Outside Classroom Lessons with Slugs

Have you ever thought teachers require children to play outside only to have a break from learning? What if your child attends a school where playing outside is considered learning? We believe children learn while playing outside and we actively engage in activities that ignite their interests, question previous notions, and teach life-skills.

Children yearn to learn, even outside. Our outside areas are considered a classroom.  This is where learning can come to life and we can learn about science, math, and so much more.  The butterfly garden, vegetable gardens, bug hotel, bird habitat and play spaces allow for rich learning experiences. A couple outdoor activities we’ve observed include counting different bugs’ legs, comparing hard-shells to soft shells, watching lady bugs eat aphids, watching caterpillars eat leaves, and learning that a spider see’s through eight different eyes. We’ve also installed a water-area and music-area where children gain hands on experience with fluid volume and creating different sounds. One of the children’s favorite areas is the “kitchen,” where we “cook” dishes made from flower petals, leaves, stems, and other outdoor materials. The most important component of outside play is that children learn from and engage with each other. 

Recently, we caught slugs in our playground. After observing that slugs move slow and leave a trail of slime, we placed the slugs on paper in a small pool of watercolor and observed as the slugs “painted” a trail on the paper. The children experienced different slugs creating different colored lines on the paper.

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The children observed the shape of the “slugs’ paintings” and said, “Look! They made a slide!”  This excitement inspired the children to further their understanding of the slugs’ trail. We began using markers to draw on the pieces of paper (with the slugs still on them) and the children further developed their knowledge of a slugs pattern by representing the pattern in their own way. Some children formed a hypothesis on their drawings and used round lines or sharp angles. We compared drawings with the slug’s watercolor trail and came to the conclusion that the slugs we were experiencing all have similar trails and move in fairly consistent lines.  We also observed that the slugs we moving away from the children’s drawings, and liked to move on the white parts of the paper!

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In this activity, we demonstrated several key characteristics of the Reggio Emilia approach. Something you hear frequently when discussing the Reggio philosophy is “the environment is the third teacher,” and this project is a prime example of what that means. We engaged and encouraged the children’s learning with slugs by observing, touching, experiencing, drawing, forming hypothesis and evaluating final conclusions. 

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