Birds are our final stop in our Spring Life Cycles Unit.
Every year my scholars look forward to our last science unit segment. I save the best for last, leaving a lasting memory on each of my scholars for years. Scholars that come back to visit, ask if we still hatch eggs in the classroom. They remember vivid details and recall the life cycle and vocabulary.
Nests are beautiful pieces of art.
Before a bird will lay eggs, they prepare a space or nest for their eggs (and eventually young) to be safe, comfortable and protected. The process of nest building is a fun study. How the birds gather materials, what types of materials are used, how nests are built and where nests are built, are all fascinating discoveries. My scholars especially like to examine our real bird nests on display.
An invitation to create and build a beautiful nest is a classroom favorite.
Natural materials are set out, that would be used by birds to build nests. Some of the materials are: twigs, sticks, rope, yarn, jute, string, grass, leaves, moss, ribbon, feathers, fur, raffia, straw, crinkled paper and various small speckled eggs. The rope bowl is the perfect soft, natural material to help hold and shape the nest creations. My scholars love to use the materials to build nests that are functional, beautiful, comfortable and protective.
Beautiful books on the types of nests and finished nests, can captivate children and adults.
During this portion of our bird life cycle study, I like to cover four different books: 'A Nest is Noisy' by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long, 'Birds Make Nests' by Michael Garland, 'Animal Engineers: Bird Nests' by Stacy Torino and the beautiful coffee table book called 'Bird Nests: Amazingly Ingenious and Intricate' by Stan Tekiela. My scholars especially like to pour over the amazing photography in Stan Tekiela's book.
Drawing nest plans or their finished product, adds another component to the activity.
Nest plans or nest journal pages, can also be offered at the activity table. The Nest Building Plans page can have a picture drawn of the nest idea or materials they would like to use. The My Bird Nest Design journal page can provide each students with the ability to record what they have built, before they place the materials back for other students.
Click the image below to be taken to the Life Cycles Bird Nests Science Pack:
My Amazon Picks for the Life Cycle of a Bird: Nests lesson are:
Praying Mantises have always been a favorite to watch the entire life cycle of.
As a child, my brother and I had "pet" Praying Mantises. When his laid an ootheca and passed away, my brother was devastated and decided to care for the ootheca until the nymphs hatched. It was carefully placed in a jar, with cut nylons as the breathable barrier at the top. Each day (possibly several times), he'd carefully open the jar and take out the ootheca to check for emerging life. It seemed like forever to us as children. One Sunday, we were sitting in church and someone noticed something small moving from out of my brothers shirt pocket. Upon further observation, there were several itty-bitty mantis nymphs, climbing among the folds of his clothes. You can imagine the urgency my parents felt, as they realized the ootheca must have hatched without the nylon barrier in place. After rushing home and entering my brother's bedroom, his airplane wallpaper seemed to be moving as the hundred-plus nymphs moved about the walls. Days later, nymphs could still be found, captured and released outside. It's a vivid memory that our entire family brings up from time-to-time. As an adult, I have always tried to share similar experiences with my students and my own child.
Mantises are an alien looking insect, with incredible ability.
When giving lessons on mantises, I like to show real photographs. Since there are over 2,000 different types of mantises around the world, I like to show some of the most striking: Leaf Mantis, Flower Mantis, and Stick Mantis, to name a few. The unique look of mantises can make them look menacing. However, they are incredible hunters of destructive bugs and are an exciting pet to keep in the classroom.
Mantises are carnivores and will only consume living, moving creatures.
One of the activities in the science center, during our lessons on mantises is 'Feed the Mantis'. Plastic bugs (from the dollar store) are fed through the "mouth" of the mantis via tongs or tweezers. I like to add a foam die for my scholars to roll and count out the amount of bugs they should feed the mantis. It's a great way to include math and fine-motor work into the lessons. I've laminated the mantis head, cut out the mouth and poked twisted pipecleaners into the antennae locations to add a 3D feel. The head can be attached to a box, with an open top (to easily reach in and remove the plastic insects).
Three-part cards can be easily differentiated for students.
Montessori three-part cards are a great way to add matching and letter recognition. They are self-correcting and can also be used for other activities or small group work. I also use the praying mantis life cycle figures for younger students to match to the cards.
If you're lucky to have the mantis ootheca hatch during class, the experience is one of a lifetime.
