By Meghan DyFoon
A Trip to the Zoo: Pre-Nursery’s Inquiries into Animal Characteristics and Their Living Environments.
Student A: Look Ms. Meghan! A flamingo.
Teacher: It looks a lot like a flamingo doesn’t it? This bird is actually an ostrich.
The child studied the large bird just a few feet away, as if distinguishing the difference between the two.
Teacher: Do you remember what color flamingos are?
Student A: Pink
Teacher: Where does this ostrich live?
Student B: On land! He has legs.
Student C: Does it fly?
Teacher: Great question. What do you think?
Student C: Nooooo……
Teacher: Does it have wings?
Unsure of how to respond to this question the children continued to watch the ostriches for another moment before pulling their parents toward the next animal exhibit.
One month before our field trip to the zoo, Pre-Nursery students and teachers engaged in an inquiry around animals; more specifically, an inquiry into animal living environments in relation to their physical characteristics. Children deeply explored the idea that animals live on land or in water. Some animals prefer cold artic temperatures while others live up high in trees. We observed the birds and butterflies flying outside our classroom and noticed the importance of wings. We read stories about fish, sharks and other water animals that have fins to help them swim.
Pre-Nursery teachers hoped to extend the children’s interactions with our inquiries beyond the walls of our classroom. Providing an opportunity for the children to witness first hand why a giraffe’s neck is designed for height and that elephants really do use their trunks like hands, proved to be an incredibly rich experience. Teachers and parents partnered together at the Shanghai Zoo to deepen the children’s current knowledge of animal characteristics and their environments.
As the above conversation between teacher and students proved, not all animals are easily categorized into flying/walking or water/land animals. This shift in thinking was evident in the revisiting of our zoo trip over the following days. For example, one student who had previously hypothesized bears to be land animals, found it odd that the bears at the zoo were also in water.
In another part of our field trip reflection, each child was encouraged to choose a favorite animal they saw. While referring to a printed photo of that animal, the children graphically represented it onto a blank piece of paper. Each child was supported to look closely at his/her animal photo before taking marker to paper. A teacher guided the children to first notice the shapes, lines and details of the animal before transferring those details onto their work. Children were encouraged to edit, question and tell stories about their work. Some even showed confidence to verbally or non verbally share their drawings among the larger class community.
Revisiting our field trip experiences in these ways allowed for intentional and meaningful developments toward literacy. Such reflective drawing skills are significant when considering a three-year olds experiences in reading and writing. We can also see evidence of complex language development as children ponder teacher prompts and questions as they find new ways to express their thinking and ideas.
A trip to the Shanghai Zoo was a wonderful way to support our Pre-Nursery’s inquiries around animals and their living environments. Teachers and children celebrate such an important experience as a means to keep learning constructive and relatable.