One day, the children were playing with play-dough and animal toys when one of the children picked up a play-piece in the shape of an Octopus and imprinted it onto the play dough. As he was imprinting the Octopus play piece into the play dough, he began a conversation with a nearby friend, telling him everything he knew about Octopuses. Essentially, he gave his friend a “mini lesson” on Octopi, informing him that there were eight long legs, showing him the face, and discussing different shapes within the animal. This sparked an interest in the Octopus, where they live, and in the sea creatures’ features.
To further their knowledge in a different way, we played a video about Octopuses in class the next day. After the video, we set up a provocation with different loose parts and materials, like clay, q-tips, tile pieces, tooth picks, and straws in order to see what the children would create. The students manipulated the play dough in different ways with most of them rolling the dough into dense, round balls. The children loved to count the eight legs for their clay Octopi. Some of the children had eight legs, while others claimed that their octopus didn’t need all eight legs (ha!) During this project, we sounded out the word “Octopus” and practiced writing each letter and the word as a whole. Our favorite part of the day was comparing and contrasting the materials, the letters, the word, and the actual Octopus itself. We discussed how the Octopus is slimy, wet, and smooth, while the clay can be smooth, rough, or even in-between sometimes.
“I see an Octopus in the water, a shark, and a sea urchin. The Octopus has long lengs. The sea urchin has small legs. The sea urchin doesn’t have eyes.” -Aarav
Daniel: “Its an Octopus and it eats breakfast.”
Mia: “A crocodile eats breakfast. He eats the Octopus. He is squishy in the ocean!
Abi: “It has a yucky nose. It has circles and triangles and its going to dip in the water.”
Mackenzie: “He has eyes and its night there.”
This activity allowed the children to explore a new animal and express their knowledge and understanding in different ways. This activity highlights the benefits of the Reggio Emilia approach because:
- The children had some control over the direction of their learning
- They were able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing
- The children had a relationship with other children and with the material items
- The children were provided with endless ways and opportunities to express themselves
We believe that children extend and deepen their understandings through multiple, hands-on experiences with diverse materials, such as clay. We loved observing the students creating unique texture with the clay, whether they were poking holes, creating lines, or rolling it into little balls. Their investigation of texture and shapes allowed for a creative and unique learning experience because they are initiating the learning process along the way. Projects where children create a tangible final product that they can hold, feel, and show off improve their self-esteem and pride. The most amazing part is that it was one particular child’s interest that sparked an entire project on Octopi! Our focus for this project was on the children’s understanding and development of shapes, writing, and counting.