In the Art Studio: Plasticine Art Inspired by Barbara Reid

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This month we have been inspired by renowned Canadian author and illustrator Barbara Reid. Barbara Reid has worked on some of my class’s favourite read-alouds: Picture a Tree, Perfect Snow, and Subway Mouse. When reading, we often discuss how an artist may have created their illustrations. My students were very interested in how Barbara was able to achieve such realistic and detailed pictures using Plasticine.

Lucky for us, Barbara Reid has created a series of tutorial videos which you can find on YouTube (links below). In her videos, Barbara talks about how she goes about creating her artworks: from the planning stage (researching, sketching a picture), to creating a background, to adding fine details and textures to her work.

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 1

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 2

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 3

For this project, I cut our Plasticine into very small pieces so it would be easy for the children to manipulate (and because a little goes a long way!). I arranged the pieces in small containers by colour. I also included some of Barbara Reid’s books and a non-fiction book about Barbara Reid herself. We also had dry cloths for wiping our hands (as Barbara suggested) and some tools for adding texture. For the planning process, the children had pieces of cardstock and pencils for sketching. We made our Plasticine pictures on small canvas boards I found at the dollar store. The children were extremely excited to do their work with “real artist materials.” For me, it is very important to give the children beautiful and authentic art materials to use and work with. Their art is more than deserving of quality materials and in my experience, they seem to take their art more seriously when they perceive materials to be “special.”  For this project, the strength of the canvas boards was an added advantage, as it made it easier for the children to spread the Plasticine.

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During the planning process, I really didn’t meddle too much in what the children were sketching or wanting to create, thinking the children would figure out on their own what was going to work and what wasn’t. For example, the first group of children who visited the studio realized that creating people with Plasticine was a big challenge, and advised their classmates accordingly during reflection time. Spreading the Plasticine was also a challenge for some (and a great fine motor muscle workout!). Some children took a few sessions to complete their backgrounds, pausing and coming back later to give their fingers a rest. Other children wanted to persevere and complete their backgrounds so they could get to adding their flowers or bugs or animals. If you’re wondering how long it took the children to complete their pictures, it varied between one session (about half an hour) to a few days, depending on each child.

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Y.A.: “I want to make a picture of a cat.” 

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A.J. spreads the Plasticine to make a sky. “I’m mixing the colours. A little bit of dark blue and a little bit of light blue.”

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Y.A.: “I’m making my grass like Barbara Reid. I’m rolling snakes and making them flat like grass. I’m doing a pattern: light green, dark green, light green, dark green…”

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R.A.: “I’m making a little mousey like Barbara Reid. It’s just like The Subway Mouse.”

Here are some of the children’s completed art works. I have them displayed on a low chalkboard ledge in our classroom and the children can often be found admiring them!

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S.C. “I made a rainbow and a little girl is camping in the tent.”

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Honestly, the children were SO proud of their completed art works. They loved showing them off during reflection time and talking about the process they used to make them. During one reflection session, we started talking about how Barbara Reid gets her Plasticine pictures in the pages of her books. One student remembered that Barbara’s husband photographs her art for her so the pictures can be used as illustrations. One student suggested that we take photographs of our work and use the pictures to make a book by writing our own stories. I loved that the children were inspired to create their own stories, so we set up a story-writing invitation.

At the writing table, I gave the children some mini easels to place their art on. I put out plain paper and some black pens. The children could choose to write about their own work or a classmate’s work that inspired them. This proved to be a popular invitation! Some children returned each day to write a new story! We loved listening to each other’s stories during reflection time – some children’s stories were so popular, the class asked them to read it aloud more than once.

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E.H. “Once there was a little ladybug. She wanted to rest on a flower. The red flower was wet but the purple flower was just right. The End.”

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“I went out on a stormy day.”

We are still in the midst of our story writing. I was interested to see the emergence of a narrative voice in the children’s work and am curious about exploring this further with the class. Stay tuned!

