JULIA KELLY TALKS TO VICTORIA NEUMARK. Last year I taught a reception class. Although they are very young, around five years old, they can become aware of the environment, and they can learn how to record and share their experiences. We were working on the topic of animals around us when we tried the experiment of finding out if badgers like spaghetti bolognese.
It happened like this. All term we had been working on experiencing animals. We had been to a local farm and had a vet in to visit us and talk about what happens when animals get ill. We had set up a role play area as a sick animals' hospital, where several children at a time would bring in their stuffed animals and put on white coats to play at being vets. They would listen to the animals' chests with stethoscopes, take their temperatures and check their eyes and ears: our work was tied in to thinking about parts of the body and human senses as well. Then we went on to having animals in class.
When you have animals in class, especially with such young children, there are health and safety considerations. We sent letters home explaining what we were going to do, in case of allergies, and we took great precautions in each session. First we had Harriet, the chicken, and the teacher who kept her. She was extremely well-behaved, just sat there, and the children discussed the sense of touch and how the chicken used her beak where we use our hands. Then we had a member of staff with her dog. The dog sniffed out a hanky and we talked about the sense of smell. Our ancillary came in with her cat and we looked at its big eyes and talked about sight. We also had a budgie, a tortoise, a fish.
Next, we went outside and looked for mini-beasts. We went for the experience first; there was no way they were going to record anything at the first moment of squealing and running away when we lifted up a mat and found woodlice. But the next time, we took worksheets and recorded the finds. We found out that our tool, the pooter, which sucks up insects, was no good for woodlice. You need a paintbrush. It was when I was asking, "Do you know any other animals which live outside?" that Nicholas put his hand up. He told us that his mother had been feeding a family of badgers every night.
We decided to try and see the badgers. But first of all, we all talked about what it was like to be out at night. How do you see? We had a big cardboard box in the classroom and children would go in there or in the cupboard - no light in there - and see what it was like with no light. They could take a torch if they felt afraid. We decided that the badgers were probably not very good at seeing, because you can't be at night, but that they would have good senses of smell and hearing to find their way around. We tried out finding our way around the classroom with a blindfold on.
A small group went with Nicholas to his house to see the badgers' run and to see where they ate. His mother told us she fed them scraps. So we got the whole class to provide what they thought the badger would like and I agreed to go along and test it out.
At 11 o'clock one night I could be found in Nicholas's garden with Nicholas's mum, a glass of wine and a camcorder filming a badger choosing between a chicken carcase, a hardboiled egg, lettuce, tomato, toast and spaghetti bolognese. It was spaghetti bolognese, with the egg trailing a long way behind.
This was a great lesson, talked about for a long time afterwards. The film came out surprisingly well, the children had thought about and provided materials, and parents had been involved. I always like to involve the children through their own natural curiosity, and this was a classic.
Julia Kelly is a classroom teacher and an environmental education and science co-ordinator at Dudley Infants School in Hastings. She is the 1996 TESAssociation for Science Education Primary Science Teacher of the Year. Nominations for the 1997 awards must be made by May 31. Nomination forms and details from Mrs V Bourquin, ASE, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA