Scientific discoveries : I wonder what is in inside a gourd?

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on October 10, 2012

in Exploring Gourds, Exploring Gourds, Science and Nature

Have you ever bought a set of gourds to decorate your table or classroom and wondered what is inside the gourd? Well our class decided to find out first hand at our discovery table…

In advance, I had cut a few gourds of different shapes and colors and set them out on the discovery table for the children to explore. I put the gourds back together so they would look like whole gourds when the children first found them.  I will tell you, cutting a gourd is no easy task – it takes a little muscle!

Before the children headed out to our discovery table, I shared a couple of unopened gourds with the children during circletime.  I asked the children to tell me what they thought might be inside a gourd to kick off our scientific discovery…

The children used tweezers and scissors and magnifying glasses to pick apart the insides of the gourds as part of their examination…

Some of the children described the gourds as smelly as they picked out the seeds and dropped them in the magnifying cups…

A simple set up with lots of opportunity to explore and discover the answers to our question. So did you know what the insides of a gourd looks like?

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1 Stacy @ {share&remember.blogspot.com} October 10, 2012 at 8:29 am

Can I just say…all these posts I see from you, I wonder HOW DOES SHE DO ALL THAT?! Wow, there’s no keeping up with you! :) I wish I could accomplish all these ideas in my head. Love all your stuff.

2 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 11, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Haha Stacy – Somedays I feel stressed because we don’t have time to do all the ideas I want to try:)

3 Dawn @ PricklyMom October 10, 2012 at 9:21 am

Where do you get your ideas for the discovery table (or rather, what are your criteria for discovery table activities)? I’m a mom to a 5- and 3.5-yo and would like to use the “discovery table” concept in the kitchen.

I really love your site. Thanks for the inspiration!

4 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Hi Dawn,
kitchen counter discoveries is a terrific idea! Hmmm, I am not sure if I can give you a specific criteria but I will give you my thoughts.

First of all, it is important to note that if children are not intrigued by a process, then chances are they will not stay engaged in the process. I have found that my students are most engaged in a process or activity when it includes some type of material that they can manipulate, cut, tweeze, pull apart, hammer, or examine in some other way. On the opposite side my students also like materials they can build or construct with.

Along with any material I set out, I try to connect the material to something we are reading in our class then draw on the children’s exploration of the materials to further knowledge and discussion on the topic we have been reading or on the materials themselves. I do not limit the children during the process by imposing “rules” about “taking care of” the materials. For example, I don’t put out flowers and then tell the children to be careful not to tear them up. Instead, I set out flowers and say, “I wonder how the petals are attached? Can they be pulled off?” I also steer away from making the process a work of art or a creative process. For example – “After you pull off the petals you can glue them on the paper.” Adding a creative process changes the goal of the discovery table and children either think they have to make something or get tired of making and stop exploring. So I just make exploring materials about nothing but exploring materials. No end result or added steps to complete.

However, there are limits on behavior at the discovery table (although I can honestly tell you I have never had to correct behavior at the discovery table) like no throwing, dumping on the floor, and so on. If behavior problems are occurring, it is usually a sign that the children do not have enough tools for exploration or that the materials being explored do not lend themselves to active hands-on exploration. There is nothing truly engaging for the children to really do but sit and look at the items on the table so to make it fun, they throw it!

With any materials the children explore, I also look for ways to integrate writing and math into the process by adding tools like scales, pencils, clipboard and paper, rulers, tape measures, and so forth along with the materials the children are exploring. Because the children are engaged in the materials they explore, they will often ask me, “What do the numbers on the scale mean?” or “How do I make this work?” These questions let me show the children how to use tools like scales or tape measures or rulers without it becoming a “lesson.”

And finally, I observe what the children seem to enjoy exploring the most and use my observations to determine whether a particular type of material is of greater interest or less. For example, my students love to explore all natural materials like leaves, seeds, corn, vegetables, and pretty much any type of seed they can collect or pull off or out of the shell. I don’t limit the discovery table to only natural materials either. We set out magnets, cans, tape, and other materials for the children to explore as well. But the children are always more engaged when the items are natural or unique – something they are probably told most of the time that they should take care of or be gentle with.