The Mystery Object Inquiry Project

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Don’t you love a good mystery? I know whenever I’m reading a book or watching a film with an element of the unknown, I am always SO curious to see how things will turn out in the end. This year, I decided to spark some interest in a new inquiry by adding in an element of surprise: a “mystery object.” I started with an amaryllis bulb. You can really use anything for this project, but a plant was a great option because of the fact that a plant is always growing and changing. I knew the focus of this inquiry was going to be on building the children’s capacity for making good observations and predictions, and I wanted them to be able to revisit their predictions as the plant grew and changed. An amaryllis blooms in about 6-8 weeks from the time of planting so the children had plenty of time to practice their inquiry skills!

I introduced this project with a game that our music itinerant taught us: “What’s in the box?” I placed the bulb, pot, and bag of soil in a box marked with question marks. We passed the box around the circle asking each child in a sing-song voice, “What’s in the box?” and the children sang back their guesses in turn. After everyone had had a guess, we opened the box to reveal what was inside. I passed around the bulb and each child tried to guess what it was. I recorded their predictions in my notebook. After we had all had a turn at guessing, I asked the class what they thought we should do next. Since there were no instructions with our mystery object, we would have to figure out for ourselves what to do. Right away, many of the children suggested putting the object in the pot with the soil. One child suggested that we need to put water in it too…because that’s what you do when you put something in a pot of dirt.

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Our Mystery Object in its bed of dirt. One student suggested we leave it on the windowsill at the science table so it could catch some sunshine!

We placed our mystery object at the science table. It was the first place most children visited when they entered the classroom each day! Every time there was a change in the mystery object, we took time to discuss our observations as a group. The children had access to our See Think Wonder and “My Prediction” recording sheets throughout the project. It was interesting for me to see which children changed their predictions based on new information and observations as the mystery object grew (and which children held fast to their original ideas).

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A.R. records her thinking about the Mystery Object on a “See, Think, Wonder” recording sheet.

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Some of the children’s predictions about what the Mystery Object might be/grow into: beans, a blueberry, a beanstalk, onions, an apple, salad.

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Our object changes! The students were excited to see these “sprouts” emerge – first one, then two, then three, then four!

One of the interesting questions that arose from one of our reflection discussions was “Is our mystery object a living thing?” This was a question that divided the class! We decided to do some further research to find out. Our librarian gave us a book called “What is a living thing?” which we read in hopes of answering the question once and for all. Again, some children could see right away evidence that our object was indeed living (it was growing, changing, requiring our care and attention) while other children had difficulty connecting the information from the book to their observations of the mystery object.

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The discussion this day revolved around the growth coming from our object. Many children noticed that the new “sprout” looked different than the previous growth. I was encouraging the children to be specific with their observations and descriptions. The leaves were described as “smooth,” “flat,” “pointy” and the new growth as “fat,” “curvy,” and “round.” Many children felt there might be a surprise inside the new growth which caused them to rethink their original predictions.

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The children measure the mystery object to keep track of its growth. J.T. visited the science table every day to measure the mystery object and update the class on how much it had grown!

The day our mystery object bloomed was incredibly exciting! We decided to google “bulb plant that blooms after 8 weeks” and found a matching image for our flower in our search! Giving our plant a name (Amaryllis) was quite satisfying to the children. Every visitor to our classroom was immediately shown to the science table and told about our mystery object – “Do you wanna see our mystery object? It’s an AMARYLLIS!”

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Our beautiful amaryllis bloom. We were shocked to discover that each pod (we ended up with two) held not one, but 4 blooms inside! Amazing!

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Taking a closer look with the magnifiers…

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Counting the blooms…and wondering what might be inside this little pod??

Overall, I feel like the mysterious element to this inquiry was an asset to piquing the children’s initial interest and keeping it sustained throughout the project. My goal from the beginning was to provide an opportunity for the children to practice their inquiry skills – and in that, the mystery object inquiry was very successful!

