Thursday, January 13, 2011

A simple project leads to an exciting discovery!

With emergent curriculum deciding on what topic the children are interested enough in can be the biggest challenge.  This year has been one of the more difficult years in this regard and we have spent a great deal of time in ordinary moments exploring materials in various ways.
And then, it happens.

Last week a mom came in to class with her family tradition of making pinecone birdfeeders.  Each child made a feeder and we hung them on the bushes and trees on the playground. When we returned the next day, many of them were gone and we found tracks in the snow.  We followed the tracks and tried to determine the animals that had made the tracks.  The children became fascinated with this endeavor and made incredible predictions.  This was the impetus for many questions about which animals actually live around our playground.  Could it really have been a llama?

We are fortunate to own a set of animal footprint molds, so when we went inside I quickly changed some of the plans for the day.  I pulled out the molds and our playdough and we investigated making prints in the dough and comparing them to each other and to what we had seen in the snow.

I pulled out a book about animal tracks that we had in our library and read that with the children.  They were eager to share all they “knew” about tracks and animals.  I helped them to form some of these thoughts into questions and we began our new web.

Each day following this initial discovery, most children would rush to the site upon arrival to search for more tracks.  We talked about how we would learn more about this topic and they decided that we needed more books, and to watch out the window and to talk to an expert.

Thus, many of my initial plans were scraped for the week and changed to follow this new path of discovery.  Now my behind the scenes work begins.  What experiences can I plan to help them answer their questions? 
I have learned from some other great blogs, such as Playful Learning about making casts of animal prints.  We are making another animal feeder this week using orange halves which will hopefully entice more wildlife to make prints on their way to the feast. 

I was able to get to the library and gather books about tracks and the various animals the children thought would live near our playground.  I will also be calling our local nature centers to schedule a trip to talk to a naturalist. 

I would love your ideas for following this exciting topic. 

Playfully Yours,

Note: Due to the severe allergies of some of the children in my room, we were not able to use birdseed.  We used sunflower butter, dry cereal (without oats) and dried fruit.


  1. Dana don't you just love following an emergent curriculum?! It certainly beats teachers trying to come up with new and exciting experiences on their own. As I have read all your followup posts on your animals tracks I think you have done an AMAZING job ... so much wonderful learning is going on in your classroom and all because of a pinecone bird feeder. LOVE IT!
    Donna :) :)

    P.S. I saw a post (somewhere??) where the children were also looking at animal footprints and tried to replicate them using the palms of their own hands and fingers. They were using stamp pads and paper ... it was very impressive. If only I could remember who's blog it was on ... sorry! D.

  2. I just found your blog today! I love using an emergent curriculum. Abbie over at Greening Same and Avery has some great posts you might be interested in.

    I remember having a great talk from someone from the MSU Extension program who not only talked about foot print tracks, but also talked about scat. The children called him the "scat man" and they LOVED looking for other tracks- broken branches, teeth marks from feeding areas... and of course, scat!

    Thanks for sharing...

    and @Donna - thanks for posting and adding another great resource to my reading list!

  3. Wonderful site, thank you for the alternative for the bird seed feeders. Allergies are a major concern these days. I love your site.

    roseann murphy littleriverschool