The week before March Break we scheduled a workshop with the Scientist in the School program. Our presentation was for a kindergarten workshop on habitat called, “There’s No Place Like Home.” It was a great way to engage the students so close to a holiday, and a wonderful lead up to Earth Hour which our school participated in during the last afternoon before the break.
During the workshop, the students rotated through centres facilitated by parent volunteers and the program presenter. In the well-organized and engaging centres, they learned about animals in salt versus freshwater habitat; they learned about animals that dig tunnels and animals that live in, on and under trees; they also learned how beavers create habitat when they dam a waterway. All in all, it was a great afternoon of hands-on learning which the students thoroughly enjoyed.
When we got back to the classroom, I created the opportunity for the students to paint a mural of animal habitat as a follow up to the workshop. On a blackboard placed at eye level for the students, I painted the slope of a hill which lead to a body of water. To encourage the placement of a beaver dam, I painted two water levels, to simulate before and after a dam. Then I invited students to come and paint animals in their habitat.
They painted birds in trees on the hill, worms and ‘bunnies’ in tunnels under the hill, and fish, ducks, and turtles in the water. Someone painted the beaver dam and added a moose on the shallow water side having a drink. Throughout the day, students would ask if they could add an animal and its habitat, and so the mural was quite full and detailed by the time we left for outdoor play at the end of the day.
The following day, I sat with some students at the art table. I had with me a pile of card stock cut in half lengthwise (about 4.5” x 11”). On one of the cards, I drew a long broken line down the middle of the length of the card, put some masking tape on the back, and handed it to one of the students, asking them if they could find a spot to put a section of road in the habitat mural. I asked them what happens when a road is built but there is water or a valley along the way. That’s when they realized they had to build a bridge with the cardstock over the water and the beaver dam. As the road and bridge were being built, I asked if anyone wanted to draw, colour and cut out cars and trucks to put on the road. Then I asked if houses and buildings could be drawn up the same way. Soon the mural was full of roads with cars, buildings, a bridge, a car factory, stop signs and traffic lights.
When it was done, I gathered the students to have a seat in front of the mural. I asked them what had happened to our habitat mural. Here is some of what they said:
“The habitat got covered up.”
“Their habitat is under the road and it’s not really good.”
“The road’s right above the bunny tunnel and they can’t get out.”
“If animals try to get up on the road, they could get killed.”
“Maybe some workers that cut down the trees might not know that a robin was in there.”
When I asked, “What should we do?”, the students suggested taking all the roads and buildings out of the habitat, until one little girl asked, “But what about us? We need a place to live, too!” There was a collective murmur of, “Oh yeah…” and several heads nodding in agreement as they realised that there might be a bit of a problem with their initial idea. Rather than getting into a discussion of the enormous conundrum involving population growth, urban development, and habitat destruction, and hoping instead that the lesson would build knowledge and end on a positive note, I reframed my question by asking them if they and their families had ways of living that could help and protect habitat. Many mentioned that they have bird feeders, that they walk to school instead of driving in a car, and that they have a garden and a compost bin. As they continued to list off the many small ways they are engaged in looking after the environment, there was a sense of , “Oh ya! I am a helper not a destroyer,” which seemed to make everyone feel better. Later on, when we turned off all the lights, the computer, and the overhead fans for Earth Hour, the students had a new appreciation for participating in yet another way to help out the planet.