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Embracing Impromptu Investigations

Embrace improptu learning opportunities

The prospect of snow in the forecast this week reminds me of how much I LOVED the first flurries of the season as a teacher. As soon as I saw the snowflakes begin to fall, I’d stop whatever we were doing in the classroom and invite the children over to the window. We’d watch the snow fall for a few minutes and describe what we saw: the wind blowing the flakes in different directions; snow sticking to cars, grass, and branches; birds and squirrels scurrying about to get out of the weather. Then I’d usually suggest that we quickly get bundled up and go play in the snow! My suggestion was always met with giant smiles and lots of excitement. As we put on our coats, mittens, hats, and scarves, I engaged the children in one of my favorite Mighty Minutes®: “Hi-Ho, the Derry-O.”

To the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell,” we sang the following song:

We’re going to go outside.
We’re going to go outside.
Hi-ho, the derry-o!
We’re going to go outside.

We’re going to see some snowflakes.
We’re going to see some snowflakes.
Hi-ho, the derry-o!
We’re going to see some snowflakes.

As my assistant and I helped the children get snapped and zipped, I invited children to contribute additional verses:

It’s going to be very chilly….
We’ll catch snowflakes on our tongues….
We need to wear our coats….

On our way outside, I asked children to help me gather a stack of black construction paper from the Art area and our collection of handheld magnifying glasses from the Discovery area. After we ran around in the snow for a few minutes, I invited the children to catch snowflakes on a piece of black paper, whose contrast with snow makes it a great background for looking at individual snowflakes. The children then used the magnifying glasses to closely examine the snowflakes they caught.

The children’s experiences in the snow provided a wonderful opportunity for rich discussions.

I would say things like “Hmm, I wonder why the snow is sticking to the grass but not the sidewalk” or “This snowflake has five pointy parts. How many does yours have?” Because it was cold, we didn’t usually stay outside for long—maybe 6 to 10 minutes at the most. I know, I know: it took that long to get everyone’s coats on! But the time we spent bundling up and heading outdoors was absolutely worth it for the positive approaches to learning and the investigative skills that I got to model and encourage in the children.

When we returned to the classroom with pink cheeks and renewed energy, we resumed the activities we were engaged in before we went outside.

I always encouraged the children to visit the Art area or to write about what they saw when we were outside. Their observations often sparked an interest in investigating something further on the computer or in nonfiction text.

So the next time you get the chance to do something special with the children that you hadn’t planned for, take a break from the daily routine and embrace it wholeheartedly knowing that the children will learn something new… and so will you.

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