Ootheca are unpredictable and can't necessarily be timed like many other life cycle creatures or animals. However, the opportinity to see the actual hatching of mantis nymphs is incredible. They wriggle their way out from the center seam of the ootheca, pale and similar in appearance to worms. Once they've emerged and are hanging on by the silken thread, their legs pop open and they can drop to walk or climb up. When their outer skin and exoskeleton has hardened, it becomes dark. They are delicate and need to have immediate access to plenty of live food, so releasing them immediately is important. I do keep a few in a little habitat, until all of my scholars have had the opportunity to observe them. Then, I usually only keep one or two in separate habitats. We have one from this year's hatch, named "Chuck Mantis". If you do plan on keeping a mantis, look forward to my blog post after our unit and millipede care.
The habitat's that are mesh, don't always have small enough holes, nor do they hold in the moisture needed to have the nymphs hatch from the ootheca. I always suggest keeping them in a jar, with a piece of cut nylons securly rubber-banded over the top. Lightly mist the inside of the jar, through the nylon, at least once a week. Since we are located in Arizona, I lightly mist three times a week.
Your scholars can observe what they see on an observation page. If they aren't able to see the nymphs hatch, have them draw and write how they predict it will look.
There are only a few children's books on mantises.
I'm always on the lookout for good children's books on mantises. If you know of any, send me an email. I'd love to add them to my science library. The two I have pictured are: 'My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis' by Paul Meisel and 'Praying Mantises' by Lisa J. Amstutz.
Click on the image below to be taken to my Insects: Praying Mantis Life Cycles Science Pack:
My Amazon Picks for the lesson on Praying Mantises are:
Ants can teach us a lot about hard work and working together.
The third part of our Spring Life Cycles Unit covers all about ants. Our classroom has a little ant farm that my scholars love to watch as the Harvester Ants work to build their maze of tunnels. It offers a new perspective to the underground world. By offering magnifying glasses, these tiny red creatures can be closly observed as they work.
Bringing out an activity from my own childhood, makes it fun for both my scholars and myself.
Don't underestimate vintage activities and games. There are many being remade for good reason. Simple hands-on activities and games provide wonderful fine-motor and hold a young child's interest. I like to bring out several from my own childhood, that my scholars really enjoy.
Adding my own slight twist to a oldie but goodie game helps tie it into the theme.
'Cootie' is a game that I have the vintage and remade version of. I mix the pieces, since there is a slight variation in design. It gives more choices for my scholars during the activity. Using the 'Cootie' game pieces, my scholars roll a foam die to build an ant. This activity can be for a single student or more than one, depending on the amount of pieces you have. I have card labels for the tray sections, that helps my scholars understand the parts of an ant for each number.
Three-Part Cards can be used two ways.
The life cycle of an ant is reinforced through three-part cards. I use these Montessori cards two ways, to help differentiate between age/skill levels of my scholars: matching the cards and labels, and matching the ant life cycle figures to the cards.
Recording observations help children to describe what they see.
As children observe the work of the ants in the farm, have them describe what they see on an observation page. Adding this writing and drawing work helps to bring in a fine-motor, literacy and art component to the science center.
An ant themed sensory table is a wonderful way to tie in the lesson, at another center in your classroom.
My last blog post was on our Ant Hill Sensory Table. Since handling live ants isn't an option, I have a sensory table with ant figures. Click HERE to be taken to that post.
Several children's books can be found on ants and the ant life cycle.
Out of the many books and fictional stories on ants, I have pictured four: 'Hey, Little Ant' by Phillip and Hannah Hoose, 'The Life Cycle of an Ant' by Hadley Dyer, 'Are You an Ant?' by Judy Allen, and 'If I Were an Ant' by Amy Moses.
Click the image below to be taken to my Insects: Ants Life Cycles Science Pack:
My Amazon Picks for the lesson on ants are:
Our Spring life cycles unit wouldn't be complete without an insect sensory experience.
Part of our Spring life cycles unit includes ants. My scholars have the opportunity to observe Harvester ants in our classroom ant farm. They're mesmerized by the tunneling and dedication to teamwork. Since handling the ants isn't an option, the Ant Hill Sensory Table takes the place of that experience. This sensory discovery gives my scholars the opportunity to set up their own ant hill, designing tunnels and mounds.
Kinetic sand is a fantastic, creative sensory medium.
The table filler is beach colored kinetic sand. I purchase the large three pound bags for my classroom activities. I added river rocks (that help to prop up artificial plants), artificial "Dog Tails" from Hobby Lobby, as well as a few artificial sunflowers. Artificial leaves are sprinkled around, for ants to "collect". The ants were ordered online and are much larger than most sold. They're approximately 1.5" long, making them the perfect size for this sensory table. Small, repurposed scoops are also added for additional fine-motor.
My Amazon Picks to complete the Ant Hill Sensory Table are:
Arthropods are the next stop on our Spring Life Cycles adventure.
