Last week we began our study of Botany and Zoology with a lesson on Living and Non-Living. This lesson is meant to be very engaging and hands-on leaving the child with a deep impression because it involves real specimens and objects. It is usually the first experience children have with classifying things into groups for the purpose of scientific study. The words, classify, classification, and class are new vocabulary that they gain. This is a lesson that is repeated every year in preschool and elementary because it is a foundation lesson for further Botany and Zoology study.
Children are fascinated by our world, the flora and fauna that inhabit it and they have a natural desire for discovery.
Have you ever taken a walk outside with a young child? You will no doubt have observed their ability to focus on the tiniest detail of life around them; a little ant scurrying through a highway-crack in the sidewalk, a glistening slime trail of a bygone snail, a seemingly ordinary leaf, tuft of grass, smooth rock that simply must be inspected. It is the journey that is important, not the destination! Most of us lose our ability to be fascinated as we grow older. We have seen it all before and it no longer calls to us. I think childlike curiosity should be encouraged, even in ourselves. When we lose our fascination with the life happening around us we become bored, we miss opportunities, and it usually means we are preoccupied with other mundane distractions. I want to foster curiosity and fascination in myself and my children, train our eyes to observe, stoke questions, revel in exploration, springboard into deeper inquiry.
We began our lesson with a walk outside. Prior to our adventure we discussed things that are alive and not alive thus elevating this walk out of the ordinary and giving us purpose.
-Is a tree alive?
-I don’t know?
-Does it grow? Yes.
-Does it move by itself, even if that movement is growth? Yes.
-Does it need water? Yes.
-Does it need food? Yes.
That is why a tree is alive. It grows, and needs food and water.
What about a rock? Is a rock alive? No, it doesn’t grow and it doesn’t need to eat or drink.
Our conversation was effective because as soon as we burst from the front door, Hannah was pointing at the velvety pinkish-orange hibiscus blooms shouting, “Look, that flower is alive!” followed in the same breath by, “That tree is alive!” indicating our Spanish Moss crusted Nut Tall Oak. I succinctly agreed reiterating that they indeed grow and need food and water. We saw hawks, ants, rocks, and cars among other things. We gathered up sticks, leaves, and rocks to take back with us for classification purposes. Haleigh is only 1 1/2, but she loves to get in on a good game! She hurtled down the sidewalk until her little eyes spotted a minute detail which halted her. Out came her stubby pointer finger and an exclamation of “ooooooooh!” as she bent as close to the ground as she could without falling over followed by inarticulate, but nonetheless meaningful babble.
Back in the classroom (a.k.a playroom/ exercise room) hands filled with samples of living and non-living things we got out our work rug on the floor and I quickly explained that when scientists study things they put them into groups or classes (there’s the new vocabulary) so that it will be easier to study them. I told Hannah that we would classify our objects into two groups: Living and Non-Living. I wrote the words Living and Non-Living onto strips of paper and placed them at the top of the rug. Then we sorted through our objects and decided which class to place them in using our questions:
- Does it grow?
- Does it move by itself even if that movement is only growth?
- Does it need water?
- Does it need food?
After discussing our objects and classifying them appropriately I gave Hannah her science journal so she could record her work. Her science journal is a Mead Primary Journal that I absolutely love for preschoolers and lower elementary students. The top half of the page is blank for drawing and the lower half is lined for writing. In the blank top half I created two sections by writing Living on one side and Non-Living on the other side and drawing a vertical line to separate them. On the Living side she drew pictures of what was on the rug in the living class and on the Non-living side she drew pictures of what was on the rug in the Non-Living class.
This lesson was abbreviated for the preschool level. I would go into much more depth with an elementary child. MRS. GREF is extremely helpful when beginning the study of plants and animals. She helps us by reminding us that all living things must answer yes to every one of these questions:
M– Move. All living things must move by themselves even if that movement is simply growth.
R– Respiration. All living things must respire, or breathe.
S– Sense. All living things must sense the world around them in some way.
G– Grow. All living things must grow.
R– Reproduce. All living things must reproduce by live birth or laying eggs.
E-Excrete. All living things must excrete waste.
F– Food. All living things must have food.
Once MRS GREF has been introduced (or a simplified version) children can use this knowledge as they research individual plants and animals. For example, If they are researching dogs they can go down the list of requirements for living things using the letters in her name to answer important questions about how each plant or animal accomplishes those things.
As follow up work to do on her own I gave her some picture cards to classify from Montessori For Everyone.