Emily Calhoun | Big Fish Little Fish Preschool Program Naturalist
“Can you make a boat out of rocks?”
This scientific inquiry, however bizarre it may sound, cleverly emerged from an experiment 3-5 year-olds were conducting during a recent Big Fish Little Fish program. Together, with their favorite adults, they were constructing aluminum foil boats and testing their vessels’ buoyancy and cargo-holding ability (we used marbles as cargo). As the boats were tested, Little Fish offered feedback to their peers and exuberantly celebrated successes. After a few well thought-out revisions, the class banded together to create a new “sea-worthy” boat and tested its ability to withstand wind (blowing on the boat) and rain (water pouring from a watering can).
Big Fish Little Fish program activities are focused on achieving three critical goals: to inspire a sense of wonder, instill a sense curiosity, and empower exploration. While discovering the wonders of our ocean and learning how we can all be caretakers of the sea is a large part of the program, Little Fish also explore the seven different habitats of Odiorne Point State Park. A walk in the woods, for example, gives children to opportunity to use scientific tools (the class favorite being a magnifying glass) and begin to understand concepts such as “camouflage” and “adaptation.” These activities promote STEM learning objectives, encourage teamwork, develop fine motor and observation skills, and help children learn about the world through their senses.
Each week, Big Fish Little Fish features a new theme, and families are welcome to pick and choose their favorite activities. Repeat participation is highly encouraged, however, and beneficial. We’ve developed a fun and engaging routine that children look forward to week after week, that has helped to establish a sense of community for BFLF families. Each morning, Little Fish prepare a salad for the Center’s resident box turtle, Raspberry. When asked what makes Raspberry’s salad unique, everyone delights in squealing “worms,” often with a faux look of disgust on their faces. Each child then eagerly reaches his/her hand in to touch the slimy salad topping. After delivering Raspberry’s salad to his tank, the science begins!
Whether we’re engaged in a scavenger hunt of critters found in the tide pools, using landscape-based mapping to follow a pirate’s treasure hunt, or using our magnifying glasses to inspect the bugs living under a log, each class is an exciting learning adventure, filled with inquiry and exploration. And, when we return to the Center, Little Fish quickly remind me that we must check on Raspberry’s salad-eating progress. As we make our way to his tank, we hypothesize about how much salad Raspberry ate, whether he ate some of the fruits or vegetables, or opted to just eat the tasty part (the worm!), and compare his propensity to ignore balance in his diet. Not surprisingly, most Little Fish are willing to admit that, like Raspberry, they prefer to only eat the tasty parts of their meals. After we wrap up our meeting with our special Big Fish Little Fish song, children (with their adult’s help) write down any burning questions they may have, so I can be sure to answer them the next time we meet.
As I facilitate BFLF activities I model how to safely interact with nature. My perspective changes; I walk a little slower, look a little longer, and sometimes have to make my own hypothesis when asked thought-provoking questions. Every time I engage with nature, I feel my sense of wonder is rejuvenated, and feel rewarded when I can share that with those around me. My personal goal for the class is to help adults feel this same rejuvenation and develop a level of comfort in engaging their children in outdoor exploration.
If I could lead Big Fish Little Fish every day, I would. The joy, intelligence, and enthusiasm each child brings to class assures me that not only do these opportunities help fuel budding scientists, they help children develop their sense of self and create a lasting bond between families and the Seacoast Science Center.
If you have a 3-5 year old in your life, I encourage you to join us on Friday mornings from 9:30-10:30 am. While pre-registration is encouraged (and saves you $2 on class admission), drop-ins are welcome. Families also have the opportunity to stay after class to continue learning by exploring the Center on their own, with paid adult admission.