Everyday nature provides us something new to explore in our outside classroom. During one of our explorations, we noticed two caterpillars. The class observed that the caterpillars were different from one another and began to inquire about the differences. Some of their thoughts and questions included:

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  • “One caterpillar is fuzzy and has fur.”
  • “The other caterpillars are always in the garden and that it doesn’t have fur.”
  • “What do caterpillars eat?”
  • “Will both caterpillars turn into butterflies?”

To satisfy our curiosity, we went as a class to the library to do some research on caterpillars. The children decided that it would be a good idea to create a home for the caterpillars in the classroom. Having the caterpillar inside has allowed us to observe it on a daily basis. This observational learning experience reveals how children learn about the world around them by modeling or mimicking what they observe.

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The class used their observations to create their own caterpillar. They molded a 3-D version of their caterpillar using play dough and did an observational drawing using colored sharpies. Creating their own versions of the insect encouraged the children to closely analyze its physical characteristics. It also required them to apply their analysis in an effort to strategically determine what materials would best represent the characteristics they wanted to capture. Sharing scientific knowledge through artistic expression conveys a strong ability to think creatively.

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The children also incorporated literacy into the experience by writing out the word caterpillar. Writing, along with drawing and clay modeling, is challenging for children’s hand muscles and builds fine motor skills. The children sounded out each letter as a group, encouraging teamwork and social skill development. They also worked on letter recognition, another valuable skill for reading and writing.

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The class will continue to watch over the caterpillar by feeding it and cleaning the home they made for the insect. Observing that the caterpillar has needs and working daily to meet those needs instills a sense of responsibility, independence and accomplishment. It also teaches children how to successfully establish habits and shows them how they can make valuable and meaningful contributions to nature.

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Hopefully we will be able to see the caterpillar’s transformation into a moth or butterfly! (fingers crossed) Until then, we will just have to continue making hypotheses.

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