Who doesn’t remember the magic as a child, of watching the transformation of tadpoles slowly turning into frogs. At Mairtown we were lucky enough all of last term to have had some tadpoles to look after. It hasn’t been an easy journey at times, we have had a few deaths (!) but it has certainly been a great learning experience for all of us. This post tells a story of our inquiry together.
When our tadpoles first arrived, thanks to Kelsey and Lachlan, most were small with no legs. Rather than immediately tell the children what they were, when I’m working with children in small groups, I like to encourage them to inquire, to ask questions, to answer these questions, to tell stories and work out the ideas that are flowing through their minds. This is the basis of inquiry based learning, and one that I love and value as a teacher.
We have found at Mairtown that the most authentic learning comes from experiences that are guided by the children. We don’t have ‘themes’ that we push into our programme, rather we observe what fascinates the children together and with them we negotiate the next steps of learning.
When the tadpoles arrived, Lachlan who had brought them in was clearly enthusiastic, and it was his enthusiasm and current knowledge that soon drew a small group of other children wanting to share in the experience and learning. Rather than announcing they were tadpoles, the first thing we did as a group was to discuss what we saw. My questions for the children, to encourage their deeper thinking were ‘What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder?’ As we worked together I documented some of the children’s ideas so we could re-visit these together throughout the inquiry.
As always, I supplied some close-up photographs of tadpoles to further provoke the children’s thinking, as well as having access to the live tadpoles in front of us. As the children started to reflect and share their ideas I was ready with an assortment of materials for them. Loris Malaguzzi the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to education felt it was important for the art studio to be subversive; a combination of both an art studio and a science laboratory. This is evident each time I work with children and provide tools for their exploration - whether it be clay, paints, pen and paper – these media are helpful for children when working out their ideas, hypothesizing, testing theories, answering questions – and also a way for them to document and record their own learning.
‘Documentation also enables young children to see their own thought processes. When children speak, write, draw, build, or dramatize their ideas, they are making their thinking visible.’ (Salmon, 2010)
In this recent work, the children worked with white paper, black vivid and at times dye. Here is an extract from their initial thinking in the first week of the tadpoles arriving (early February 2017).
Me: What do you see?
Elsie: He’s got a tail and a body.
Tilly: And a little head.
Elsie: And a tiny little mouth. The tail goes waggle.
Tilly: And there are little stripes on the tail.
Elsie: It shakes its body; the body is like an olive.
Me: What do you think about this animal?
Tilly: I think it will turn into a snail.
Elsie: If that happens it’ll have to lose its tail.
Willow: Or maybe it’ll turn into a snake.
At this point, Lachie arrives and being the expert he is on tadpoles, tells everyone ‘They are tadpoles, I have them at my house’ – but Lachie didn’t tell everyone what happens next!
Me: What do you wonder now that you have heard they are tadpoles?
Elsie: I know that tadpoles turn into frogs. I wonder when it will be a frog, will it need a bigger pond? I think it will be a frog in one week.
Archie: I wonder will it grow more. Will it grow 3 or 4 legs?
Tilly: I think it’ll be 2 legs at the front and 2 legs at the back and then it can jump.
Archie: Do they bite?
Milla: No, as they don’t have teeth – see, I can’t see teeth. They do look a bit like fish though.
Archie: This is what will happen. It’ll get more legs so it can turn into a frog and then go ribbit ribbit.
During the weeks following the arrival of our first tadpoles, we had a little challenge! Some of our tadpoles died; but again, this opened up lots of dialogue for the children to think through. And each day I encouraged any children who wanted to learn more about tadpoles into our small group discussions. As the first few days progressed the children soon realised we needed to find out more about how to care for our tadpoles. On the children’s advice and guidance, we searched the internet for questions we thought may help us provide a safe environment for the tadpoles, and also collected some books from our local library.
When thinking is part of their routine, children become alert to situations that call for thinking (Salmon, 2010)
Looking through the books, many children observed and pointed out how our tadpoles looked different to the pictures. Of course, as the days went by, we all began to notice some changes happening – 2 legs turned to 4.
