Let the child ask questions.  Help the child make observations.  Link understanding to early literacy and reading (which is what the curriculum is rooted in).  Just shorten it so they don't get exhausted by it.

3.) Here's the result.  Create our own "book bag" on a topic (especially since our library here doesn't have them).  Then, incorporate the Creative Curriculum approach into our study.  I choose one topic for us to explore.  I look up 10 books to put on hold at the library (making sure they are children's books).  I try to keep a good variety of fiction and nonfiction.  Then, we take our bag to the library and we fill it up.  Gordon Lee loves putting the old books in the return slot.

We basically do anything and everything with the topics.  We are on our second week.  The first week, we explored bugs.  This week, we are learning all about water.  Next week we are going to discover reptiles (and I am particularly excited about this one since Gordon Lee asked me for an iguana at Petco the other day).  

You start finding that you don't have to go out and spend a bunch of money to provide a very meaningful experience for a child.  Just a trip to the pet store can show them so much.  Even this week with water, God helped us out by giving us rain for 4 days.  So, Gordon Lee and I stood outside of the YMCA one day watching rainwater wash down a pipe and into the parking lot.  He observed how the hill helped the water run away from the building, and then realized that the giant puddles he liked jumping in formed because the parking lot was a flat base where the water could pool.  Now he is constantly finding drains and looking to see where the water is going.

And while we've moved onto a new topic, he is still excited about last week's topic and still expanding his knowledge.  He found a dead Japanese beetle, picked it up and discovered why a beetle is a beetle (due to the wing covers).  This is my child who would freak out at the sight of any bug before this.  He started learning about them and understanding that not all bugs bite or sting.  Yesterday, he became extremely excited at the sight of a grasshopper. He wanted to see how the grasshopper moved and how it could fly.

We also did a lot of art during our bug week.  Here are just a few samples.  Gordon Lee wanted to draw, paint, color, or make every bug.
(bumblebee with wax paper wings)
(spider in a web made with the palm of his hand, his 4 fingers, and just free-handing the head)
(butterfly--of course..I did draw those antennae.  He did the rest)

I could go on and on about how excited he is, how much I am learning, how much he is learning, and how readily books are expanding his observations around him.  However, I will stop here. I will start sharing one fun thing we did each day plus sharing one book I particularly like from the selection we're reading.
For the bug unit, here are some of the books Gordon Lee loved.
The Little Squeegy Bug by Bill Martin Jr.
This is a cute fictional story about a bug that has no identity. So, they all call it a little squeegy bug.  He just wants to feel special and fly in the sky.  Ultimately, a magic spider turns him into the firefly.

Bug Safari by Bob Barner
This is a story about a child who follows an army of ants to an unknown destination.  Meanwhile on their journey, he learns about all of the struggles a tiny ant faces in the big world of bugs.  Gordon Lee requested this one every single day.
This is just a sample of the nonfiction bug books we got.  We had 5 of them.  They are from a series called "Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!" by Margaret Hall.  We had grasshoppers, fireflies, beetles, bees, and centipedes.  These were extremely educational, and even I learned things I didn't know.

As for water, we are not doing as much art, we are doing more experiments and observations. Tomorrow, I will share one of my favorite (and Gordon Lee's favorite) books on water.  Admittedly, I judged this book by its cover and didn't want to read it, but then I loved it.  And I will share one of our water activites.

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