There are very few early childhood classrooms that never approach the topic of dinosaurs. The children at Christina Kent Early Childhood Center are not unlike other preschool age children when they became curious about these creatures. And, if you browse through early childhood curricula, you are sure to find a wide range of preplanned activities and approaches for studying dinosaurs.
In contrast to prepackaged or predetermined curriculum approaches, the teachers at Christina Kent Early Childhood Center and me, as their curriculum facilitator, explore how to incorporate children’s interests in a topic. We become researchers studying children’s interests through careful study of collected documentation from the classroom after which we collaboratively plan further steps at weekly meetings. In this case, our challenge was to explore children’s curiosity about dinosaurs, not what we believed they should know. With this goal in mind, we began our journey with the dinosaurs.
Early in the fall of 2011, the teachers noticed the children acting out dinosaurs in the classroom and on the playground. The teachers collected photographs and video recordings of the children’s play. Teachers continued to bring drawings, paintings, and 3D constructions that demonstrated children’s interpretations of the dinosaurs’ physical appearances and activities. We planned several activities that provoked and challenged children’s interest in dinosaurs.
I have found that while using an emergent or project based curriculum approach, it is important to create a balance between planned activities that provoke children’s interests while also providing materials and the space for them to explore the interest independently, in their own way. It is important to document both situations. This allows us to determine how children react to what we planned or if new interests emerge from their own explorations.
We provided children opportunities to act our dinosaurs using projector lights and a shadow screen. We also asked them to demonstrate their ideas about dinosaurs through their drawings. We began to learn that the children did not all share the same views of dinosaurs. Some thought they were nice and wanted to play on the playground with them. Other children showed us in their drawings the loud ferocious roar the dinosaurs made.
One day, a particular event happened that lead us in a new direction. A child asked teacher Nicole, “Teacher, where do the dinosaurs live? I want to feed them.” Of course, the natural tendency for the teacher would be to tell the child the dinosaurs no longer are alive. Instead, teacher Nicole chose to share this question with the other teachers and me in our weekly meeting. It never dawned on us that the children didn’t know the dinosaurs weren’t around anymore. We decided to ask them where the dinosaurs lived. This is what they said:
C: On the side of the road. (Actually, there is a large dinosaur sculpture on the side of the road on the north side of Albuquerque.)
K: The live in swamps.
I: Yea, they live in swamps.
G: No, they live in the zoo.
M: I think they live in the zoo with the elephants.
So, the journey continues as the teachers and I challenge ourselves to not answer the question for children, but to allow ourselves to let them lead us down a path we did not know existed. We continue to explore where the dinosaurs live.