Our school uses animals as a hands-on way of observing life and understanding how to care for these animals. We rotate classes and allow each class to participate in feeding the fish, lizards, birds, and turtles each week. On this day the Toddler 1 class observed our turtles. Their eyes were zoned in on the creatures and the children were absolutely captivated by what was going on right in front of them! While observing, the children help feed the animals and touch them if applicable. We love using animals as learning opportunities! While this was happening, we observed the children observing the turtles and encouraged them to talk about what they were seeing and to come closer to the reptile.
A core principle in the Reggio Emilia approach is that the environment is our “third teacher.” Using the animals to learn provides a rich and memorable learning experience for the children because it’s not on a worksheet, behind a cage, or in a storybook, the animal is alive and in front of them! During this activity, we discussed what turtles eat, how they feel, the colors in the turtle shell, counted how many legs and eyes the turtle had, and discussed where they live. The children were fascinated by the slow moving turtle and how it sometimes hid in it’s shell. A big difference in the Reggio Emilia approach versus other philosophies is instead of memorizing a concept or facts; we encourage children to learn by using all of their senses to explore the subject. Research shows us that children are able to better understand and remember a concept by touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing about it compared to reading about the subject or seeing one on a worksheet!