The Spider – An investigation by children as a Project Approach

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Phase 1: Beginning the Project

                During one morning as the children moved about the various indoor activities on offer, suddenly there was a lot of noise and commotion from one corner. “A spider”, “a spider”!! There on one of the children’s chairs was a small dark spider. The kids gathered around to get a closer look and a few to try and get in and pick it up. We carefully put the spider into a small observation container and up onto a table and then continued on with our day. Throughout the morning the children went from their activities over to the container to have another look or to show someone who had not yet seen it. Later in the morning, Inez came over to the spider with a drawing of a spider web she had done. We decided to put the drawing into the container with the spider, very quickly it was hiding under it. This generated a discussion about where spiders live; the children were not sure and wanted to put it in the plastic castle outside. We talked about where they had seen spiders before and I brought out a book about insects and looked at different natural environments and where they lived. This is what started the idea to build a spider’s house.

                By now the play had moved outdoors and we had put the spider on an outside table with some magnifying glasses alongside an insect habitat book. The children decided to go off and collect some different materials from the garden to put in with the spider. Once the spider was settled into his new home of sticks, sand and leaves it could no longer be seen in the container and interest waned. I thought that might be the end of the project but in fact many of the children wandered off and continued the project on their own, here are some of the extensions they did:

  • Alex wandered off on his own and started to build the spider a new home for when we were ready to let it out at the end of the session. He worked on this house for most of the session adding sticks, leaves, and eventually some coloured ribbon he found, winding it around different bushes.
  • Brook and Inez carried the spider around the garden ‘looking after it’ and together they decided to call the spider ‘crawly’ because it can crawl.
  • Alex took a magnifying glass and explored looking for others spiders to be crawly’s mum and dad!
  • Kaitlin came outside with the sparkles from an inside activity to decorate around the spider house that Alex built.
  • Lolita came out from inside with a flag that she had made, she put it into the trees where Alex had made the house. On the flag she had drawn a spider and some food for it.

                This part of the project came to an end when the spider was let out by some of the other children. They had let it go in a pot plant and were trying to find it again with a magnifying glass! Alex was very understanding of this and decided to look for another spider for his house. He settled on a worm from the compost and happily settled it into its new home.

                There was clearly a genuine interest in all things spiders from a number of the children but I was still unsure as to what interested them about this subject and what they really wanted to know and explore. For some of the children there seemed a strong interest in the searching for and observing and for others it was more about the habitat and building spider houses. I wanted to set up some different activities to try and better understand their interest and really understand what they wanted to know about spiders.

Phase 2: Developing the Project

Through various activities I set up I wanted to get a better idea of what the children might be interested in knowing about spiders, this is what I did:

*A musical group time, exploring all the spider songs and games we knew. The children took turns being Miss Muffet and the other children trying to scare her off her tuffet!

A Spider Habitat Table

A Spider Inspired Easel

A Group Spider ‘Web’ to explore all things spiders!

I was hoping the spider ‘web’ would help define the project and it did but not at all in the way had I imagined! I asked the children who were interested in the project so far to sit down with me on the mat and we would write down what we knew and anything we wanted to know about spiders on some big pieces of paper. As soon as they saw the paper on the floor, one child suggested we cover it with drawings of spiders, the others quickly agreed and they got to work! It made me realise they were not really interested in answering a particular question or finding out facts about spiders, they just wanted to explore all things spiders; sharing what they knew and exploring their ideas through different activities. This had also been confirmed with how they had enjoyed the experiences I had set up and how they continued searching for spiders when outdoors.

                I decided to let the project run its course and try to offer them different mediums by which they could explore their interest in spiders and bugs. Here are some other examples of how they explored spiders:

Looking at another spider on the roof with binoculars!

Oliver- ‘ I can see a spider’….’the spider has 9 legs’……’there is a bug next to the spider’….’it has spots’

‘Does it have red spots?’-Inez

‘Black spots’-Oliver

‘Great it’s not a Red back!’-Inez

‘It has red and black spots; it must be a Red back!’ Oliver

This discovery led to a fantastic session of reading factual spider books together in a small group. The children enjoyed hearing facts about spiders they knew the names of and sharing stories about their close up encounters with spiders.

*The children enjoyed manipulating and experimenting on their own with the spiders

This spontaneous installation was set up in the window right next to the door that leads to the other 4 year old room.

 

Phase 3: Concluding the Project

            This project never really came to an end as the children are still collecting specimens when outdoors but the obsession with spiders has now been extended to snails, worms and caterpillars. Just yesterday they had set up a snail race and converted the pull cart into a snail house!

                I wanted to find a way to really show them some of the amazing discoveries they had made over the last 2 weeks and just how much they had explored the subject of spiders. I decided to make up a poster with all the photos I had taken combined with some of the facts they had learnt about spiders. I deliberately left a large margin around the poster as I wanted them to be able to contribute to it too. I presented the poster to the whole group and asked those who were interested if they would like to do some drawings of spiders or other insects and cut them out and stick them around the poster to help me finish it; here is the my final activity of the Spider Project, but I know their project is nowhere near finished!

Teacher Reflection

                I went into this project thinking that there had to be a question or problem answered. I quickly realised that this predisposition could ruin what could be an amazingly in depth exploration of a subject that the children were genuinely interested in. Allowing the project to develop at its own pace and really following the children’s interest rather than trying to teach them their interest meant that this project became a meaningful exchanged of ideas, a reciprocated learning experience for all who were interested. I really enjoyed the freedom of this project and how each child explored the subject in a way that was meaningful to them. There was a lot of individual as well as small group activities going on at the same time and children felt comfortable to come and go from an activity as they pleases. I really felt as if the children went away from this project with a greater curiosity and desire to investigate further whatever interests come their way and this was the greatest result possible. I also really enjoyed my role in this project as a provider of materials and facilitator for exploring their ideas and I also have learnt to have a greater appreciation of spiders!

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