Bats in East AM
By Karen Robinette, Head Teacher
Just beyond the door leading to the outside play yard in the East classroom, stand redwood trees. The rumor among the children is that bats live in these trees, although no one has ever actually seen them. Before long, the children started pretending to be bats themselves and their play provided the momentum to embark on an exploration of bats, their habits and their habitats.
Children were intrigued but at the same time also a bit worried about bats. This was likely due to the scary portrayals of bats in stores around Halloween. Although we don’t celebrate Halloween at Bing, most children were aware of the holiday and were curious about some of the images associated with it, bats being one of them. They had many questions and theories about bats, although the majority had never actually seen any live ones. One child offered the theory that “bats hang upside down so they can see the moon better.”
To support the children’s interest this past year, teachers brought in books with bat photos and information. Teachers also read some bat-related picture books such as Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library and Stella Luna at large group story time. These picture books and the informational books allowed the children to become more familiar with the subject. Their play began to reflect their growing knowledge of bats.
On the patio, children were often engaged in small groups building bat caves with the large, hollow blocks. These hollow blocks are available to children every day in all of the classrooms and can be used for any purpose that the children intend. After collaborating on the building of the bat caves, children would often stock the caves with items, such as pretend food, and huddle inside together as they had seen from the photos of bats in books.
Children were also eager to make and decorate bat wings out of large paper. It was a sight to see them “fly” across the classroom yard in groups with their “wings” fastened to their backs. When they grew tired, they returned to the comfort of their bat cave for a much-needed rest until it was deemed time for the next “flight.”
Meanwhile, across the yard, children brought the interest in bats to the sand area. There, water and sand together took the form of “Bat Island.” Children in the sand area enjoyed combining natural materials with small bats cut out of paper to “inhabit” Bat Island and its surrounding communities. Bats (suspended from sticks) flew around while other bats rested directly on the island. “Trees” crafted from leaves sprang up and sand caves emerged to complete the habitat.
Out in the garden box, a “bat” scarecrow stood watch over the newly planted bulbs and plants. Children determined that a bat would be an effective deterrent for most garden pests, since bats eat insects. (Too bad this didn’t work for the squirrels.) Other children were inspired to make paper bats and hang several from sticks found in the garden area, making bat mobiles. (Not the kind that Batman drives.)
Other activities that children enjoyed were drawing bats, making bat paintings at the easels, writing stories about bats, crafting bats from clay and engaging in music and movement activities focusing on bats. It was amazing to see that the children found ways to include bats in every area of the curriculum. The teachers also realized that children explored the topic through the use of all of the basic materials that make up a core part of the classroom’s everyday activities, including sand, water, paint, clay and blocks.
Teachers agreed that the one missing link to all of the enthusiasm over the topic of bats was that most of the children still had never experienced bats in real life. Fortuitously, this was about to change. The Junior Museum and Zoo for children in Palo Alto had recently opened an exhibit focusing on bats! The teachers were eager to partner with them to arrange an opportunity for the children to see bats. As it turned out, a generous donor provided funds so that two of the bats could visit the classroom, along with a docent who answered questions and shared information about these interesting animals.
The “guest bats” were named Sonar and Radar. They were a variety known as African Fruit Bats. In addition to the live bats, the docent also brought along a bat skeleton, a bat skull and a bat wing model. The children were ready with a list of questions. The docent, Becky, answered all these questions and provided a wealth of information that went well beyond the inquiries. Many children made observational drawings of Sonar and Radar.
The teachers found that the topic study of bats united the classroom’s children through a common theme. Bats were interesting to all of the children and this interest continued to bubble up in various ways throughout the remainder of the school year. The children seemed to gain most of their understanding through play acting bats together using paper wings and building bat houses with hollow blocks.
Over the year, the teachers have observed that many other explorations have emerged from the study of bats. Children not only regularly crafted paper bat wings but they also crafted wings to use in pretending to be fairies, angels, birds, butterflies, ladybugs and super heroes. This type of dramatic play, using these same materials, held center stage in the creation and acting out of rich and captivating scenarios that all stemmed from the initial interest in the bats who (allegedly) live in the East Room redwood trees!
Places to view bats in the Bay Area:
• Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo
• California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
• Oakland Zoo