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Documenting our work

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We thought we’d add a little element of mystery to our hallway display…

Have you ever tried teaching with a mystery object? I’d love to hear what you used as the spark for your learning!

 

 

 

Winter Expressions: Exploring Winter Experiences Through Art

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“This is a snowman and me. I drew snowflakes and wind and trees. My mom threw carrots everywhere; even on the tree – for the animals!” (J.A.T.)

After finally getting a proper dusting of snow, the children were extremely interested in talking about all things winter. Our morning circle time was dominated by stories about snowy walks to school, wet mittens, and plans for play in the snow later in the day. However, I still have quite a few children who are hesitant to share their thinking during our large group conversations or reflections, so I wanted to find a way to provide all my students with an opportunity to talk about their experiences with winter. I have often found that some children are more willing to open up when they are engaged in some sort of activity – be it building, drawing, or even cleaning up. I remembered a beautiful blog post I came across last winter when I was at home on maternity leave that documented the winter conversations children were able to share while creating art about winter in their atelier (you can find my inspiration here: Conversations About Winter, Solstice, and the Changing Light). I decided that art was definitely the way to go.

This exploration was done on acetate sheets (I placed a white sheet of paper underneath each acrylic sheet for better visibility) with permanent markers, tempera paint, and glitter paint. Tempera paint will peel/flake off the acrylic paper when dry, so you must use the glitter paint (mine was a washable tempera glitter paint, but dried like plastic) with the tempera together if you don’t want the paintings to fall apart when they are done. I didn’t try using acrylic paint, but that would likely work as well. Perhaps even finger paint….but I suggest you test your materials before you try it with the children.

First, the children drew their pictures with the permanent markers. As they drew, many children looked out the window for inspiration. Most of the children talked openly about what they were drawing. For the children who are more hesitant to talk, I tried to guide the conversation by asking open-ended questions about the weather, winter activities, and family life.

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“That’s me and my snowman. I see wind out our window so I’m adding swirly wind. And here are the trees with no leaves. The sun is shining on my snowman so I put something special on it so it won’t melt.” (R.A.)

When the children were done sketching, they used the paints to add colour and extra details to their work. When I introduced this centre, we talked about why we were using tiny brushes in the paint – specifically, how the small brushes allow us to add fine details to our work. This idea recently came up in another painting project we had done and the children are beginning to understand how material choices can affect what they are able to accomplish. By highlighting that small brushes make for finer details I find that the children go into the project with the mindset of adding special details to their work.

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I noticed that when children are engaged in detailed work they really “lean in” to the project. You can tell by this student’s body language that he is extremely focused and engaged in his work.

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“This is me and my dad and my brother. I like shoveling the snow. This is my shovel.” (C. P.)

Each day we took some time during reflection time to share some of the children’s finished art pieces. Either I read my notes about what the children said while they worked (their “stories”) or the children presented it in their own words, or both. It was definitely a celebration of learning!

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“I was outside playing in the snow. The wind was almost coming! I see the sun up in the sky. I think the sun is shining on the snow. I wonder if the snow is going to melt?” (F.M.)

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“I like that it’s snowing in winter – that you can catch snowflakes with your tongue. We are playing outside. We’re going to [the school] to slide down the big hill.” (J.T.)

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“I like snowflakes because I get them on my tongue! I made LOTS of snowflakes. Look at my snow! I’m outside with my hat. I have snow on my head but it’s okay.” (C.G.)

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“I’m in the snow. I like that it snows in the winter. I love it to be snowing. So sparkly!” (E. H.)

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Art Studio Inspiration: Drawing Projects for Children

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It’s summer, so if you’re anything like me, you are spending quite a lot of time reading resource books to get ideas for the new school year. I am moving to a new school this year and am therefore starting with a blank slate for my classroom set up. How exciting! One area I have been thinking a lot about is the Art Studio space. So many of our most engaging and creative inquiries have at some point involved work at the studio. Over the years, I have recommended Ann Pelo’s The Language of Art (you can read about that here and here) as a wonderful resource for artistic inquiry. And indeed, I am re-reading that in preparation for the new year…there is always something new to discover!

