Thank you to the director, Sandra Redmore, and the teachers of Clarendon Child Care Center, Andria Shelton, Barbara Foster, and Sarah Abu-El-Hawa, for sharing their teaching practices and science explorations!
Viewing a solar eclipse and watching a newly emerged butterfly use its wings are two ways young children at the Clarendon Child Care Center engaged with transformations in nature. Their experiences were not one-time events but part of on-going investigations into patterns of shadows and changes in living organisms as they grow. Documenting their experiences in the investigations revealed children’s thinking, information teachers can later use for planning future discussions and explorations.
At the beginning of summer, the addition of a sunscreen application time reflected the longer time the children were spending outdoors enjoying, but protected from, the sun’s radiation. All summer the children tended their gardens of green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and milkweed. Water breaks for plants and people emphasized the seasonal changes in the needs of living organisms. Time passed quickly in play but results were not fast enough in daily hunts for “big enough” green beans and Monarch butterfly eggs.
Transformation in the sun’s appearance
Indoors the children and teachers discussed the moon blocking the sun like a shadow or a cloud overhead to prepare for viewing the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. They played with flashlights and explored making shadows. They practiced not looking at the sun until they were wearing the glasses with solar filter lenses. Families were contacted with safety information and permission forms, and volunteers recruited for the day.
That afternoon, the three and four year old classes played in the large muscle (gross motor) room indoors with moon-themed centers while a few children at a time, with the direct assistance of adults, took turns viewing the solar eclipse, each spending at least five awestricken minutes outside. Originally teachers planned for the entire group to go out together and stay outside for a long period of time but researching how to make it a safe experience led them to take the children out in small groups instead, for multiple short viewings of five minutes with adults more directly supervising the children’s use of glasses. The children’s documentation shows what an impact this experience had on them.
The day after the eclipse children once again (with teacher supervision) looked at the sun through the eclipse glasses with solar filter lenses and they still found it really interesting. Children and adults had been awed viewing the out-of-the-ordinary phenomenon of the solar eclipse (moon-passing-in-front-of-the-sun), but children are also awed by the recognition that a huge star beams down on us everyday. This is a rather amazing starting point for preschoolers when you think about it.
Even the two year old children were able to tend to Monarch caterpillars that hatched from eggs in a colleague’s garden. The classes observed food preferences, feeding and defecation, growth, movement, and metamorphosis. When the butterflies emerged from the chrysalids they were released into the school garden. This experience tied into children’s observations of the Sun and shadows because they observed the butterfly staying in the shade as its wings dried and then moving into the sun, warming up, and flying away.
Incorporating the beauty and wonder of these diverse experiences in nature into investigations focused on children’s ability to make observations and think about what they see in the patterns of natural events.