“But I do feel a little teeny right now that I’m just about ready to start, and winter is entering. Half past autumn has arrived.” ~ Gordon Parks
Since the school year started, I have become really intrigued with engaging children’s interest in natural science through the arts. In September we explored butterflies; in October, pumpkins and planting seeds; and in November our focus has been on hibernation. It seems logical, with the approach of winter, to learn about the habits of animals, and Toronto has become a home to such critters as squirrels, opossums, skunks and racoons. In each of our inquiries, we have enjoyed songs, poems, creative movement, a variety of art activities, videos and books – both fiction and non-fiction. Each resource and educational experience has enabled the children to understand these inquiries in ways that both speak to what is familiar to them, and challenge them in new ways.
We began with songs like Grizzly Bear and lovely books like Jane Yolen’s Sleep, Black Bear Sleep (which can be sung), and Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming. In addition to being beautifully illustrated, these books introduce readers to a variety of animals that hibernate and the different things that they do and observe as winter approaches. Reading these stories also prepared the children for the learning of higher level concepts in the non-fiction book we looked at later on. As an extension to these stories, we did a lovely art activity – pastel and watercolour resist painting on the shapes of stars, moons and various animals that hibernate (e.g., bear, skunk, ladybug, snail, common poorwill and turtle). The paintings were displayed on squares of construction paper arranged to look like a quilt, and the bulletin board was completed with the phrase “Good Night”written in the many languages of the children in my class.
While it was easy to teach the children many songs and rhymes about sleeping animals, it was not really possible to help them to understand hibernation in concrete ways. I could hardly bring a hibernating bear into our classroom! So I had to rely on videos, and I found a few that gave the children a brief overview of what animals do when they hibernate. One was a Hibernating Animals Digital Story. The next was a glimpse of how bears prepare for winter, entitled Black Bear and Cubs in Hibernation and the last was a fun song that reinforced new concepts while being a literacy experience at the same time, called Hibernation Read Along, Sing Along. To test our new knowledge, we played a game of “Hibernation Jeopardy”, asking simple questions derived from the non-fiction book we read. I found that this topic gave me the opportunity to take some very creative approaches to teaching, and to encourage children’s learning in ways that were artful and fun. I hope you find some ideas here to explore at home or in your classroom and wish you all a warm and cozy winter! Sweet dreams!
“I challenge you to be dreamers; I challenge you to be doers and let us make the greatest place in the world even better.” ~ Brian Schweitzer
This blog post is dedicated to Kristin J. and Kate A., who help me turn dreams into reality.