From a Teacher’s Diary – September 1967
Come into the Garden, Maude…………….
Drawing by Antonia Bottinelli Age 9 (Used with Antonia’s permission )
(Note: I left my classroom teaching position in the summer of 1967 to work as science advisor to the 365 public elementary schools in the Leicestershire Education Authority. My role focused on promoting, encouraging and supporting teachers’ classroom science. This journal entry was made in the early summer of 1967, at the end of an environmental education workshop with forty teachers.)
September 1967 - At the end of one of my pond-dipping workshops at Foxton Field Study Centre, we put our microscopes and white dishes to one side and talked about what we had discovered throughout the day. The conversation soon shifted to what was and what wasn’t going on in their classrooms Some, I knew, were comfortable teaching science, some weren’t.
One teacher, sitting at the back of the room, told me and the class what happened when she asked her 7 year olds to draw a garden worm. A little girl, with wide questioning eyes, put up her hand and said: "I've never seen a worm. How big are they? Are they like snakes?”
The other teachers smiled – and I was reminded of the story I heard somewhere of the young boy who was flabbergasted when he saw a cow being milked on his first-ever visit to the farm. His only experience with milk was in bottles delivered on his doorstep by the milkman each morning.
This isn't so surprising, is it, when you think about it? If you live in a high-rise apartment building you don't have many encounters with worms or cows. But so what? Would it matter if our children grew up not knowing about cows and worms? What relevance have the lives and activities of cows and worms to the urban child who lives in a concrete environment? And, taking this further, does it matter that adults view many small creatures with distaste and pass on their prejudices to their children? After all, isn’t it true that smoldering beneath the surface of many of us are hostile attitudes to nature. Which one of us hasn't trapped and killed a mouse, stepped on a snail, crushed a spider, or swatted a fly?
Well, I think it does matter. Isn't it important that all children have an opportunity to experience the natural world first-hand and to learn about familiar living things that share the world with us? As teachers, shouldn't we provide the children in our care with the opportunity to discover the natural world for themselves, to learn to enjoy it and to appreciate our dependence upon it? Won't that subsequently encourage them to care for it?
For many teachers of young children, nature (creepy crawlies, birds, rocks, fossils, for example) is an invaluable aid for educational purposes, an inspiration for discussion, science, language, art, music, and writing. They know that outside the door is a huge outdoor classroom, a place to learn about and to learn in. It needn't be a dense woodland, rich meadow, pond or clear mountain stream (they help, though!). A schoolyard, however sterile, is home to a myriad of interesting small animals. Turn over a brick and you find woodlice, slugs and snails. Standing in silky webs are spiders, hiding under dead leaves are earwigs, centipedes and millipedes. Lurking inside cracks in the wall are tiny beetles. Small animals have big life histories and are easy to keep for short periods of time. A friend of mine, a professional biologist, kept a small colony of woodlice in a tobacco tin for a few days, dropping in the occasional damp dead leaf for food. Not, of course, by any stretch of the imagination, a recommended way of keeping small creatures, but it does show what is possible.
If we create appropriate classroom homes for small creatures, think of what our children could learn from observing creepy crawlies at close range. Woodlice, for example, would be ideal creatures to keep in the classroom. They’re easy to find and they’re so interesting! Female woodlice mature when they are about two years old and rear their young in a brood pouch under their bodies. When the offspring are ready to emerge, the female stands still, and stretches her front legs out stiffly so that the young can crawl down to the ground. And snails! What wonderful creatures they are, and so easy to keep for a few days. As are spiders, and worms, and millipedes and slugs………………………….
If children are encouraged to find, watch, and understand how small creatures live, won't it help them learn to live in harmony with nature and appreciate living things? And, important for us teachers, doesn't a worm or a spider give us so many ways of developing classroom skills?
Try it and watch how it impacts the children! And your classroom!!
John Paull 1967