How can a scientific study of marine animals become a classroom filled with art and literacy opportunities? Through a very natural course of events. My co-teacher, Maria, and I were noticing a strong interest in marine animals in our dramatic play center. One child in particular was pretending to be a “vet”, and instead of tending to the usual domestic animals, she was taking care of otters, seals, and an octopus. Hence, our study of sea animals began, which naturally led us to the YCBA collection! Therein, we discovered “An Angler’s Catch of Coarse Fish” by Dean Wolstenholme, circa 1850:
The children observed a blown up version of this relatively small (8″x10″) painting on the SmartBoard and came up with the following remarks:
Their observations made broad strokes: “The fishes are different colors.” “”I see seaweed.” “I see sand.”
A couple of days passed, and I asked the children to revisit the painting for a few minutes, and then sketch it. Here are a couple of examples of the children’s sketches:
Next, the children made additional remarks about the painting:
During the second round, the children really scoured the painting, trying to find either smaller or much more specific details, such as “the sand is whiter in the middle” “I see the name” (of the artist) and “there is green on the big fish”. It’s important to always make the time to take a second, third, fourth, (or more!) look at a piece of artwork.
After the analysis, we walked the children to the local public library, where they were able to find and check out books about marine animals. The children conducted research by finding interesting pictures about a specific animal and reading about it with an adult, after first telling what they already know about their animal. They then did a watercolor painting of their animal, and cut it out for exhibit on a collaborative mural. They dictated narratives about their animals, which we displayed all around the undersea world:
Lastly, the children told us what they have learned about their animals, and we published it all into a class book, which is circulated home to all families.