Bug categorizing

Lately, we have noticed that some of the children have started confusing the names of certain bugs and insects that they have come across in our classroom. To resolve this confusion and further our understanding of insect names, we set up an exploration.

Using magnifying cubes to help us get a closer look at the bugs, we placed four ladybugs, four doodle bugs, four snails and two caterpillars out on a large sheet of white paper. The paper was divided into four sections labeled “Snails,” “Caterpillars,” “Ladybugs” and “Doodle Bugs.”

The children were excited to see our critters out of their natural habitats. They immediately started grabbing the cubes and excitedly shouting out which ones they had in their possession. We asked the students if they knew what words were on the paper and they all responded by saying “I don’t know.” We took this opportunity to explain to the children the different word in each square.

Some of the children started to place the critters that they had in their hand into separate sections. They repeatedly asked us which section was what. We talked about the first letter of each section to help them connect it to the name of the critter and some of the children helped their classmates find their correct section.

While they were relocating the bugs, some of the children wanted to bring chalk and oil pastels to draw their bugs on the paper. The children drew bodies, legs and antennas in each of the sections. They enjoyed rubbing their hand and arms on the areas that chalk was used. The bright colors rubbed off on their skin and some of them even started to draw on their arms.

By categorizing the bugs into their correct sections, the children practiced word association. Learning to properly label and name items is an important aspect of communication skill development. Writing the bug names on the table and using the first letters of the names to give the children “hints” also increased the children’s general letter and word recognition skills.

In helping one another find the appropriate category for the bugs, the children practiced teamwork, encouraged positive relationships and enhanced their interpersonal communication skills. Drawing the bugs in their correct sections also allowed the children to further instill their mental connection between each bug name and that bug’s unique characteristics, as a means of remembering the appropriate name.

While this began as a communications based exploration, it also built upon other cognitive skills like counting and categorizing.

Tracks with Markers

In accordance with our curriculum, we like to base explorations upon our students’ interests. Doing so allows students to take ownership of their learning experience and motivates them to dive deeper into, and better grasp, concepts.

In our classroom, it is very common for the students to circle tables or shelves with Legos and blocks, pretending that the materials are vehicles. The type of vehicle changes with every loop and turn. To further this interest, we placed a large sheet of paper on the table and attached skinny Crayola markers to edges of the large blocks.

Rather than circling the table with the blocks, the children chose to sit down and watch carefully as their movements made “tracks.” While making their tracks, the students used very large motions on the paper. Some even stretched themselves to the other side of the table.

Later that afternoon, we provided the students with small individual sheets of paper and attached the skinny makers to smaller, narrower blocks. Using smaller materials on smaller paper forced the children to use smaller movements and gestures to make their tracks.

This entire experience incorporated two primary aspects of learning and development- dramatic play and fine motor skill development.

Blocks are an open-ended material, or a “blank canvas” of a play material, coming to life as children apply their imagination and creativity. In pretending that the blocks are vehicles, and that the marks left behind are tracks, the children show an understanding of mental representation and symbolism. Not only is this a fun form of self-expression, but it also encourages creativity and serves as a milestone in cognitive development.

Fine motor skills deal with the level of strength and control a child has regarding their finger, hand and arm movements. By grasping, reaching and operating different tools, children build the muscles in their hands and arms and enhance their fine motor skills.

In this exploration, the incorporation of different block sizes provided an assortment of fine motor challenges for the students. With the larger blocks, the children practiced using their reach and stretch to make tracks. When using the smaller blocks, the children’s strokes were slower and more controlled. Each required a different set of muscles and a different level of focus and attention to detail.