As adults, we tend to look at red, orange, yellow leaves of fall as a thing of beauty – something to admire and care for. We want to use the leaves to make collages or arrangements on our tables. We value the leaves for their aesthetic properties. But young children have a greater need to know more about the leaves. The children also love the colors but the colors make them want to take the leaf and pull it apart or collect as many as they can in a bag or play in them. But often times, adults naturally tell children that they should take care of the pretty leaves they collected in their bag so the children will begin to feel they shouldn’t take a more exploratative look at the leaves. I say all of this to let you know that giving children permission to explore their world in a way that they enjoy, will ultimately lead them towards greater understanding and respect of things in their world. So a child who has torn apart a leaf or cut it into small pieces will one day come across a leaf and have the decision-making ability to decide if they really would rather save that leaf to make something beautiful or toss it back on the ground. The child will have a greater understanding of how the veins of the leaves are strong and help to hold the leaf together. The child will know what it means to be gentle versus rough with the leaf – from experience the child will know how hard is too hard to pull on the leaf before it will tear.

If your children are new to this type of exploration, you need to know that at first, they may not know how to explore and will give you the impression that they don’t like it. When my students first come to preschool, they often will be shy about doing anything that might damage the leaves or other materials I set out. I will sit with the children and wonder aloud what types of tools I can use to explore the materials and give them “permission” if you will to explore. Now my students see the materials out on the table and they do not hesitate – they have become proficient in using the scissors or tweezers or hammer or other tools to explore the materials. We have a drawer with “tools” and if I don’t set something out – the children will often walk over and pull out a tool to add to their exploration. The children always surprise me at the ways they like to explore the materials.

I think this will note to your will be transferred into a blog post but the bottom line is, I think the discovery table process is both complex and simple. I sure hope this helps you:)

Deborah

5 Dawn @ PricklyMom October 12, 2012 at 7:17 am

What a wonderful reply! This is just the information I was looking for. I will keep you posted as to what we end up doing first! (BTW, I will probably end up linking to this from my blog, since it’s such great info!)

Dawn

6 Sarah @ Frugal Fun for Boys October 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm

What an awesome idea! My kids love opportunities to explore with the magnifying glass and tweezers.

7 Lorraine @ Science-Friendly Homeschool October 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I love the seasonality of this lesson. It seems perfect for fall. We’ve been exploring pumpkins a little, but I never thought about gourds. And gourds are so sensory, too. All those different shapes and colors and textures.
I also have to ask you where you got those children’s tweezers? They’re great! We’ve just been using regular tweezers and they’re a little hard for my 2 1/2 year-old to grasp sometimes.

8 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I purchased the larger tweezers from Lakeshore Learning and our smaller tweezers were bought from various online site through Amazon:)

9 School Sparks Renee October 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I love the idea of exploring gourds. Kids love the feel of them and their smaller size works well with little hands. I think using tweezers and magnifying glasses to explore is fantastic. I loved seeing the picture of the little guy wearing the protective goggles – what a little scientist! As always, I am in awe of your creativity and ability to purposefully engage little learners. Renee

10 Debi October 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I saw this post the other day and loved it! I had a basket of gourds sitting on our shelf and I’ve been wondering what I could do with them. As I was reading this post and loving what you did, inspiration struck! I cut our gourds in half and created a science table with tweezers and magnifying glasses, much as you did. However, I put one half of each gourd on the table (we had nine of them). We then used the other half of all the gourds to make gourd prints. I’m a big proponent of using only primary colors for our painting and encourage the kids to experiment and make other colors for themselves. The end results of the kids gourd prints were awesome. They had some amazing colors and designs and they were all unique and beautiful. Thanks for the springboard for an awesome morning in our classroom!

11 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm

That’s awesome Debi! I was hoping to save, clean out, and dry out my open gourds to make them into “chunky” puzzles so the children could put the puzzles together. But sadly, all my gourds rotted before I had the chance to clean them all out. I am not sure if it would have worked or not. I love how you expanded on the discovery table. That is a sign of a great teacher!

12 Monica February 16, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Hi Deborah,
Your site is amazing! It’s clear how committed you are to our little ones, so I thought I’d let you know about the 2nd annual Nature Preschool Conference on June 7-8, 2013. It will be held at Irvine Nature Center where The Nature Preschool is, just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Our keynote speaker is Erin Kenny, famed for the ground-breaking CedarSong Nature School based on the forest kindergarten model. I hope you don’t mind my sharing, but I think you would add amazing things to the dialougue at the conference!

Our preschool also has a great blog http://www.naturepreschool.wordpress.com. I’m all about sharing – please get in touch if you’d like more info!
Happy Trails!
Monica

13 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 17, 2013 at 12:20 am

Hi Monica,
Thanks for the invitation and announcement to the Nature Preschool Conference. It sounds just wonderful and I wish I could attend. Perhaps one day in the future. I have never been to Baltimore before:)

Deborah

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