There are many arthropods that teachers can bring into the classroom, including pill bugs and hermit crabs. I like to have something that stands a part from all the other creatures in the classroom and is impactful. Our classroom is host to two giant millipedes named "Eggs" and "Bacon". They make wonderful class pets. As part of the Myriapod order of Arthropods, millipedes are related to crustaceans and go back millions of years.
Our classroom millipedes are fascinating and captivating creatures.
Thankfully, modern day species aren't six feet or longer. However, they do range from less than an inch to over fifteen inches in length, depending on the species. While our class millipedes are only around five inches long, they can grow beyond eight inches. The name "Millipede" means "Thousand-Footed". Millipede legs are impressive, but don't reach a thousand. One of the largest species can have over 250 pairs. When a millipede walks, their legs move in a wave motion, mesmerizing my scholars. Millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment. They hatch without legs and with each molt, they gain more.
Like earthworms, millipedes are also important macroorganisms in the decomposition world. They also release enzymes through digested food, that nourishes and enriches our soil. They don't however, dig deep down in the ground. They will make shallow burrows in loose, moist soil, under logs or leaf litter.
Look for my blog post on helpful tips for setting up and caring for millipedes in the classroom, following the life cycles unit.
Our Science Center provides an opportunity to discover and create with natural materials.
Since the arthropod portion of our Spring Life Cycles unit follows annelids, and a life cycle matching activity was set out during that time, I chose not to set out the similar activity. The arthropod portion of our unit also offers an open loose-parts challenge. The challenge is to build a millipede, using the natural materials at the center. The challenge card has a large photograph of a millipede in the wild, to serve as inspiration. The facts mini poster and vocabulary cards also help to inspire through real photographs. Both the loose-parts challenge and a life cycles matching activities are included in my Arthropods: Millipedes Life Cycles Science Pack.
Natural materials make some of the best loose-parts.
For this particular activity, I chose a wood tray with moss. Felt sheets or work trays work just as well. I offered quite a few different loose-parts to work with, set in weaved baskets. My loose-parts included: flat skipping rocks in various sizes, large flat irridecent glass gems, drift wood and wood slices, cholla wood pieces, natural sticks, wood discs and squares, thin wooden dowels and short pipcicle sticks. Get creative with the loose-parts you set out. Leaves (fresh or dried), pinecones, acorns, moss rocks and pine-needles are just a few more ideas for natural loose-parts.
Handling a millipede, is an incredible experience.
Just like earthworms, millipedes provide an incredible sensory experience. The wave from their leg movement is unique. My scholars have the opportunity to hold or touch a millipede, observing it closely. I have my students follow the same steps with holding millipedes, as I do with earthworms. While working in a small group, my scholars sit criss-cross on the floor, or sit in chairs at our group table and hold their hands in a cupped shape. If your students don't want to handle a millipede, they can touch it gently with one finger and observe it in your hand. Make sure that your students wash their hands afterwards.
While my scholars are handling and closely observing the millipede, I ask a series of questions:
Recording science observations is important for reflection.
When my scholars have finished handling a millipede and washed their hands thoroughly, they record their close encounter on an observation page. Depending on their level, students may draw and write what they observed, or simply draw a picture. For students who aren't ready to write what they observed, I transcribe what they express about their experience and drawing.
There are only a few books and stories on millipedes, appropriate for preschool aged scholars.
Unfortunately, there is slim pickings, when it comes to children's books on millipedes. There are three that I read and place in my literacy center during our millipede portion of the unit: 'Millipedes (Dig Deep! Bugs That Live Under Ground)' by Wendell Rhodes, 'Millipedes (Life Cycles)' by Donna Schaffer and 'Millie the Millipede' by Erin Ranson. If you know of any additional children's books on millipedes, Please send me an email. I'm always on the lookout for more.
Click below to be taken to the Arthropods: Millipedes Life Cycles Science Pack:
My Amazon Picks for this science unit are:
The light table can make close observation an incredible experience.
During our Spring Life Cycles Unit, I like to expose my scholars to real creatures, where I'm able. The light table can be a valuable tool with exploration by providing preserved specimens for very close observation. Some of my favorite specimens are those I've preserved from my own collection and purchased separately online.
Educational specimens come in a wide range for cost and quality.
As a teacher on a budget, I have opted for the cheaper basic collections in the past. Many of those collections have lasted several years, but are limited in species. I've slowly added individual specimen pieces to my classroom collections, with species from the categories I cover thoroughly in my science units. Something I have learned over time is that the most expensive will scratch just as easily as the cheaper specimens. It's important to model how you want the specimens treated, several times during the time period they're out for light table use.
Be adventurous in making your own.
