This week at Tinkergarten, we celebrate the incredible humpback whale, giants of the sea known for their complex songs, acrobatic breaching and incredible journeys as they migrate from the equator to the north and south poles. Learn more about these majestic creatures together. Then, try out some of these fun ways to play like humpback whales:
Snacktime for whales: Explore how humpback whales eat through play! Humpbacks are baleen whales, which means that instead of using teeth to eat, they have a series of plates in their mouth they use to strain seawater for food. To catch food like humpback whales, fill a storage container or clear container with water and invite kids to add a bit of grass, broken up leaves or other small nature bits as pretend whale food. Then, offer kids a kitchen strainer and a toothed comb and invite them to “catch” their food.
Move like whales: Humpback whales can use their powerful fluke (or tail fin) to launch themselves out of the water, also called breaching. Kids can imagine they are whales breaching the waves as they jump as high as they can and then make a splash as they dive back into the water.
Whale song: Humpback whales are known for their complex songs, which can travel for great distances through the world’s oceans. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises often continue for hours on end. Listen here to an underwater recording of humpback whale songs that scientists recorded in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Wonder together what the whales are communicating through their song. Imitate whale sounds together and make up a whale song of your own.
Whale tails: Humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation on the underside of their tails that are unique to each whale, just as fingerprints are to humans. Kids can use this printable template to create their own whale tale pattern using paint, markers, nature treasures or any other art materials you have around the house.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Water play is simultaneously calming and stimulating, the ideal combination to support kids’ focus skills. And when kids play, communicate and move like other creatures, they build a deeper connection to animals and develop empathy.
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By communication, we mean the ability to listen, understand, speak, read and write and more. In order to communicate effectively, kids must learn to understand what they want to get across, then decide on how to convey their messages, working to coordinate the mind and body to do so. They also need to learn to anticipate how the message will be received by another person(s). This is rather elegant and requires a symphony of physical, cognitive and social capabilities. The more children can practice, the better!
Why does it matter?
On a very practical level, kids need to be able to express questions and ideas in order to learn. Kids who communicate effectively can test ideas, seek help and let their formal and informal teachers in the world know what they understand and where they need support. Kids will also need strong and nuanced communication skills in order to work well in peer groups and manage relationships with authority figures, critical parts of life in classrooms and beyond. Later in life, they will need these skills to form close relationships, advocate for themselves within communities and be effective in the workplace.
Focus & Self Control
What is Focus and Self Control?
We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is Imagination?
Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.
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?