I was lucky enough to collaborate with a few 3-year-olds last week.
While visiting a school, I noticed a small millipede on the carpet. Seeing an opportunity to role model how to encourage scientific reasoning skills, I used my best "Oh, my" voice, went over to the carpet, and announced, "Look, I see a creature and an excellent opportunity for documentation!"
Funny how that sentence sparked movement in the room. One teacher grabbed the camera, while the others got their notebooks. They moved to the back of the room and started their observations.
Several children come over to look at what I had found, and while the little guy was still on the carpet I wondered aloud, "what should we do with him?" Someone suggested picking him up and tossing him outside.
A little girl piped up. "No, we should keep him."
ME: "What do I do now?"
"Get a something to lift him up."
ME: "Like what?"
"I know! Here!"
Someone handed me a tool that looked like a cross between a plastic spade and a pie knife. The millipede climbed onto the knife.
I was then handed a silver salad bowl. We put him into the bowl, and out of nowhere a rock landed next to him, bounced and hit his teeny little millipede head. What happened?
The 3-year-old shot-put thrower plopped herself down beside me with a huge smile on her face, as if to say, "Yep, I just did that! Did you see that? And it bounced, too!"
All I can think of at that moment is that there is going to be a group of people protesting outside tomorrow with signs, chanting: "Don't support this school! They test on millipedes and other small animals."
ME: Oh my goodness! That landed on his head.
Another friend: Don't do that. You will KILLLLL him!
That seemed to work. She put her hand in the bowl as if to take out the rock, then reconsidered and tried to squish the millipede with her fingers.
Two thoughts occurred simultaneously: 1) How did this guy manage to survive the initial blow to the head? 2) How we are going to handle his funeral?
ME: "Okay, sweetie, we can take a closer look at him once he is in a safer home. Let's move to the table so everyone can look."
"A bowl! He needs a bowl!" Out of nowhere came a boy with a bowl.
ME: "Where to?"
We moved the bowl to the table. Everyone stopped to stare. At least 10 seconds went by. Then all the children started chatting at once.
"What can we feed him?"
"He needs water!"
"He needs a bed!"
"He needs toys!"
"He needs a name!"
"I know!" gushed a little girl, "We'll call him Vanessa!" Everyone tried out that name. "Vanessa! That’s great!"
This period of trying things on continued for a few more minutes. People brought him food - a plastic carrot? TOO BIG. A plastic tomato, maybe? Still too big. A plastic strawberry? Still too big.
BAM! Another rock is tossed into the bowl. OY.
ME: "Sweetheart, can you please find something soft to toss into the bowl?"
She nodded and started looking.
Someone suggested we cover him. Brilliant idea my friends! I think I actually heard Vanessa cheer from inside the bowl.
"He needs a jar!"
The children found a jar with a lid. All was silent once more as we watched him get slowly poured into the jar. When I twisted the lid I shared that it was really tight and I wondered aloud "Can Vanessa breathe in there?"
"He's gonna DIEEEEEE. He needs AIRRRR!"
A little girl, who, up to this point was a quiet observer, announced, "I can put a hole in it." (Where do they get this stuff?)
I handed her the jar with the lid on it. She smiled and asked me to give her just the lid. Using the plastic knife, she stabbed a hole into the lid. She's 3. She's brilliant, persistent, and right now, quite pleased with herself. At one point we heard her mumble, "If this was a real knife it would work better."
Ladies and gentlemen, I present our future!
Here are my reflections of the experience.
Each step of this activity was initiated by the children. My excitement helped fuel theirs; however, at no point did I dismiss their ideas. The millipede had several homes before he was safe in the jar.
I could have easily grabbed a jar in the beginning, but then we would have lost the experience with the little rock thrower (which was valuable, since her friends and teachers needed to see that she wasn't punished for her experiment, but rather accepted as an active participant that needed a little guidance.)
If I had put the millipede in a jar from the get go, would we have had the opportunity to see him crawl and slide down the sides of the bowl?
Could all of our little heads fit over the jar as easily as it did over the open bowl? How would we all have shared that moment of watching (which led to the feeling of ownership) if we only could peek into the jar one at a time?
Had I put him the in jar at first, there would have been no way to test the hypotheses of appropriate food size. We needed to see him next to the carrot and the tomato and strawberry. While you, my adult learner friend, could tell it was too big, younger learners need that concrete experience in order to understand. And the little surgeon, the one with the knife? God love her. She had a plan, and followed through with it. How often do we stop these experiences in the name of TIME?
I am grateful to the teachers for allowing me to play in their classroom. At any point they could have encouraged the children to go back to their painting or blocks, but they didn't. They allowed us the time to explore Vanessa and build him/her a home.
How would you have reacted in this situation? Do you have an unexpected teaching experience in your classroom to share? I’d love to hear about it along with your thoughts and ideas.