I've enjoyed the challenge in making my own acrylic resin encased specimens. There are several online sites for unmounted, deceased bugs, that work perfectly for classroom specimens. However, they can become costly with purchase minimums and shipping costs. I have an extensive entomology collection for teaching that I choose specimens from and students have also donated deceased specimens that they've found.
You'll need to rehydrate deceased specimens carefully, pin them the way you'd like them to dry and make sure they are dried very thoroughly before encasing in acrylic resin. I allow my specimens to dry for a minimum of a month, before encasing them.
It's important to make yourself informed on the various processes of encasing specimens on acrylic resin, before starting. There are plenty of videos available online. As a word of advice, any specimen you work with should be sprayed with a few coats of resin spray before encasing. Once the resin spray has thoroughly cured, much of the visual qualities and characteristics of the specimens will remain intact during encasing. Even with spraying though, there are several species that have characteristics that change when wet and these usually become permanent. The changes are most prominent with wings or iridescence. It's suggested that you practice with some small pieces first, to get the hang of the process before moving onto your cherished specimens.
My Amazon Picks for Arthropods and Insects on the Light Table are:
Each Spring we have the exciting experience to learn about life cycles, with living creatures in our classroom.
Annelids, Arthropods and Insects, are the first hands-on adventure in our Spring life cycles unit. I like to start from deep in the ground and move my way up. For the first week of our unit, I introduce how to identify a bug from other creepy crawlies. From there we learn all about our annelid friends, the earthworms.
It's important to teach children the difference between insects and other creatures, such as arthropods.
I like to introduce our unit by helping my scholars learn general insect identification. Throughout the unit they will be able to tell me whether or not something is an insect, by looking for three characteristics. The first is to count the legs. The creature needs six legs to fit the criteria of an insect. Second, an insect needs a body with three segments: head, thorax and abdomen. Lastly, an insect needs two anntennea. The best book I've found to follow a simplified 6, 3, 2, identification is 'What Makes a Bug a Bug?' by Andi Cann. The pictures are large and vibrant, helping children to grasp the concept.
Annelids are our first stop on our Spring life cycle adventure.
One of the best ways to learn about annelids is through a small classroom worm composter. Children today don't always have the opportunity to dig for and play with worms. Something that was a common sensory discovery experience when I was a child, has become a lost adventure. Bringing earthworms into the classroom, for observation and hands-on discovery is invaluable for children today.
A small classroom worm composter is easy to put together.
There are several ways to put together a container to house the worms. However, I use the Educational Insights compost kit with great success. It has airation holes in the lid and built-in magnifers. I use clean, organic soil from my garden, layered with fine sand. Layering soil and sand several times, helps your students to see the burrowing and mixing that earthworms do to benefit and enrich our soil. I leave an inch or more space from the top of the soil to the lid, to have my scholars add compostable food for the worms. Live bait redworms can be easily found in the sporting/fishing section of most Walmart stores. One container has more than thirty worms, which is plenty for your classroom worm composter.
To fill the container, first add a layer of pebbles for drainage. Then the layering of MOIST soil and fine sand can be added to the container. Once the substrate has been added, spray the top layer with a waterbottle. Don't soak the soil. Instead, add enough moisture to provide a good environment for the worms to thrive in your care. Add your worms and place a few compostable food scraps, buried just below the top layer of soil. A word of caution: if you don't cover the scraps with at least a thin layer of soil, they may stink up your classroom. Your worm composter shouldn't be loaded with scraps either. Add just enough for the worms to munch on and decompose. If you choose to assemble it together with your students, you can provide them with the opportunity to help add the contents and worms.
The Science Center is set up with hands-on activities on the life cycle and real compost materials worms eat.
Real photographs accompany vocabulary words and a facts mini poster. The vocabulary cards make discussion of the worms habitat, life cycle and earth benefits easier for my scholars to visually understand the world of annelids. The life cycle mini poster goes hand-in-hand with the life cycle center activity.
The center is set up with two hands-on activties. First, a life cycle mat is set out with life cycle figures. My scholars can complete the life cycle with either the figures or cards with the same images on the life cycle mini poster. The second activity involves real compostable items listed on the activity page and measuring worms. My scholars have the opportunity to handle, closely observe and use non-standard measurement tools to count a length for each item. I provide dry-erase markers for use on the laminated activity mat. The mat can also be added to a dry-erase pocket, as an alternative to laminating. A worm number line is set out to assist in writing the numbers. All of the vocabulary cards, mini posters and activities are included in my Annelids: Earthworms Science Pack.
Holding and analyzing an earthworm is a very memorable sensory experience.
