During our Closing Circle each Friday, we review with the HATS students what we’ve learned throughout the week and what we will be learning in the coming week. When we mentioned recently that we’d be discovering Antarctica, as part of the HATS Learning Links curriculum, the children all began talking at once: “I love penguins!” and “Penguins waddle!” and “I saw ‘Happy Feet’!” Penguins are, of course, the highlight of our study but there are other aspects of Antarctica that the children come to appreciate as we spend time exploring the distant continent.
We start our study by finding Antarctica’s location on the globe, comparing it to our location and talking about its climate. We ask the children to tell us how they think we could travel to Antarctica, how long the trip would take, and what might happen once we arrived there. To give a sense of what the climate is like, we ask the children to recall information from our previous unit on winter: “Can you imagine living in a place where it’s always winter?” This discussion leads into another on Antarctica’s inhabitants, and we make a list of animals that make their home in and around Antarctica.
Mrs. Oberman, the Early Childhood and Lower School classroom aide, has been fortunate enough to visit Antarctica, and she comes to the classroom annually to make a presentation on her trip. She dresses in the layers of clothing that she wore during her trip, explaining why each garment is necessary. She talks about the behavior of penguins, including waddling, huddling, and tobogganing. The children are fascinated by her pictures and are excited to reenact the penguin behavior she describes; at the end of the day it is so rewarding for us to see the kids laughing while waddling to their cubbies. Throughout the week, it is clear that we have as much fun and learn as much as the children.
As we play penguin games and make penguin crafts, we talk about penguins’ habitats and how they adapt to their environment. In the coming spring, we will revisit these discussions as we “travel” once again and discover animals that dwell in a variety of habitats: the pond, ocean, desert, and rainforest, to name a few. We will have a wonderful time exploring different lands and their inhabitants, but it’s likely that Antarctica and the penguins will remain our favorite.