Author:
Sandy Benton, Krysta Post
Subject:
Early Learning, Environmental Literacy and Sustainability, Life Science
Material Type:
Unit of Study
Level:
Preschool
Tags:
  • Connectexploreengage
  • Early Learning
  • Garden-Based Learning
  • Inquiry-based Learning
  • Nature Journaling
  • Nature Preschool
  • Phenology
  • Place-based Instruction
  • Place-based Learning
  • Scientific Inquiry
    License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Language:
    English

    Education Standards

    Exploring Phenology—The Return of Spring

    Overview

    The unit is a very basic introduction to phenology geared for the littlest of learners, preschool children ages 3-5. Over the course of five weeks we embrace winter fatigue and set our sights on Spring hoping to spy our very first signs of the season—we spend time looking for the first green shoots, explore the forest floor (moss, lichen and fungi), welcome back the robins, celebrate the spring beauties, embark on a frog hunt and observe the dancing dragonflies!

    Week One—On the hunt for green

    Week Two—Beneath our feet…

    Week Three—Birds!

    Week Four—Spring ephemerals and awakening bugs

    Week Five—Pond Study

    Prior to introducing phenology to my students and implementing this unit, we had been using simple journal prompts at the end of each week as an assessment tool. My students are primarily in the pre-writing stages—the bulk of our entries are fantastic imaginative crayon sketches that we have each student describe for us. I am incredibly fortunate to teach in a garden-based program where we are outside for the majority of our learning time together and teachable moments abound. For this unit, I really wanted our Sprouts to take a closer look at the things we see every day.

    Exploring Phenology—The Return of Spring

    Author: Krysta A. Post, Monk Botanical Gardens—Sprouts Garden Preschool

    Content Area(s): curiosity, engagement, scientific thinking

    Wisconsin Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Addressed: 

    ELS.C1.C.e: Explore outdoors, observing changes over time: describe and ask questions about patterns in natural and built environments.

    ELS.EX2.B.e: Identify species within an ecosystem and describe how the ecosystem provides resources and services necessary for survival.

    ELS.EX3.B.e: Recognize that environments are different based on location and time of year.

    Wisconsin Early Learning Model Standards Addressed:

    WMELS IV.A.EL. 2 Engages in meaningful learning through attempting, repeating, experimenting, refining, and elaborating on experiences and activities.

    WMELS V C. EL.1 Uses observation to gather information.

    WMELS V C. EL. 2 Uses tools to gather information, compare observed objects, and seek answers to questions through active investigation.

    WMELS V C. EL. 3 Hypothesizes and makes predictions.

    WMELS V C. EL. 4 Forms explanations based on trial and error, observations, and explorations.

    Context: The unit is a very basic introduction to phenology geared for the littlest of learners, ages 3-5, in a garden-based preschool program. Over the course of five weeks we embrace winter fatigue and set our sights on Spring hoping to spy our very first signs of the season—we spend time looking for the first green shoots, explore the forest floor (moss, lichen and fungi), welcome back the robins, celebrate the spring beauties, embark on a frog hunt and observe the dancing dragonflies!

    • Week One—On the hunt for green
    • Week Two—Beneath our feet…
    • Week Three—Birds!
    • Week Four—Spring ephemerals and awakening bugs
    • Week Five—Pond Study

    Prior to introducing phenology to my students and implementing this unit, we had been using simple journal prompts at the end of each week as an assessment tool. My students are primarily in the pre-writing stages—the bulk of our entries are fantastic imaginative crayon sketches that we have each student describe for us. I am incredibly fortunate to teach in a garden-based program where we are outside for the majority of our learning time together and teachable moments abound.

    For this unit, I really wanted our Sprouts to take a closer look at the things we see every day. Our initial learning adventure, using the journal page specifically designed for the unit, inspired by “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” (Laws, pp 36-38), was supposed to be our first foray in outdoor journal following the endless winter. However, the temperatures were too low for little fingers—instead, nature, in the form of a pussy willow, was brought into the yurt. With small plastic magnifying glasses in hand each kiddo began with a sketch of the whole branch and then pulled their focus to a single fuzzy bud. The entire experience lasted perhaps three minutes, resulted in drawings that maybe resembled the actual subject and didn’t inspire any discussions about things noticed, questions or fond memories.

    This first experience seeded an immense amount of doubt. Perhaps I was too ambitious? Are my expectations for these little learners to lofty? Maybe this wasn’t going to work as well as I had hoped… The second, third and fourth journaling adventures in this new format were gradually more successful but also introduced new challenges. We were finally able to journal en plein air but being outside added living, moving distractions especially when focusing on birds and insects. We navigated how to “draw” tree moss texture in a way that wasn’t merely a scribble. We noticed that not all flowers are alike: petals are shaped differently; leaves are shaped differently. We practiced moments of zen, learning that if we sit quietly amazing things might happen and we can observe how yellow a robin’s beak is as it pulls a worm out of the soil.

    The true shining moment was journaling in week five. By now the kiddos know the process—quickly sketch the big picture for context and then zoom in to detail the “best” part of our exploration for the week. Perhaps it was the result of sunshine and exhilarating dip net discoveries, but these entries were some of the best I had seen produced by these kiddos. Big pictures with perspective, showing burgeoning duckweed and the duck decoy that then shifted focus to detailed drawings of dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. There were conversations among the students about things they noticed and what that meant—there was the validation I desired.

    I have both the great pleasure and daunting challenge of teaching the littlest of learners. Ninety-five percent of the time I am not certain they are aware that they are ‘learning’—that is the true beauty of inquiry based learning and an integral part of child-led child-focused learning. As an early childhood educator I value the opportunity to learn from the different perspectives found in this cohort.

    WORKS CITED:

    Laws, John Muir et al. “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of”, How to Teach Nature Journaling: Curiosity, Wonder, Attention, Heyday, Berkeley, CA. 2020.