Where the Clues Lead
By Amanda Janquart
“I’m thinking of an animal that has no feet.”
This was the beginning of an exciting, weeks-long look at snakes. During lunch, children love to be challenged with Guess the Animal clues. There have been requests for extra tricky clues, and while I didn’t anticipate “no feet” to be on the difficult end, it certainly left the class wondering. They made guesses ranging from “a marshmallow” to “a monkey,” while classmates called out the contradictions. “Monkeys have four feet…or maybe just two?” A worm was the closest guess before it was time to rest. The children were left wondering while lying on their cots. More clues were shared after everyone was awake, getting excruciatingly specific.
“They can live in water and on land…even in trees…even in Minnesota,” which was followed by choruses of, “I live in Minnesota, too.”
“They have all sorts of patterns on their skin.”
“Maybe a cheetah?”
“Nooo; remember, no legs.”
The guesses kept coming until the final clue, “They can smell with their tongues.”
Knowing the answer wasn’t the end of their interest, though. Children wanted to learn more about snakes and share past experiences. “I held one at the zoo once!” This is what emergent curriculum can look like: something catches the children’s attention; teachers grab hold of their inquiry and take it deeper. These sparks of interest can be easy to miss, and teachers must be ready and willing to hop aboard. Where they go will inevitably vary; the rides could be short or cross country, but the travel is always thrilling.
The children excitedly made quick visits to the art studio, and they sketched out versions of snakes from their memories. Books were brought in, and the class talked through the details over and over. They wanted facts and were astounded by many: squishy eggs and forked tongues and eating prey headfirst?!? Wowsers. They pretended to be snakes, forming families, going hunting, and curling up together to keep warm.
With new information gleaned, children returned to the studio. They chose images of multiple species from the internet to print and use as models. As they drew or traced or sculpted with clay, the focus was on the details. Just having learned that snakes can swim, some chose sea snakes. Others liked the challenge of drawing a snake skeleton. It is a good day indeed when curiosity leads to confidence, pride and understanding – and it’s all visible in their faces.