Today I have another wonderful book to recommend. A couple of weeks ago, I happened upon a new resource for Studio work that is so inspiring I was practically giddy while reading it. The book is called Drawing Projects for Children by Paula Briggs. I came across a recommendation for this book via the following pin on Pinterest titled, “The Perfect Activity to Start Your School Year” (I mean, who could resist clicking on that? And aren’t I so glad I did! What a find!):

The Perfect Activity to Start Your School Year

In her book, Paula speaks about “playing it safe and taking risks.” She says, “For children to get the most out of drawing, they need to be encouraged to push beyond what they consider ‘safe’ (‘safe’ drawings are those in which we know what the outcome is going to be before we have even started making them) and to take risks. By doing so they will widen their concept of what drawing is and what they are capable of achieving.”

Many of the projects in Drawing Projects for Children involve experimentation with different kinds of materials and ways of mark making as well as some dramatic extensions (my favourite is the “Making Spells from Still Lifes” project). Be sure to take a look at the link above on The Art of Education which features an amazing idea from Paula’s book that is perfect for exploring lots of different drawing materials (and which The Art of Education suggests is “the perfect activity to start your school year”).

I can’t wait to give the projects in this book a go! If you’d like more information about Paula Briggs, you can check out her website AccessArt (with loads more art ideas) here: https://www.accessart.org.uk/paula-briggs/

Happy Reading!

The Butterfly Inquiry

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Have you ever had live creatures in your classroom? There is something quite magical about having a living, breathing part of nature in the classroom to inspire some deep thinking. Beyond the obvious scientific connections, having live creatures in the classroom also provides opportunities for social development around respect, responsibility, care-giving, and self-regulation. Over the years I’ve had many insects, amphibians, and animals come through my door but butterflies are definitely my favourite. The whole process of watching and waiting for metamorphosis to occur provides endless opportunities for observations, predictions, hypotheses, and of course, lots of excitement!

This inquiry project turned out to be quite all-encompassing and there is a lot I want to share here. This post will be mainly photo based, with some captions for the photos to describe what we were doing. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars from Boreal Science.

Our caterpillars on the day of their arrival. We ordered our live caterpillars (Painted Lady Butterflies) from Boreal Science.

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E.A. thought our caterpillars should have names – here, she made name tags for two: “Zigzag” and “Stripey.”

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, a student records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

Our literacy connection for the start of this inquiry was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here, F.S. records a shadow-puppet retelling of the story on the iPad.

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The children take time to record their observations of the caterpillars in their science notebooks.

A closer look at the science notebook.

A closer look at the science notebook.

 

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle's famous story.

We represented each phase of the butterfly life cycle through an art piece. Here is our collaborative art piece for the caterpillar, based on Eric Carle’s famous story.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Racing caterpillars at the math centre. The children negotiated the length of the course and recorded the results of their races.

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Our caterpillars inspired so much writing at the writing table!

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

Writing letters to our butterflies while we wait for them to emerge from their chrysalises.

We found this idea on Pinterest - recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

We found this idea on Pinterest – recording the growth and change of our butterflies. We kept this record on the SMARTBoard.

 

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Art and Fine Motor Instruction: learning how to draw a butterfly. Much of this lesson was dedicated to symmetry.

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, "I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs."

Our See, Think, Wonder graphic organizers were available throughout the entire inquiry. This one says, “I see the butterfly has spots. I think it is camouflage. I wonder how the butterflies get their designs.”

 

One of our main questions was "how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?" This led us to think about how to create a  habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and looked for their materials in our outdoor classroom.