I like to give my scholars the experience of handling and observing a worm closely. If you have a large class, its better to work in a small group for this part of the unit. When handling the worms, my scholars sit criss-cross on the floor, or sit in chairs at our group table and hold their hands in a cupped shape. If your students don't want to handle a worm, they can touch it gently with one finger and observe it in your hand. Make sure that your students wash their hands afterwards.
While my scholars are handling and closely observing the worms, I ask a series of questions:
Documenting what they see will add in another important element to the science unit.
After my scholars have the opportunity to handle and observe a worm, they document what they saw on an observation page. Depending on their level, students may draw and write what they observed, or simply draw a picture. For students who aren't ready to write what they observed, I transcribe what they express about their experience and drawing.
It's important to teach how earthworms help our environment, enrich our soil and the worm composting process.
As part of the Annelids and the Arthropods sections of our unit, I help my scholars understand the importance of the Macroorganisms that help break down waste and decaying matter to form rich soil. I use "black gold" (worm castings) in my own garden and explain why, as well as show my scholars worm castings up close. Its important to help students understand that worms don't eat everything that is compostable, but those items will still break down and turn into compost on their own, in time. My scholars are given a parent note with a small baggie, to bring in compostable materials to add to the worm compost container. As we continue through the unit, we return back to the annelids portion, to review worms and check in on the changes of the compostable items that my scholars added to the container.
There are several wonderful books on Annelids.
Some of my favorite books to use during the annelids portion of our Spring Life Cycles Unit are: 'An Earthworm's Life' by John Himmelman, 'The Life Cycle of an Earthworm' by Bobbie Kalman, 'Curious About Worms' by Kate Waters, 'Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth' by Mary McKenna Siddals, 'Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt' by Kate Messner, and 'Worm Weather' by Jean Taft.
Click the image below to be taken to the Annelids: Earthworms Science Pack:
My Amazon Picks for this science unit are:
Ribbons of various colors and patterns weave beautiful designs on looms.
Ribbon comes in a variety of textures, colors and patterns. It provides a unique sensory experience through touch, sight and sound. With natural wooden looms, the experience also adds a practice review of an important fine-motor skill that also aides in visual tracking, eye-hand coordination, crossing the midline, math and spacial concepts. My scholars were taught loom weaving, earlier in the school year.
Collecting ribbons from themes and holidays can make a enjoyable variety.
I'm constantly purchasing spools of ribbon from clearance sections. Holiday clearance has some of the most decorative and fun ribbon designs. Dollar stores also sell spools of ribbon that work well for any ribbon project. When cutting ribbon for projects where it will be handled frequently, I recommend cutting the ends with pinking shears. It helps keep the ribbons from fraying. The looms are approximately 8"x12" and are assembled from hardwood 1"x1"s, with wood glue and screws. It's important to use a string or twine that doesn't stretch. Young children tend to pull and stretch strings quite a bit and loose strings can make loom weaving more difficult. I use Mason Line in many of my projects that require string. Mason Line doesn't stretch and can be cleaned easily.
My Amazon Picks to make the Ribbon Loom Sensory Table:
Spring is finally in the air and the bees are busy with all the new blossoms.
Bees are a popular theme in our Spring center activities. This light table ten-frame activity can be differentiated for different levels of learning. The Drops of Honey LIGHT TABLE Ten-Frames include a sheet with one ten-frame set and another with two ten-frame sets, to allow scholars to use numbers up to twenty. It also has two different sets of number bee cards, up to twenty. I use yellow translucent acrylic gems from Hobby Lobby's party section.
Helpful hints for light table transparencies:
Click on the image below to be taken to the Drops of Honey LIGHT TABLE Ten-Frames:
Light table activities can enhance math, literacy and science, taking them to a whole new level.
One of my favorite things to be on the hunt for, to use in my classroom, is translucent objects for activities on the light table. Sometimes the objects are found where thinking outside the box and using creativity is key. When I come across new items, its also exciting to be able to introduce something different to my scholars.
Dollar store LED light strings can easily become manipulatives for the light table.
The LED light strings have translucent green shamrocks that effortlessly slide off, while allowing the lights to be undamaged and used for something else in the classroom. Learning Resources translucent Dice in Dice make the Roll-n-Cover activity easily differentiated. Students can either count only the outer dice, or the total between the inner dice and the outer dice. The Shamrock LIGHT TABLE Roll-n-Cover includes two sets of boards, to help differentiate the activity for different learning levels.
Helpful hints for light table transparencies:
Click on the image below to be taken to the Shamrock LIGHT TABLE Roll-n-Cover:
My Amazon Picks for the Shamrock LIGHT TABLE Roll-n-Cover: