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From Plants to Creatures Big and Small, Life Sciences Abound in the Early Childhood School

Life sciences is an essential part of the academic experience in the Early Childhood School, and it is evident wherever students play and learn.
St. Margaret’s youngest learners don’t have to go far to see Earth’s abundance of life. In the Early Childhood School, life is all around.
On a typical day for the young students, they have the chance to interact with snails, ladybugs, rabbits or chickens. They can observe and even taste apples growing on Outdoor Classroom trees, berries growing on bushes, or grapes growing on vines. They can watch vegetables sprout from seed to harvest, all the while asking questions about the development they are observing. 
Life sciences is an essential part of the academic experience in the Early Childhood School, and it is evident wherever students play and learn.
“It is important to make science fun for young children,” Early Childhood School Director Cris Lozon said. “Children construct knowledge through playing with their environment, from swinging on the swings to finding the smallest creature in the Outdoor Classroom. When a child finds a worm in the compost bin or a grub in the wood chips, they begin to question or inquire about them.
“With the teachers, children focus on the observations, engage in discussions, and begin to look for patterns and relationships for these live creatures.”
Nowhere are those tiny creatures more abundant than In the St. Margaret’s garden. There, students find fun critters all around the soil and plants, and learn how all the living things work together as part of a much greater ecosystem. 
“As they observe roly polies, earthworms, ladybugs and caterpillars, we talk about their ‘jobs’ in the garden,” Outdoor Classroom teacher Jennifer Hardison said. “Even when a child may be frightened by a spider or bee, we take the time to explain why these creatures are necessary and beneficial. Some might help pollinate our plants so we continue to have flowers, fruits and vegetables; some eat bugs that are harmful to our plants; some help keep the soil healthy so our plants grow.
“As children dig, plant and water in the garden, they understand the importance of give and take, and of caring for something other than themselves. These experiences lead to feelings of empathy for others, which is carried over into interactions with their peers.”
As the students observe that “give and take” between plants and animals, it leads to another layer of understanding and another opportunity to problem solve. On a typical garden visit, teachers and students try to figure out what might eating the leaves of a plant, or why one plant may grow taller than another, or why some plants have thorns while others don’t.
“These inquiries encompass the science principles of cause and effect, patterns, and structure and function, just to name a few,” Dr. Hardison said.
Those interactions with fellow creatures extends into the school’s individual classrooms, as well.
This year in teacher Lore Fredette’s room, two rabbits named Dill and Stella are popular companions to the early-childhood students, who assist in caring for them in a variety of ways. Recently, that even encompassed giving the rabbits a bath in the Outdoor Classroom. 
“They water and feed them each day, along with grooming and taking them for rides in their bunny carriage,” Mrs. Fredette said. “There are many learning experiences involved when children provide their love and care.”
As the school year progresses, students will further grasp the seasonality of life on Earth. They will plant various crops suitable for Southern California winters in the coming weeks, and watch as beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, radishes and spinach go from seed to harvest. In the spring, St. Margaret’s will continue its partnership with a local farm to bring more than a dozen chicken eggs to the school for students to observe throughout the 21-day cycle and eventual springtime hatching of baby chicks, and all the wonder and amazement it brings.
“It is this abundance of life,” Dr. Lozon said, “that leads children into scientific thinking of exploring, observing, and investigating.”
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An Independent Preschool Through Grade 12 College-Preparatory Day School in Orange County California

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St. Margaret's Episcopal School does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, sexual orientation or national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational, admission, financial aid, hiring and athletic policies or in other school-administered programs.