Wings in East AM
By Karen Robinette, Head Teacher
In the school year 2008-09, the children in East AM were convinced that bats lived in the redwood trees just outside the classroom doors. They became fascinated with this idea and were eager for more information about bats. Children were seen “flying” throughout the yard together, sporting paper bat wings. It was through this common interest that last year’s bat topic developed.
This school year, the interest in bats resumed. Children often requested paper wings to wear, but we noticed that their interest had broadened. While bat wings were still very much in fashion, new wing looks were being added to the
collections daily. Some of these styles included ladybugs, butterflies, airplanes, Tinker Bell Man (an invented superhero) as well as many other more conventional superheroes. The common element was “wings.” This is how our wings topic emerged.
Children were interested in what things have wings and were eager to resolve some questions that arose during the information gathering process. For instance, “Do helicopters have wings?” the children wondered. Upon looking at photos of helicopters, it was determined that they do not have wings, but instead have propellers (rotors). “Do blimps have wings?” Again, we discovered (from a diagram) that the small projections on the back that look like wings are actually fins called “elevators” and “rudders.” They are used to steer and steady the blimp. Finally, our research revealed the answer to the question, “Does Superman have wings?” We agreed that Superman does not have wings, but instead has a cape that allows him to fly.
The children listed many things that do have wings, such as:
• Airplanes, including delta wing airplanes, paper airplanes and jets
• Star Wars ships
• Birds, including owls, ducks, chickens, blue jays and hummingbirds
• Bugs, including bees, butterflies, ladybugs and dragonflies
• Fairies, including Tinker Bell and the equivalent “Tinker Bell Man”
Children had many theories, ranging from the realistic to the fanciful, about what wings were made of. Some examples of the realistic ideas included, “Airplane wings are made out of metal,” and “Wings are made from feathers because birds are made out of feathers and so are wings.” Some of the more fanciful notions included, “Wings are made of air,” “Butterfly wings are made out of fur, which is the same thing as feathers,” and “Wings are made of birds.”
As a classroom community, we raised caterpillar larvae through their metamorphosis into Painted Lady butterflies. This gave children an opportunity to study butterfly wings up close. We also used magnifying glasses to inspect ladybugs in a terrarium. We incubated eggs to hatch chickens, which also offer wings for study. Besides these living species with wings, children enjoyed testing different types of airplanes to see how well they flew. They constructed the airplanes from paper and other found materials.
These collective experiences, shared through our topic of wings, offered opportunities for children to form a classroom community and to engage in a common project. They practiced collaborating while sharing their ideas and hearing the ideas of their friends. Our wings study also promoted creative expression as children constructed various types of wings and took on the roles of different winged things: One has a certain “way of being” when one is a bat, and another when one is a fairy. Having the chance to play out these roles, both individually and through sociodramatic play, enables children to come to a deeper understanding of how it is to be whatever they are pretending to be.
That school year “flew” by (pun intended) and another has begun, bringing children into the classroom with new shared interests. It is through cultivating these common themes that we build the foundation of our classroom culture for the year.