Land of the giants

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By Calvin Dorioneducational writer and researcher at Cambridge University

Create a virtual world full of animals and plants to help bring to life habitats and ecosystems

From molecules to the Moon, science through drama enables children to see and experience environments that are otherwise too big, too small, or too dangerous to view. Traditional science education often uses lenses and photography to bring tiny or invisible objects up to a scale that children can access. However, these resources are usually static, visual representations that can fail to enthuse a young audience. Role play and mime activities complement these resources and allow you to guide children’s imaginations through dynamic, multi-sensory perspectives. It’s a child-centred and interactive approach, which creates a motivational mix of hard science and adventure.

Enrich the study of habitats, plants, and life cycles by taking children on ‘virtual fieldtrips’. Whatever the weather outside, you can shrink to the size of insects and embark on safaris that transform benign back-garden habitats into exotic, jungle-like worlds of fascinating creatures. Such close interaction with the microcosmos, through role play, can develop a hunger for acquiring and applying new terms and concepts.

Setting the scene

  • A virtual fieldtrip begins by drawing on children’s own experiences to create an imagined world. Start a garden fieldtrip with a stimulus that will conjure up memories of local habitats. Eschew photographs in favour of multi-sensory stimuli. For example, a bucket of smelly, wet-leaf litter can trigger vivid responses, or a well-known flower, like a daffodil, can stimulate children’s minds.
  • In a clear space, collectively define what is in the imaginary garden. Start the children off by encouraging them to pick up some pretend soil. Ask if it feels dry or wet, squishy or hard. Introduce terms like moisture and temperature to aid the answers. As opinions are shared, watch for an increase in focus as the children develop a growing sense of ownership over their investigations.
  • Inform an understanding of scale by using magic glasses. Mime putting on your glasses, and then find a pretend minibeast. Start to describe what it looks like, and then ask for help. Hand out the class’ glasses, so that they can see the minibeast, too. The children should be delighted to reveal how well they can see. Ask them to collect creatures in an imaginary jar for later discussion and drawing.
  • Classroom doorways really can make marvellous shrinking machines. You should be the first one through, so that the children can model their actions on your behaviour. Odd tables and chairs can be viewed as pebbles, soil and seedlings. Introduce the terms organism, predator, and prey, as you ask where these might be found. Then send your scientists out to discover and describe the now gargantuan locals. They’ll need a bigger jar this time, of course!
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