One of our main questions was “how can we care for our caterpillars/butterflies?” This led us to think about how to create a habitat for the butterflies where they could thrive while we had them indoors. The children recorded their ideas on butterfly habitat planning sheets and gathered their materials in our outdoor classroom.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

Our representation of the chrysalis stage: creating a chrysalis out of papier mache. The children added finer details with permanent markers when their work was dry.

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

You can see how excited the children are to catch a glimpse of our first butterfly!

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Representing our butterflies with beautiful watercolour paintings. The children worked very hard to create symmetrical designs on the butterfly wings.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children's work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but of our own learning and understanding.

Documentation of our learning. We layered the children’s work in a display that captured not only the growth and change of the caterpillars but the growth and change of our own learning and understanding.

More documentation.

More documentation.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

Our butterflies were clipped to our chrysalises and hung from a branch suspended from the ceiling.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

We celebrated the end of our learning journey with a butterfly release party in our outdoor classroom where the children sang songs and talked about their wishes for our butterflies as they flew into nature.

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween Inspirations

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An emergent curriculum is one that is guided by the children’s interests. I get a lot of questions about what this looks like in Kindergarten. In particular, many educators often express a fear that an emergent curriculum will be random, unorganized, and not tied to the curriculum, which is everything it is not! So today, I thought I’d share an example of  how you can incorporate the children’s interests into your weekly planning.

When my partner and I sit down to plan, we have the curriculum goals in mind that we want to address – the challenge is coming up with creative and interesting provocations or activities that will be inviting to our students. The easiest way to do that is to fuse our curriculum goals with the children’s interests. When you spend time listening to your students – really listening – you will find the things they talk about to be a source of great inspiration!

At this time of year, Halloween is a big source of conversation and excitement amongst my students, and really, it’s not hard to see why. Dressing up? Free candy? No wonder the kids are so excited!

An exciting event like Halloween is a great opportunity to inspire children to try activities they might not normally try simply by putting a Halloween twist on them. An example I can share is a provocation we created at the Art Studio last year that asked the children to design a face for our Jack-o-Lantern. Even my most reluctant artists were eager to try their hand at creating a spooky masterpiece! What a great opportunity for the children to talk about their preferences, past experiences with celebrations, and future plans. Here is a picture of the provocation:

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Often, we set up such experiences for the children and they take on a life of their own or go in a direction we didn’t initially expect. In this case, our fine motor and language activity developed into a mathematical discussion after one student who visited this centre created two options for our Jack-O-Lantern: one happy, and one spooky. You can see he also added the words “YES” and “NO” to his design.

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I’m making a survey…so we can vote to see if we make a scary face or a happy face.”

After sharing Sam’s idea during reflection time, of course the class was excited about the opportunity to put it to a vote! After looking at some pictures online of scary and happy Jack-O-Lanterns, we did our survey on the Smart Board. What an authentic way to talk about the purpose of surveys. Afterwards, many children were inspired to replicate this idea on their own during discovery time.

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Around Halloween we were also working on measurement and pumpkin measuring became another popular and interesting provocation. Here, the children were given snap cubes and pumpkins of different sizes (which we happened to bring back from a recent trip to the farm). The children were asked to find out how many cubes tall the pumpkins were. I was also interested in finding out if the children could identify which pumpkins were the tallest or smallest and how they could prove their thinking. Because pumpkins are round and we were measuring with cube sticks, it became clear that accuracy in the measurements was hard to prove simply by using our eyes. I asked one student how she was sure her measuring stick was the same height as her pumpkin, and this is what she did:

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During reflection time, we posted this picture on the SmartBoard so this student could share her thinking with the class. It gave us an opportunity to talk about the importance of accuracy when measuring. Later that same day, a group of excited boys called me to the math centre. They had been inspired by our discussion before lunch but had come up with a “better way” to show their measurements were accurate:

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The boys then used these structures to directly compare heights to see which pumpkins were taller. Amazing!

Are your students excited about Halloween? How are you incorporating your students’ interests in this spooky holiday in your classroom?

