By Caitlin Waddick
Spiders, beavers, muskrats, and more! Hands-on Nature (HON) is back in the K-3 classrooms at Shelburne Community School to teach natural science using playful and fun activities. Once a month, parent volunteers attend training from the Four Winds Nature Institute and then enter the classrooms for hands-on science in direct support of national and state learning standards.
Our theme for the 2012-13 school year is structure and function. Students are exploring the characteristics of organisms, looking for similarities and differences among them, and learning about natural selection and the role of evolution.
In September, a puppet show about the “Spider Olympics” demonstrated how the particular characteristics of spiders relate to their important skills and behaviors as weavers and jumpers and hunters, and ultimately to their survival. [The winner gets to eat!] Indoors, we examined real spiders up close and personal and put together model spiders to understand their anatomy. [Did you know that their eight legs are attached to their cephalothorax, not their abdomen?].
Outdoors, we hunted for and found many spider webs and pretended to be spiders sensing the vibrations of student-insects who pluck a taut rope as if struggling on a silk thread. We even made a model spider’s web, learning that all spiders spin silk and that silk is stronger and more flexible than steel.
In October, we are as busy as beavers and muskrats! In the puppet show, a beaver showed a blue jay how he used sticks to build his lodge above the water level so that the inside would be high and dry. The children pretended to be beavers felling carrot-trees by gnawing with their front teeth only; then they ate only the soft chocolate-bark off pretzel-trees. Beavers cannot digest wood, but they can reach the branches of fallen trees to strip their bark for food.
Beavers can easily weigh 60 pounds, while muskrats weigh only three pounds. Muskrats build burrows on the sides of riverbanks, often near beaver dams. Both slap their tails on water to make a loud sound that alerts their families of danger and can scare off predators, such as foxes that like to eat kits. Both stay warm by keeping their fur coats well-groomed, using their claws to spread water-repelling oils that keep their skin dry. In the classroom, the children are feeling how soft these furs are and examining the teeth and skulls. In some classes, children may build model lodges or even visit a beaver lodge, and this is an activity that families can do together too.
You can help fund the Hands-on Nature program by marking your PTO donation for HON. Another way is to save the Box Tops from General Mills cereals, granola bars, and cake mixes. Collection boxes for these certificates are at the Shelburne Supermarket and at the school’s front office. Be sure to check Shelburne News for articles about our monthly topics of study. Next month our focus is predator-prey relationships and adaptations.