By Caitlin Waddick
This month’s theme for Hands-On Nature (HON), “Skulls and Diet,” demonstrated how different types of teeth are adapted to grasp, hold, and chew different kinds of food. Trained HON volunteers returned to K-3 classrooms at Shelburne Community School with various types of skulls such as a rabbit, a shrew, a deer, a raccoon, and a bobcat to examine how varying mammalian teeth, and the shapes of jaws and skulls help determine what a species eats for dinner. A puppet show introduced the fact that the teeth of plant-eating and meat-eating animals are different.
Then, to experiment thoughtfully, the children ate carrots, popcorn, and Twizzlers to reflect on the different kinds of teeth humans have and how we use them to eat different types of food. We learned that incisors cut food, canines tear food, and molars grind food up. No warnings involved: you can try this at home. A guessing game finished up the fun with the children using what they learned to deduce, in groups, the species of animal assigned to them.
This theme has tied in nicely with the material from the fall. In October, when we compared the skulls of beavers and muskrats, we learned that a beaver’s incisors grow four feet each year. November’s lesson examined the different behavioral and physical characteristics that distinguish animals that hunt from those that are hunted, such as foxes and rabbits. The “Skulls and Diet” theme reiterated the mnemonic: “Eyes in front, born to hunt; eyes on the side, born to hide.” Can you think of animals that hunt or hide that have these characteristics? And what other contrasting characteristics do they have? What about animals that are both predators and prey in the food chain?
This month’s topic was yet another way to bring home the year’s goal of how the structure and function of organisms help it survive in its environment, which is our theme for the 2012-13 school year. In groups, children were able to discuss the skulls and use observations about them to hypothesize generalizations about each animal’s diet, lifestyle, and identity. To extend this activity at home, ask your young child to draw an animal “complete with teeth.”
Next month, we will focus on how the adaptations of birds enable them to fly, keep warm, and procure food.
The HON program is offered through a Vermont non-profit called the Four Winds Institute. You can help fund the program at SCS 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.
Once again, many parents and I enjoyed working with the children to promote skullduggery among mammals in the classroom. Thus, I conclude: I am hungry and am ready to eat.