by Amanda Janquart
A rogue Blue Jay has landed smack dab in the happenings at All Seasons Preschool and Inver Glen Senior Living. At first, even as we ooohed and aaahed at seeing up close details of such a fast moving bird, there was a bit of fear. What was this daring bird doing, swooping down and skimming our heads? Teachers would duck and cover…then giggle, feeling goofy for being afraid. After all, we were the adults with preschoolers’ eyes watching every move. Two weeks later there were still visits from what we now called Our Friend Blue Jay. The Jay had become something to look forward to seeing, something to go in search of while carrying bags of seed. It would playfully flit from branch to branch and even land on the ground just feet away from toddler-sized boots. Parents texted pictures of Blue Jay, hanging out on their roof racks in the parking lot. Kath, who lives by our swamp, told us that the Jay visits her every morning and that maybe it was hand raised. This theory has been seconded in a response from a writer at the MN Conservation Magazine. On Teacher Sarah’s birthday the bird took a stand on her cake box! This Jay was uniting the classroom in adventures and laughter. The preschoolers began to wonder, “Had any of the Grandmas and Grandpas seen it too?!”
A small group headed upstairs to find out, and the very first person they asked had quite a story to tell. Yes, Grandpa Norm had not only seen the Blue Jay, but it had landed on the handle of his walker and kept him company for many minutes! The children couldn’t believe that the Jay had pecked on Norm’s cell phone and even moved his playing cards around. Grandpa Norm jokingly wondered if the bird wanted to play poker! The children clearly weren’t sure what that meant, but laughed along.
The class thought that of all the residents, Grandma Marion must’ve met the Blue Jay on one of her many walks around the building. And she had! But instead of sharing her tale, she patiently listened to the children go on and on about the many places they had seen it – in the Pines, in the Woods, on the Playground, and even once it was perched on the front door to the building, having followed the rowdy class all the way from the Swamp. Marion promised to report any further sightings.
While visiting memory care, children used found feathers to tickle the Grandmas’ and Grandpas’ arms and cheeks as they told the seniors stories from the ever growing list of Blue Jay antics. Together, the generations sang a made-up version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider, changing the lyrics to reflect the Blue Jay sightings. Teacher Diane made a sock puppet, which delighted everyone as it moved its crest up and down and called out “jay” sounds.
An environmental educator was asked to visit and answer the children’s growing questions, and Pete happily came from Dodge Nature Center, bringing along a stuffed specimen of a real Blue Jay. We could see the variations in feathers, the strong bill, and the tiny sharp claws, while Pete answered endless questions. The most intriguing mystery had to do with what it ate, specifically what was our Blue Jay’s most favorite food of all. The guesses came flying out – yogurt, hot chocolate, peanuts, or maybe cake!
As children drew pictures of birds, using the mount as a model, they continued to chat about bird food. A plan was devised to set out all manner of food choices and watch to see what the Blue Jay picked first, then they’d know the very favorite. Two egg cartons were filled with food samples brought from children’s homes as well as some found in the school kitchen. The problem of not being able to see if the Jay came while they were at home was solved with a bit of teacher initiative. A trail camera would catch pictures while we were away!
The camera didn’t disappoint, and children and teachers alike could hardly contain their excitement. “Let’s do it again!” was chanted. (The favorite food? Cake!!) Finding and building upon a shared experience is what keeps emergent curriculum alive and ever changing. Where we go next is anyone’s guess. When the topic is shared across generations and brings communities together, it becomes a thing of magic, not easily forgotten.