This week at Tinkergarten we celebrate Megalosourus, the first dinosaur ever discovered by scientists! To help kids learn how fossils tell us stories of earth’s past, try this fun way to make your own nature fossils.
Make mud or forest putty: Try out a simple recipe for forest putty (Tinkergarten's name for playdough that we let kids take outside to blend and create with). Or, invite kids to mix water and dirt until you have mud the same consistency as brownie batter. Divide your putty or mud into balls and press flat against the ground, plate or other flat surface with the palm of your hand.
Collect treasures: Invite kids to search their outdoor space for nature treasures of different shapes, sizes and textures.
Create your fossils: Model how to press one of the nature treasures into the mud or forest putty patty. Gently lift it up and notice together the print that is left behind. Invite kids to make more prints with the nature objects they collected.
Guess that fossil: Take turns making a fossil with a nature object and then invite the other person to guess what object it was just by looking at the print left behind.
Fossil hunt: Leave the mud or forest putty to dry. Once hardened, take turns hiding the fossils around your outdoor space for the other person to find. Or, bury the fossils beneath dirt or sand and offer kids a stick and a paintbrush to carefully excavate their fossils.
Why is this activity great for kids?
When kids create their own impressions of nature objects on mud or forest putty, they get a hands-on lesson in how scientists use fossils to learn about the earth’s past. Adding imaginative play to science exploration is also a super way to spark creativity while getting kids hooked on STEM!
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Tinkergarten for Teachers
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The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?