All eight of our preschool classes learn about nature and environmental issues, integrated into their standard curriculum. Natural objects are integrated into all disciplines, using them for counting, sorting, and skills. They are studied with magnifying lenses for texture and shape, used as natural paintbrushes, and passed around for hands-on learning. Parents are continually bringing in bird and wasp nests, feathers, insects, seedpods, and other found objects from nature for study. There is careful effort to return these items to nature after investigation and investigate local items still within their habitat.
Environmental stewardship is a key environmental issue that we teach to our students, as well as habitat diversity and preservation. These issues are addressed through proper handling of natural objects, care for living things, investigation of our gardens and neighboring woods, and maintenance of the gardens, birdhouses, and bird feeders. In our schoolyard, students record rainfall measured with our rain gauge, use rain barrels to water plants, and observe and record birds that visit our window feeder. Twice each year we have an outdoor planting experience with the students, adding bulbs in the fall and plants in the spring and planting seeds and caring for indoor plants in the classroom. Several times each year students experience guided nature walks through the neighboring woods, exploring the woody habitat with their five senses. We visit our Outdoor Classroom in all types of weather, engaging with nature in creative ways.
Our school consists of four classrooms, one with a Science Center with live animals and artifacts, and a second with a Bird Watching Station with binoculars, photos, and sighting graphs. Our third is for music and movement. Our fourth is our Outdoor Classroom, with many structures for environmental learning. Throughout the entire school year, students engage in activities in these keystone areas of learning. In the Science Center, students care for and learn about the live animals. Amphibian studies include the observation of tadpoles transforming into frogs, celebrated with posters, books, and songs. Insect studies include observations of ladybugs, walking sticks, and other playground insects. Our classes hatched and released monarch butterflies, painted lady butterflies, and praying mantises. In 2014 we were lucky enough to incubate and hatch chicken eggs for a local farmer! Using magnifying lenses, field guides, and related books on nature, they are encouraged to investigate and draw the natural artifacts. They then dictate their discoveries and questions for recording in their science log.
At the Bird Watching Station, students use recycled cardboard binoculars, as well as real binoculars, to observe birds at the two window bird feeders, two tree feeders, and a birdhouse right outside the window. Identification posters and field guides help them to learn about what they are seeing. They graph which species they are seeing and bird numbers on bird sighting graphs on the wall throughout the year. There are table game activities relating to bird beaks and bird identification. Students made milk carton bird feeders, pine cone bird feeders, and dried orange bird feeders.
On a community level, our students are learning about the Chesapeake Bay and our relationship to it. We have animal tanks in our Science Center, where the children study and care for painted turtles, newts, tadpoles, frogs, fish, and hissing cockroaches. Our classroom activities relate to environmental issues. Students learn songs about and hear books about the Bay. They learn how our actions at school and home affect the Bay through runoff pollution. Our school has the monthly theme of “Chesapeake Bay Life." Our oldest class reads about a “Bay Critter of the Day” at circle time. Monthly themes, activities, and sample lesson plans reflect this integration.
Click through the slideshow below to see sample lesson plans!