By Hazel Stark
As the sun’s warmth finally started to make itself known after a cold and wet spring, the Pre-K and Kindergarten students at Harrington Elementary School had a chance to learn outside with Maine Outdoor School during two consecutive Friday programs in May 2017. This article is the first of a four-part series on these recent programs at Harrington Elementary, so stay tuned for more!
To get prepared for exploring the role of water on the living things in their schoolyard, these 4-6-year-olds made some weather observations in order to ensure they were wearing appropriate clothing. They noted that it was cloudy and breezy, but pretty warm. Having applied those observations to their readiness, they headed out to the newly renovated trail system around their school. Pausing at a dry spot along the trail, they were let loose to explore off-trail and discover any evidence they could find of living things. They enthusiastically peeked under rocks, poked rotting sticks, and peered up tree trunks. Next, they explored a wetter area to compare how many living things they saw there vs. the dry area. They noticed worms and slugs, moss and stumps, and a very shaded understory. Having explored the influence of water on plants, they wanted to know about the influence of sunshine on plants.
To test out their hypotheses, they did an experiment that would tell them how much sunshine could influence plant growth. Hiking back to their classroom, they collected a piece of trash they noticed along the way. They each planted beans in an old fish tank and in a separate pot and then made guesses about what might help those beans grow into green plants: “Water!” said one student, “Dirt!” said another. Several students volunteered to water the now hidden beans. Placing that piece of trash they found over some of the soil to see how it might influence growth and the separate pot in a dark area to see if the lack of sunlight might affect the beans, the students were ready to wait until the following week to see the results of their experiment.
Each day for the next week, the Kindergarteners watered all the beans. When the MOS Educator arrived the next Friday morning, they were excited to show off their project. While only a few of the beans had sprouted in just a week, the students noticed that the most successful ones were the beans grown in sunlight without the trash on top of them. They then understood the important influence of the sun (and water) on growing plants and our food and that human litter can impede growth.
To build upon this lesson, they wanted to see what other ways the sun could influence the world around us. The MOS Educator poured some water on the pavement outside the school and drew a chalk mark around it, asking “What do you think will happen to this water on this sunny day?” Some students thought it would turn green from the chalk mark, others thought it would spread out, while others thought it wouldn’t change much. They hiked on, excited to see what the water would look like in an hour.
In order to build their observational skills, students then engaged in a “Four Senses Scavenger Hunt” (using only their science senses, which excludes taste). They explored one sense at a time, noticing tiny bluet flowers and violets with their eyes, smelling spruce needle tips with their noses, touching soft fir needles and rough bark with their hands, and listening silently for birds and leaves rustling in the wind. Having refined their already impressive observation skills, it was already time to head back to school. As they approached the chalk-circled water spot, one student gasped, “The water is GONE!” The rest of the students huddled around the spot, aghast at this substantial change. Asked where the water went, they all realized that the sun had made the water disappear. After practicing the word “evaporation” out loud, these observant Pre-K and Kindergarten students evaporated back into the school with a much stronger understanding of how the sun influences the weather, plant growth, and living things.