“Nature is a tool to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.”
Kindergarten Architects Planning and Creating Their Houses
Kindergarten students are developing tree houses and fairy houses as part of the Paper and Wood Unit. To start off our exploration into this unit, we first read from the Engineers at Work book series. Students engaged in a discussion about each stage of the engineering design process and how we will go about following that process to create tree houses and fairy houses. Students asked questions around how to build one, what materials they will have at their disposal, and the timeframe for starting and finishing them.
- Start with an idea of creating a tree house or fairy house – Who is going to use my fairy house or tree house? What will I need in it? How will I get power to my fairy house or tree house?
- Create a blueprint – Where do I want to place my model on my cardboard? Where will I create a path?
- Design the landscaping around my tree house or fairy house – What do I want around the outside of my tree house or fairy house?
- Create my tree house or fairy house – What materials will I use?
- Write about my tree house or fairy house – What problems did I run into, and how did I solve them? How did I persevere when my ideas didn’t work out?
- Reflect on and assess my tree house or fairy house – Do I want to make changes? What do I want to do differently next time?
- My tree house or fairy house – What am I most proud of? Now that I have finished this, what do I want to create next?
The next step was for the students to create a blueprint for what they wanted to construct. We researched tree houses and fairy house through books, video clips, and colored photographs featuring examples of treehouse and fairy houses from all over the world. We also revisited our simple machines unit and students asked if they could construct zip-lines for their tree houses and fairy houses. They wanted to be able to zip in and out of places. Students used Lego bricks to construct models and to test their ideas regarding angles, speed, and heights. They did their tests around the Makerspace and in the hallways of the school.
Landscaping: What is it? Who does it? Why is it important?
We read a big book entitled Tony Builds a House. After the story, we went back to the landscaping page and dove into a very rich conversation about landscaping. Students were able to connect landscapes and their families look. We looked at photos from calendars and other books. Students also talked about the simple machines in the story, ramp and wheels because the main character was in a wheelchair. Kindergarten came up with other ideas for Tony. The wanted to build Tony a treehouse for his back yard to play with his sisters and neighbors. All agreed to build him an elevator pulley, a wheel chair seesaw so he could play with it near his treehouse and a lighter wheel chair like the table top treehouse bears that we use at that center. I purchased a tree house activity where kids have to problem-solve ways to make each level of the treehouse stable. Students have been making connections from the simple machines unit, and are applying the knowledge they gained to their tree houses and fairy houses!
We read a few books and conducted research on Tracy Kane, a fairy house artist and builder. She made a video on building tree houses, and so we incorporated this resource into our research. In the video, Tracy mentions that she would pick a spot in the woods with her niece, and would begin to observe the animals living in that environment. Once she was ready to create her fairy house, she would start by drawing pictures with a pencil. Then, she used colored pencils (like our Young STEAM Inventors) to color in her creations. She would write little stories about what the animals were doing in the woods. There was one story we thought was funny where a frog jumped out of a nearby pond and into one of the fairy houses. Tracy describes in the video how there was one time that she went with her niece to build a fairy house near the beach with found materials. They used sand, water, and shells to build castle-like fairy houses. It was cool to watch!
“Some of us want to build fairy houses, and some of us want to build tree houses. We get to choose which one we want to build. That’s all we wanted to say. We want to build.”
We talked about tree houses by connecting it to the “Building a Treehouse” video I showed of Sid the Science Kid. This particular episode focused on pulleys, which is a simple machine. We watched as Sid and his Dad used the Engineering Design Process to solve the problem of bringing items up into the tree house. The students were very engaged with the episode; in fact, they were talking to the television and telling the characters different things they believed were important to say. They wanted to let it be known that they were engineers and that they could figure out any problem by coming up with a few good ideas and testing them out. We also read various books on the subject, such as Way Up In the Treehouse: A True Story of the Central Park Treehouses, as well as Tony Built a Treehouse. At the end, I made sure to let the students know that each of their tree house and fairy house projects would need to incorporate at least one simple machine.
Students then stepped into the shoes of a landscaper and decided on what they wanted to design. We looked at colored photographs of tree houses for inspiration, and each student used their own creative ideas to design the landscaping for their tree house. They started cutting out green paper for grass, made trees with sticks and clay, and built outdoor furniture, seesaws, paths, bushes. Some students started building their tree houses using interlocking pop-cycle sticks and colored sticks for their foundation. Their comments to me were: “The tree house has to be stable, or it will fall!”
The Science of Animal Habitats
While the “big kids” designed tree houses and fairy houses, K0/K1 Young STEAM Inventors have been studying animals that live in wetlands, streams, and dams. They’ve read books of different animals who live near water sources and who make habitats out of natural materials, such as mud and sticks.