By Parul Roy, Head Teacher
I feel something hard!” says Ethan O. “Let me see,” says Eli. The boys continue digging in the sand area. “It’s a bone!” exclaims Cole. “No, it’s a dinosaur bone!” shouts Ethan excitedly. The children keep digging to dislodge the big skull bone from the hole they have discovered.
As teachers of young children, we begin by provisioning the environment with accessible, open-ended materials and tools that invite children to action. In this case, the materials included not only sand but cow bones we buried in the sand. The initial discovery by our group of paleontologists got the ball rolling for the Center AM project for the quarter: excavation. The project was further supported and encouraged by a couple of students who share a wealth of knowledge about dinosaurs—their names, identifying features, and fossils.
During the excavation project, many children became involved in digging for treasures and bones in the sand area, soon transforming this area into an archeological site. The children made flags to mark their potential finds. “This is where the bone is buried,” Matthew K. stated matter-of-factly as he pushed the pole with a flag into a soft spot in the sand. Some children marked their areas with X’s. Children liked the flexibility of being able to move their flags and change the digging site. They studied and created their own maps to indicate the way to the buried treasure. Once they identified the area to be excavated they marked it off with tape and yarn.
As a group we constantly gathered more information about archeology with the help of books, stories, visits, and the firsthand experiences of the children. Children researched the bones they discovered, studying books to make comparisons and forming many theories. (The most popular theory was that many years ago the dinosaurs played in our yards.) Molly’s dad, Michael Shanks, an expert archeologist, brought in many artifacts such as pottery and bones from ruins. He showed the children various archeological tools and even several tools that were put to good use at the sites. His visit triggered a lot of thinking and questioning, such as James’s “How do you know how old the artifacts are?” and Ethan’s “How do you know where to dig?”
Throughout the project children had ample opportunities to represent their growing understanding of the topic. They told stories, made maps and tool belts, pieced found treasures together, and experimented with tools to unearth, clean, and care for found items. As the project unfolded, teachers photographed the children’s activities and wrote down children’s stories, plans, and conversations. This documentation on the bulletin board provided children, parents, and teachers with a storehouse of memories and a springboard from which to research further.