A new rainforest puzzle was recently introduced to the Explorer classroom. One of the best parts of working in an educational environment is that something as simple as a new puzzle can inspire lots of learning and collaboration.
The long colorful puzzle features many exotic birds and animals that live in the rainforest. As soon as the puzzle was completed, Ethan, one of the explorers who built the puzzle, called me over. He wanted to show me a strange looking orange bird. We looked carefully at the exotic bird with an amazing crest. “What kind of bird is it? What’s its name?” he asked. We looked up the bird and found out it's called Cock-of-the-Rock. Once we identified the Cock-of-the-Rock, he pointed at another bird and asked, “What’s this bird called?” It became clear we would need to identify all the birds and animals in the
puzzle. And we did. In the afternoon, Jeanie, the director of Schoolmates, was in the Explorers’ classroom watching the children build the rainforest puzzle for the 3rd or 4th time. She oh’d and ah’d as the explorers pointed out all the interesting birds and animals contained within the puzzle. Then she said, “I think Jan Brett wrote a book that takes place in the rainforest. It’s similar to The Mitten, where all the woodland animals climb into a mitten, but the animals all climb into an umbrella. It might even be called The Umbrella.” I went to the Jan Brett section of the school’s library and found a book called The Umbrella, which, as Jeanie had mentioned, takes place in the rainforest. All the animals pictured on the puzzle were in the Jan Brett story: jaguar, monkey, kinkajou, toucan, tapir, tree frog and quetzal. Jeanie offered to read the story to the class. The Explorers eagerly circled around and Jeanie read the book. As they listened to the book, the animals from the puzzle came to life in a new way and more connections were made. So much fun.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this kind of impromptu lesson happens all the time at Schoolmates—at schools everywhere, everyday. Something sparks with the students and we, the teachers, run with it. I think teachers are wired to watch, listen, and recognize when their students lean in a little closer, listen just a bit more intently, or ask questions that say, "I'm interested and ready to take this lesson further." You can create this type of environment for your family. Watch and listen to your children—they will lead you. Maybe they are interested in animals, nature, dinosaurs, sports, crafts, trucks, theater, music… Find ways to share their interests: books, movies, museums, programs, toys, games, websites—the resources are there, use them. If you're not sure how to get started talk with your local librarian and your children's teachers. Enjoy the adventure!