Wait, were these alive before?!

Two weeks of stormy, cold, snowy weather can put quite the damper on outdoor fun… so sometimes you have to bring “the wild” inside!  On the days where it is too cold for the little ones to venture out into the snow, there is a giant blue tub of animal items that I bring them. There is a little bit of everything in this tub, including: a beaver pelt, coyote skull, robin’s nest, porcupine quills, barred owl wing, and turtle shell (to name a few).  When I get to the day care the children are asked to sit around in a circle. I sit in the circle with them and try to explain what we will be doing today, which can be very challenging because all they want to know is “what is in the giant blue tub”? After asking them a few questions like “what do you think nature is?” “can you give me a few examples of nature” and “are you guys a part of nature?” I tell them that I brought some items from nature with me today. I explain that we have to be respectful to these once living parts of nature and very gentle. They agree and I take each item out one by one answering and probing questions from the group as they arise.  Some of the items can be passed around while others like the beaver and bobcat pelts stay up front and the children come up in pairs to touch and explore.  Some of the questions and connections that are made from this activity are amazing! When the children start to ask, “Wait, were these things living before!?” I remind them, “Yes, they were, but everything died very naturally and was not intentionally hurt by humans. People who love nature and study nature are the ones who cleaned these animals.” Some children would get very quiet after I said that, others would choose to speak, one child said “Well everything dies, my grandfather died” other children would relate these animals to their pets “My (dog/cat/hampster) died”. Some would make noises while they touched the animals (including little squeals and shivers). Very few children choose to be “skipped” when it was their turn to touch the animals, most were excited and curious and touched without hesitation. Some thought it was gross but still wanted to touch. Two or three choose to be skipped altogether.  When I reminded the children, “It is not everyday that you get to touch a beaver pelt” the excitement levels would sky rocket!! Their response to my reminder was most often, “I am going to tell mom and dad about this!”  It is pretty amazing to see children interact with these blue bucket items! They are so interested that they cannot help themselves! I remind them to back up so that everyone in the circle can see and within 2 minutes they are right back where they were before, huddled in close so they can get the best glimpse possible. Their curiosity can get the best of them, but with the right prompt or ”cue” they are quick to remember to share the item in their hand, back up so that everyone else in the circle can see, and share their story after the activity!