We are currently developing the legend of the dragon fruit! Last week we examined a dragon fruit in class and all of the children asked what this strange “fruit” was. We wrote the word “dragon fruit” on the light table next to the fruit and started the exploration by sounding out the name of the food and going over the letters in it.
This gave us an opportunity to read. To illustrate this and expand their understanding of letters, we would ask the children to think of words that sound similar to the word we were sounding out. So, for the “d” in dragon fruit, they came up with the words “dog” and “duck” because all three make the “d” sound.
After this activity, we asked the children why it’s called a dragon fruit. Their responses invoked deep level thinking and illustrated their curiosity:
“Because dragons eat it?”
“But aren’t dragons fake believe?”
They continued to debate this amongst themselves and then decided that…
“A long time ago, before God was born and before people were born, there were dragons. And that is when dragons ate the dragon fruit.”
The story of dragons eating dragon fruit continued to develop as the children evolved the details. They explained the characteristics of the winged-dinosaurs and sketched their thoughts and ideas on paper. The children theorized on where dragon fruit is grown and hypothesized the sounds a dragon makes.
One child drew an image of a dragon with headphones on, and we asked her what kind of music the dragon was listening to. Suddenly, all of the children began making growling and heavy-breathing sounds, and then one child informed the rest of the group that “breathing is not music, it’s just a breathing sound.” This surprised the class. The, the classroom began questioning and forming a hypothesis on what music is.
Similar to this study, the children created a story on how seaweed turns into kiwis. One day we placed sliced kiwi’s on the light board to study the seeds, and one child said it was seaweed. As the children thought about this and examined the sliced kiwi, they concluded that it wasn’t seaweed. The child then stated, “Well seaweed turns into kiwi.” From there, the children developed an elaborate story on how “seaweed is pointy and then seaweed grows into kiwi.”
The next day we observed seaweed next to kiwi slices on the light table. Our goal with this project is not to produce “correct” answers, but to have the children analyze, be creative, and actively think to produce information and come to conclusions (as opposed to just consuming information).
We also had some generous parents who donated some dragon figurines and the children used them for sand play the next day. Another parent donated a pink dragon fruit for some more tasting and exploring!
This project is important for several reasons. One: it shows how child-led curriculum is correctly implemented. Many people believe children just need to consume information and be taught at. We believe that children are capable human beings with thoughts, interests, and abilities. Through our respect for children, we are able to use their interests as a learning vehicle and incorporate mathematical, scientific, grammar, spelling, and language lessons into topics they’re interested in.
Second, this project shows what child-led curriculum can do for children. While we are aware that dragons don’t eat dragon fruit and kiwi’s don’t come from seaweed, the children are making this exploration and slowly coming to these conclusions on their own. There’s very few times that children are encouraged to explore their creative side, unless in a structured setting. For example, most children are only encouraged to be creative in writing for a specific creative-writing piece, or encouraged to be creative while painting a specific object. However, we like to encourage children to be creative in all instances, even when their answers are “wrong.” We will always encourage children to be creative and investigate their claims instead of simply correcting them with the “right” answer. Through the course of this study, the children became interested in the other things dragons might eat, so we continued on this path. So, through their own investigation, they created an elaborate narrative on dragons and dragon fruit.
Lastly, this project is important because the children were introduced to new foods and played with these foods in their whole, sliced, and diced forms. It’s amazing how a new food can inspire children, from using cucumber slices to make a log cabin to inspiring an entire story from handling a dragon fruit! By encouraging children to play and be creative with foods in their whole and sliced forms, they’re able to learn through sensory experiences and are more likely to try (and enjoy) the new food!
Why is learning through sensory play important? Sensory experiences and learning through sensory play is a way for children to identify with the world and organize their knowledge in their preferred manner. It’s therapeutic (have you ever seen a child’s bad mood disintegrate with a splash in the bath?), improve motor skills, raise awareness of how the world words, and contribute to language acquisition. From birth children have learned about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing.
According to Suzanne Gainsley, stimulating the senses sends signals to children’s brains that help to strengthen neural pathways important for all types of learning. For example, as children explore sensory materials, they develop their sense of touch, which lays the foundation for learning other skills, such as identifying objects by touch, and using fine-motor muscles. The materials children work with at the sand and water table have many sensory attributes — they may be warm or cool, wet or dry, rough or smooth, hard or soft, textured or slimy. Discovering and differentiating these characteristics is a first step in classification, or sorting — an important part of preschoolers’ science learning and discovery.