Ashbrook, Peggy, Science and Children
Children can have a new favorite animal every week or even every hour. The more familiar the children become with an animal, the more they will be able to understand how its body form and behavior allow it to survive. They notice that earthworms are most often found in the soil, that dogs chase squirrels, and that birds fly away when people come near.
Learning about the characteristics of organisms and how organisms relate to their environment is part of the National Science Education Content Standard C. Looking at and drawing animals and talking and reading about the way animals live and what they need to survive pulls together art and science while introducing children to animal diversity and the idea of animal adaptation. Encyclopedias of animals (Mcghee and McKay 2006) are wonderful references for exploring the diversity of animals, although it is hard to learn about animal behavior from a book. By looking closely for a long time, children can find out what the animal does with its body--how it moves, eats, rests, and cares for its young--and begin to see how the animal is adapted to its environment.
Observe live animals such as birds, insects, dogs, or squirrels while on the playground or on a walking field trip. A field trip to a farm, aquarium, or zoo will provide a wide range of animals to observe. Or, bring animals into the classroom for a visit. Creating an aquarium for fish or other aquatics or a terrarium for isopods (a.k.a., pill bugs or roly-polies) and earthworms are ways to make animals available for observation. Children love to observe the metamorphosis of darkling beetles ("mealworms") and butterflies--animals that are also easy to keep in a classroom.
The following activity provides a way to assess if children understand the relationship between the shape of an animal, its behavior, and its survival. By "inventing" animals--using sculptural collage to create an imaginary animal--and describing how the new animals live, children reveal their understanding. As children describe their creation, they may explain, "It has a long neck so it can reach its food" or "It has eyes everywhere to see the bugs it eats."
Mcghee, K., and G. McKay. 2006. National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals. Washington, DC: National Geographic Children's Books
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press
Invent an Animal
To introduce the idea that animal bodies are shaped to perform a particular function
* Paper and pencils or other drawing supplies
* Sculpture materials: craft sticks, cotton balls, straws, ribbon, buttons, toothpicks, sponges, fabric, yarn, cardboard tubes, egg cartons, sandpaper, tape, and glue
* Books about animals
1. As the children observe animals (see suggestions on previous page), tell them to sketch the animal--to make a first (not a final) drawing--to record the body parts and shape to talk about it later with other people. …