Forest Project : Hands-on work in the classroom

Something that used to confuse me about the using projects was what happens after the field work. You can go on a field trip, have an expert come in to talk to the children about a topic and answer questions -- that part is easy to understand. But what next? How are we supposed to keep them excited after that?

The answers have become much clearer through this particular project for me. I'd like to sum it up with the word creativity, but that would have frustrated me before now. So some tips... If you think it might work, try it. If a child suggests something, try it. If you can't think of anything, talk to a colleague...they probably have an idea to extend the experiences in the classroom. I used to think that if no one was interested in materials I had presented in a certain area, the project was over.

One idea came from a child one afternoon in the forest. He suggested that we gather some mud and bring it back to the classroom. It was in our sensory table for a week, for the children to experiment with. Many of them found it interesting that it "turned into dirt" after being in a dry classroom for a few days.
The interest in bats that was sparked by our bat house tours continued in the classroom. We checked non-fiction books about bats out of the library and used computers to find videos about bats. One amazing resource was a video we came across that shows a bat using echolocation to find a moth in the dark. Another wonderful resource was Gail Gibbons' book Bats. The second time we drew bats together, many children added her visual interpretation of a bat using echolocation.
We were creating so many bats of our own in the classroom, that the next move was very natural. The children began hanging the bats on the walls of the classroom. Through conversations with the whole class and with small groups of children, they talked about creating a forest in the classroom. The idea began as changing the dramatic play area into a forest with bats, but it soon evolved into plans to transform the entire classroom because of what they wanted in the classroom forest. Every plant was mentioned, from cattails to trees; many animals and insects were listed as well. But the big work came with the different areas of the forest they wanted to include: the secret playground, the pond, the train, the mud, and the trees. These are all distinct areas of the forest for this group of children, and all were equally important to create.

We began with trees, because everyone agreed that the trees are everywhere, and we needed to make a lot of them. We measured from floor to ceiling and got paper that would create trees that big. Then we drew the trees and painted them in small groups.

The first tree was the most exciting, with everyone contributing a stroke or two. The children that drew it decided it was an apple tree, and later on it came to represent the apple orchard in the classroom.
When we trimmed the sides of the large paper we drew the trees on, the long, skinny strips were quickly gathered up by a small group of children and they decided that those would be the branches. The branches were colored, and they began to stray from the browns and grays and blacks that were used on the tree trunks -- our forest took a colorful turn at this point!

I promise to be back (in less than three weeks!) with how our forest project culminated, including our finished classroom forest.