PBS in the Classroom

Experimenting and Exploring the Wonders of Nature with Young Learners

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As teachers began the 2021 school year, we may have discovered many lapses in our students’ social skills. Without regular access to extended family members and friends because of the pandemic, we’ve had to specifically target teaching and practicing the ever important social skills that are foundational to learning. We are focusing on skills like taking turns, waiting, asking for help and also managing one’s emotions. At every turn, we have adjusted our lessons so students can work collaboratively, practice sharing supplies and helping one another.

Grow Up Great and PBS KIDS 
This year, I was part of a special project that bridged content from the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center with PBS KIDS content. I was able to share my feedback about the lessons with the PBS KIDS team as I integrated the lessons in my own classroom. I'm excited to share a few of my class's favorite lessons -- keep reading for fun, engaging ways to learn about the changing seasons. 

Caring about Each Other and Caring about Nature
Lessons that focus on helping, caring for one another and working together, were perfect for my class of curious and kind preschoolers! The PBS KIDS show, Elinor Wonders Why, follows a group of young friends on their daily adventures. The main character, Elinor, is a curious preschooler who introduces children to nature and her community, Animal Town. Animal Town is filled with inquisitive characters who encourage the children to ask questions and explore how things work in their community. 

In the episode we watched, Feed the Birds, Elinor and her friends are worried about their friend Chickee and how he will eat when the seeds are buried in ice and snow during the winter. After watching the short 3 minute clip together, my students were eager to learn about the birds in our own community and figure out ways to help them as the seasons changed -- especially as fall changes to winter.

How Do Beaks Work? Exploring Nature and Experiment #1
The Feed the Birds episode inspired my students to explore how beaks work, especially in the harsh winter months. We pretended tongs were bird beaks and tried to pick up dry bird seeds that were frozen in ice. The class quickly realized that it was quite difficult so we came up with a couple of hypotheses on how we could help our feathered friends. 

Problem:
How do birds eat during the frozen winter season and how can we help them?

Hypotheses: 
1. Scatter bird seed on the ground to make it easier for them to find.
2. Make a bird feeder that can be attached to a fence or tree.

Solutions and Outcomes:
Our class came up with some great ideas to help our feathered friends. First, we scattered some bird seed on the ground but it was quickly covered up by leaves. Together we came to the conclusion that our first hypothesis did not work. Then, the class decided to make bird feeders to hang on trees and fences. This worked! As a group, we were overjoyed with our ability to make a large impact with a small act of kindness and enjoyed the up close and personal views of birds in our neighborhood.

Winter Science Fun for Learning and Exploration: Experiment #2
As autumn turned to winter, we continued our study with how people help melt ice to keep our friends safe so they don’t have to walk on icy, dangerous sidewalks. We watched a short clip from Curious George, Curious George vs. Winter, and from Sid the Science Kid, My Ice Pops! We first experimented with whether our favorite school toys would sink or float in a pail of water. 

The next day, the class found toys frozen in ice and they had to think of ways to release their precious belongings. 

Problem:
How can we help melt ice to remove toys that are frozen in ice?

Hypothesis:
Pour warm water to free the toys from the ice.

Solution and Outcome:
I provided the children with warm water, cool water, rock salt, and iodized salt so we could experiment with different methods. The children worked together to melt the ice with these materials and were surprised that their original hypothesis (melting with warm water) was not the most effective method. It turns out that Iodized salt melted it the fastest!

Valuing Our Community and the Natural World 
As we travel through a world of uncertainty, it’s important to teach the fundamental skills of caring for others, identifying problems, formulating solutions and finding ways to help others. As my students engaged with some of their favorite PBS KIDS friends, they were able to channel their curiosity, formulate and test hypotheses and think of creative solutions about the world around them. Activities and lessons like these help them value their community and natural worlds. Our learners may be young, but Elinor, Curious George and Sid the Science Kid encourage them to be world changers!

To find Winter-themed resources, visit the Changing Seasons collection on PBS LearningMedia. Explore PBS KIDS resources like media, lesson plans, printables and school-to-home activities to inspire your students. Many resources, including  lesson plans and support materials, are created in English and in Spanish!

Tawnya Heinsohn Educator

Ms. Tawnya is a lifelong learner who loves sharing knowledge with people of all ages, especially preschoolers!  Every day is a fresh start with new things to talk about and kindness to share with one another.  Aside from being a teacher, she is also a student, working on her Master’s Degree, a brand ambassador, a server in a restaurant and a preschool developmental screener!  Of all of those hats, her most precious role is being a mother to her 3 daughters, who have taught her more about life and love than any textbook.

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