Working with the real world

Just a warning - this is a 'messy' post which shows fish being dissected.

As practitioners, we are always encouraging children to try new experiences in our settings. We often bank on our children having some experiences at home to bring with them into our settings. For our children, often they are missing a lot of very simple experiences - especially around food.

Our topic at the moment is 'shopping.' We've chosen this because the children (and staff) had decided to change our role play to a shop before the holidays and it had been such a great success. In doing so we have found that the children don't really understand how a shop works (i.e. that we get our food from the shop, money is exchanged, we use different shops for different purposes). In particular there is a mis-understanding of the 'raw ingredients' which we buy from the shops, what they look like and where they come from.

In addition to this my manager came back from Early Excellence having told me about the use of fish in the classroom. This dredged up old memories of my RE teacher at University (he was an eccentric, but fabulous priest) who used to bring absolutely random things in for us to use. His rationale was that children need to have these experiences (often these were natural e.g. chickens walking around the corridors one day, a lobster in a tank on another) in their lives and are so often avoided nowadays.

So I was pretty determined to use some fish in the classroom. But, not living fish. I wanted fresh fish from a fish counter that we could examine, talk about, touch, smell, and.. cut open.

Obviously I had to think about health and safety. The knife I chose was not sharp (and I let the children use this) and I held the grip with them, directing it slightly. Also raw fish can cause upset tummies if ingested so we talked about washing hands before and after.

Before we looked at the fish I prepared the children. I told them that we're going to look at some fish from the sea. The fishermen has caught the fish and we got them from the shop. They're dead but we can eat them once they have been cooked.

They were a little unsure about touching the fish at first but actually all of the children who I showed the fish to eventually had a little feel.

We examined in the scales, the fins, the gills, the tail, the eyes, the mouth and the teeth.

I had had a meeting with the head teacher that morning and we had talked about how children rarely know the real names for things. So I decided that rather than just call the three fish we were using, 'fish,' I told them the real names: 'Trout," "Mackerel" and "Sardine." The children actually used them as we were touching and examining the fish.

When we cut the fish open I was careful to ask if the children wanted to do this - they all said yes! Inside was as messy as you could expect but we found out a lot of new information. Fish have bones! They also have "a heart," "bits of poo" and "other squidgy bits." The Mackerels were not as interesting because they were "smaller" but the trout seemed extremely popular.

I know this activity would not be to everyones tastes. In fact I 'ummed' and 'arred' about blogging about this one but my children really got a lot out of this. It was adult led - very adult led in fact. I would like to place a fish out on an 'investigation' table in the future however I am acutely aware that 99% of our children would avoid the fish entirely because they think it is dirty.

I'd like to extend this by visiting a fish mongers/counter in our local supermarket soon and buy some more fish to bring back and have out (something different, but chosen by them.)

I knew this activity was worth it when we were walking back from Tesco this afternoon with our snack for tomorrow and a van pulled up on the side of the road. On its side there was a fish. I caught the attention of two of the children I had been working with and pointed it out. They told me their fish were different because this fish had "long bits on its face.' But they both had fins and both had tails - eureka!

I'd really love to hear what you think and if you've tried something like this before.. how far did you take it? What did you do next? (We have chickens coming in next week!!)

Please comment below (I love, but get so few comments..)

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