For the past week or so, all of the kids (except Chipmunk) have been caught up in a game they call "Ecosystems." The idea began with Katydid, because she has been reading about ecosystems in the Harcourt 6th grade science textbook, which we have hanging around the house from when we signed up with Kolbe a few years ago. It was Katydid's idea to read the text, and she chooses the unit she's working on. There is a whole section on ecosystems, which she wanted to learn about, so she's been reading and explainin, to us and to her brothers, how ecosystems work. She wrote, edited, and rewrote a nice report for me. But she planted the germ of a more useful idea in her brothers.
I think Gareth was the one who actually started the game. Gareth -- since the age of 7 -- has been deeply interested in paleontology. His birthday request when he turned 12 was for a book about prehistoric mammals. The only one I could find that he hadn't read, or that wasn't a slim picture book, was a technical book called After the Dinosaurs. He's been reading this book all year, along with others, and by now he has a pretty good idea of what an "ecosystem" is and how it works, too. So one day he gathered up all the Schleich animals in his room and set one up.
Of course Farmerboy -- who is currently fascinated with mammoths and dinosaurs and how paleontologists can know anything about creatures that died so long ago -- thought setting up an ecosystem with Schleich animals sounded like a great idea. So he and Gareth divided the living room up into habitats. They said they were living on an island, and they each had their own territory. (Territory is big around here, I have to tell you.) They divided up the animals so that each of them had carnivores and herbivores. Then they spent an hour or so inventing natural disasters, migrations of invasive species, regular climate patterns, etc. so the populations of their animals (each population represented by one toy animal) could rise and fall, and in some cases, go extinct. Katydid and the twins soon joined the game as well, and now that the weather is nice, they often bring their toys outside to play Ecosystems in the ferns.
When I asked Farmerboy if I could snap this picture, he was explaining to me how his ecosystem worked. There had just been a devestating flood, so the horses were having a hard time finding food. But the hippos were plentiful, and the smilodons (saber-toothed tigers) had plenty to eat, since they ate hippos. But the horses, he said, shaking his head, were likely to go extinct.
So what was my role in all of this, if none of this learning was "planned"?
- I encouraged Katydid to read her science book on a daily basis. She wanted to, but amid multiple distractions, would sometimes forget. So a reminder or a question from me was welcome.
- I allowed the collection of a number of animal toys ;-), including the new prehistoric mammals purchased at Agway last week.
- The animals are always out where they can be played with.
- I let the kids have time to play their game. If they were involved in play, I was a little looser with times to start chores or seatwork, and the amount of seat work. I didn't allow seat work to squeeze out the game.
- I asked the kids about their game, listened to their explanations, and through questions, helped clarify their thinking.
- I documented the game (here). The kids like it when I blog what they're doing, because it shows them that I value their work and their ideas enough to share and display it.
- I'll continue to look for ways I can encourage the game -- maybe by suggesting the creation of props for scenery, or by providing playable plants, trees, etc (artificial flowers, toy trees, and/or sticks, etc from outside), or by reading about ecosystems and habitats.
This is why I like the Reggio approach. We work in tandem, the kids and I, for deep learning. I learn as much as the kids do -- about new subjects, sure, but also about the way they learn, about what they think is important, about the enormous creative potential of children. This kind of learning is what keeps me energized and keeps the kids excited, engaged, and happy.