Lucas: Look, look! That one has 4 legs, some still have 2.
Piper: It’s trying to jump out, it’s trying to get out. We need to be careful…don’t touch it
Elsie: His legs are folded up, they are getting bigger. They are having a growth spurt. Now it’s bigger I can see they don’t have noses so they don’t smell. Perhaps when it turns into a frog it will smell.
Zoey: How does the tadpole know when to turn into a frog?
Elsie: Because it’s got a good brain.
Our inquiry learning continued to develop and develop. More children joined in our discoveries, while friends who had been interested from day one, shared the learning they had learnt to date. One thing I love about engaging in inquiry based learning, is that as teachers we are simply following the students lead in their desire to find out more about their world. The children inquire, they ask questions, and together we find out and think through some of the answers. What is wonderful to see is how the children take charge of their learning, it empowers them and they have clear ownership over what they feel they need to, and want to, find out more about. Perhaps one of the most important factors of inquiry based learning, especially in an early childhood setting, is how our children know they are supported and hence feel capable. For each child of course, the learning will look different, each of them asking their own questions, then each of them all researching their answers in different ways. Likewise, the understandings that they discover are shown in a way that honours them and their individual learning needs. For instance, some children will love to sit and discuss, some may draw, others create stories, some will use clay, whilst again others may introduce this new leaning into their imaginary and dramatic play.
By the end of February more changes were happening. One of our tadpoles changed green and became a froglet. We had to think about the environment for our emerging froglets, knowing they would be frogs soon, and again more research took place into how we should care for our froglets. The observations of these changes led to great thinking from the children.
|Our tadpoles in their tank|
Elsie: They don’t have tails now, the patterns on its skin is getting bigger.
Archie: No look, they still have a little bump for a tail, but it’s mouth is bigger, like a happy face.
Milla: And its body is more square now.
Makenzie: Next time I come to kindy it will be a big frog.
Then of course, just as Makenzie predicted, our first froglet turned into a frog, soon followed by the other froglets. This opened up a whole new level of care for us as we needed to feed the frogs different foods. Through our research, we had discovered that whilst froglets need no food, as they absorb energy from their tails, when they become frogs they need an assortment of insects to eat. This job the children took very seriously, and we spent many hours a week catching fruit flies (from our worm bin with our homemade fly catchers) and hunting for passion vine hoppers and small beetles. Many children caught bugs from home and brought them in for the frogs to eat.
|A tadpole with 4 legs|
|An annotated drawing of our frog|
What did surprise all of us was watching how the frogs ate. We all assumed they would stick a long tongue out to catch the flies, but this isn’t what we observed in practice.
Milla: I was wondering how the frogs tongue gets so long when it comes out.
Archie: Is that what happens when they eat flies? I haven’t seen it happen yet.
Fernanda: Yes, they have big long tongues.
The watching began after this conversation – it was several days until we were lucky enough to see a frog catch a live fly.
Arlo: It did it, it has a pink tongue, but it’s not big, the fly came to the frog’s mouth and snap, it got eaten – it was so exciting.
Juno: I saw it, the fly was on the frogs nose, then frog opened its mouth – fly gone.
|A tadpole with 2 legs|
As children listen to each other’s ideas and see each other’s work, they have opportunities to learn that there are different points of view. Through exploring a topic in different ways and from different perspectives, they expand their understandings’ (Kolbe)
Unfortunately, towards the end of the term, the day came when, after we had been discussing how we could catch even more flies for the frogs (they were growing much bigger and needing more food) that the children decided the frogs should live in a pond so they could catch their own flies. This was such a thoughtful response from the children, and a decision that everyone was happy with. So, late March, two months after they joined us as very small tadpoles, we farewelled our frogs into one of our children’s ponds at home. We hope they continue to grow big and who knows, maybe next year we may even get some of their tadpoles back at kindergarten.
Hei konā mai,