Nests, revisited…

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One of the things I’ve noticed about inquiry projects is how everlasting the learning is. Our projects never really end; though we may “shelve” our thinking and ideas for a time, we often revisit our projects throughout the year – or even in the following year. Earlier in the fall I wrote about a nest inquiry we embarked on after one of my students brought in a nest she found on her way to school (you can read about it here: “Whose Nest is This?”). This Spring, students started thinking about an inquiry from last year where we studied the birds in our yard. As the weather warmed up, the children started noticing our sparrows territorially guarding the bird houses in the courtyard and began speculating that the birds might be preparing nests for their babies, as they had done last year. This created some interesting discussion and wondering about nests. Some of the questions that came up were:

Why do birds (and other animals) build nests?

How do they build nests? What materials do they use? How long does it take?

We really wished we could see inside our bird houses so we could see what the birds were up to! To that end, I found a clip on YouTube that showed a time lapse of a bird building a nest inside a birdhouse (some clever person had set up a video camera in the roof of the house to capture the whole process – boy, did my students think THAT was a genius idea!).

To capitalize on the students’ interest in nests, I created a provocation at the Art Studio. We had been working with clay over the last few weeks and I wanted to give the students a new experience with this popular material. Here is the provocation:

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Students were asked to sculpt a nest out of clay and make sure that it could safely hold at least one egg. Students were also asked to add “texture” to their nests using a variety of materials. Fitting an egg proved to be a wonderful challenge that encouraged the children to problem solve as they worked  – making their nests deeper, wider, or taller as necessary to safely hold the egg. When it came to adding texture, we spent some time holding real bird nests and describing how they felt – “rough,” “prickly,” “scratchy.” “soft,” “smooth,” etc. Children were given simple tools (popsicle sticks, toothpicks, forks, etc.) to add the texture they felt was appropriate. This was a new experience for my students, as our previous work with clay had required them to make their pieces as smooth as possible. Some children had a hard time scratching up their work – in their minds, the nests needed to be smooth because “that’s what clay should feel like.” I was fascinated by this line of thinking. It just goes to show that we often misinterpret the messages that children receive from us from our teaching.

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S.M: The inside of my nest is very big so all the eggs can fit and won’t fly out because of the wind!

Y.T: I made my nest with clay. First, I made a circle and then I put my thumb in and pushed. First the egg didn’t fit and then I pinched it more and tested it but it still didn’t fit, then I tested it again and it fit!

G.M: Nests are for baby birds. The nest keeps the eggs from falling out on the ground where someone might eat them.

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J.M.: Nests are very scratchy. I’m going to pinch it to make it rough. I really enjoyed making this!

J.K.: Nests have a bumpy texture.

S.M.: My nest has a rough texture on the outside and a smooth texture on the inside. It’s smooth in the inside because we don’t want to hurt the birds.

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After completing our nests, the children were given the opportunity to paint an egg to put inside. We read An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Silvia Long (one book of many in a wonderful series – definitely worth checking out!) where we learned about the different sizes, shapes, designs, and textures eggs can have. We also discovered that eggs can be laid by a wide variety of animals! While working on their eggs, the children were asked to imagine what creature might hatch from their egg – a wonderful, creative exercise that greatly influenced how the children designed and painted their eggs.

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M: That’s a crab egg. It’s red with black spots!

M.B. I knew he was making a crab egg. I knew it because he made it so red!

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M.C: I’m painting my egg black because there’s a black snake inside!

R.K.: Mine is a blue jay egg. It’s just blue because a blue jay is blue. Oh, I love my egg!

J.M.: I made my egg green with white, yellow, and blue. I put on black speckles and blue lines. There’s a little robin inside.

Our display of nests and eggs is in the centre of our classroom, at the children’s level. Our students can be found admiring their work daily (and they can’t wait to take them home!).

Are you working on a bird or nest inquiry at the moment? What kind of thinking is happening in your class? I’d love to hear what you are up to!