Emergent learning and inquiry based learning can be difficult to quantify, especially in the context of play. During this fall session of forest school we have been blessed with wonderful weather that allows us to be outside, for the entire class, and frequently in the same area. We have noticed that our world is filled to bursting with ladybugs. I thought I would use this opportunity to explore some of the ideas that have surfaced from spending long, prolonged and uninterrupted periods of time among the ladybugs with plenty of opportunities for play.
We have discovered "ladybug hotels" where we find large groups of ladybugs hidden away from the cold. Once you find one you seem to be able to find a whole bunch, it's like a puzzle where your eyes are suddenly trained to see the insects. The ladybugs often appear to be lifeless when we find them in the chilly morning. In the afternoon sun though, when everything warms up, the ladybugs come alive and start crawling everywhere.
We have spent some time observing them and the children have noticed various things about the ladybugs. Most of the kids have previous information that they are working with. They might add to the information, build on existing understanding or reinforce what they already know. This process works for all of us, repeated exposure to something helps us remember and solidify what we know and can often lead to connections being made to other bits of information we have collected. One of the children talked about the ladybug migration. Another child asked questions about why they were gathering in groups. Someone wanted to know why they pretended to be dead.
These questions are more important than the answers. The answers they will get, in time, if they really need them or want them. The most valuable part of these discoveries is in the process of how they are gathering information. They are sitting on a hill watching the sunshine turn the temperature up one degree at a time. They can see the ladybugs come to life, almost at once. They can make observations about where they prefer to hide from the cold and they can compare the number of ladybugs to other experiences in other seasons.
Another day, another connection is made. The weather has turned colder today and there was snow on the ground when we arrived for class. No ladybugs today unless you know where to look. Several bugs were spotted tucked into a nook on a tree trunk. We noticed that the sleeping ladybugs would spring to life after about 20 seconds on a warm hand. This led to the thought that maybe the fire would help thaw out our little friends.
Then we could talk about the fine motor practice that has occurred and the problem solving. There is no other activity that I could plan for or create that would engage a child for an entire hour simply working on the pinching motor skill or the hand eye coordination required to catch these little red bugs. Problem solving comes into play as well. I could find this child a lid for her jar but the drive to contain her ladybugs is an excellent fertilizer for new ideas. One child tried a few things before deciding to (brilliantly) fill her jar with damp sand. Without compacting anything, she was able to contain her treasures and keep them safe. We already knew they liked to borough into the ground and she made the very logical connection that they would not be harmed. It was a creative, effective solution and displayed a deep (and wonderful) understanding of her subject matter.
This is emergent, inquiry based learning as it becomes visible.
You may notice that all these ladybugs look the same. We had explored the idea of participating in a project that documents the location and species of ladybugs across North America. We know from that project that this is a common ladybug, found (obviously) in large numbers across the province of Alberta.
Then there is this guy. He was discovered after 7 days of ladybug adventures over 3 weeks of the fall season. The only one so far that we have spotted (hah!) with a different colour and dot pattern. He is lost somewhere for now in the jar of 'one hundred billion and forty three' red insects, the lone orange bug. It speaks volumes about the population ratios of the two species. We believe this is a Japanese ladybug and will continue to try and identify him but, again, that's not what is important to our learning here.
What's important is the information we have collected and the process of learning that we've been able to experience. The connections we've made from the information we are gathering and the understanding we've built upon.
One thing we've learned is that you have to pay attention to see something awesome. You have to be looking for it and you have to keep looking for it. The next thing we'll be exploring is how we find out more information. Where do we go when we have questions? How can we find out more?
We've also learned that when you are interested in something, it can steal your focus for large chunks of time. This can make you incredibly happy.
As happy as a loveliness of ladybugs.