The Puddle in the Playground
Posted: November 1, 2010
by Ann Lau Ward, Friends School Haverford
As curious and compelling as nature is, children are naturally tuned to the wonder in the world as expressed in the zing! of metallic wings beating, the serene camouflage of an insect in prayer, the wild wind that shifts perspective skyward, and the ice gems that frost autumn leaves and feel cold in our hands. Perhaps the earth waits for children in its expression of wiggling worms, starry night skies, and the feel of sand between the toes. Perhaps the earth waits for children in puddles, too.
September 2007: The Puddle Stories Begin
After a heavy September rain, an oval-shaped puddle formed on the playground in the area beyond the newly created turf field. Kindergartners were drawn to the puddle like a magnet. Observations were recorded in the days that followed; questions emerged as we looked at the puddle from all sides. Kindergartners drew pictures and teachers took photos of the puddle. Though kindergartners were drawn to the water, they could not access it easily because of the mud surrounding it. Talk of bridges, rope swings, climbing rocks, and stepping stone paths reflected the children’s interest in problem-solving. One day, we found the imprint of a raccoon’s paw in the mud and later that week other mysterious animal tracks appeared. This stirred interest among the kindergartners about the wildlife we have in our schoolyard. The five and six–year olds studied the tracks closely, trying to distinguish prey from predator. Temperatures hovered in the mid 80’s for 5 weeks and we watched the puddle dry up.
October 2007: Puddle Love
Weeks passed; on our weather-watching graph, “sunny” days out-numbered “rainy” days. Though completely dried up, the edges of The Puddle (as we now affectionately called it) remained visible as the water had left its mark as a fairly large depression in the ground. Around the puddle, landscapers planted trees and bushes and across the dried area and sowed seeds, covering the area of The Puddle with nylon netting and straw.
We were curious about the size of The Puddle. We marked the edges of The Puddle with cotton/stick flags and noticed the young green grass covering the nylon-netted straw. A ball of twine was unraveled and stretched across the puddle, end to end. Snip! We headed indoors with our Puddle–length piece of string. Would The Puddle fit in our room? We un-wrapped the string and measured our room; indeed, we can say the puddle is as long as our room, door to door! With Unifix cubes stacked in “sticks of 10” and placed end to end along the length of string, we measured and counted by “hundreds” for a total of 510 Unifix cubes.
One day, a field cricket made an appearance hopping across the carpet during Morning Messages; kindergartners worked to catch it in a jar and took it outside to live by The Puddle. The kindergartners constructed a cricket house by making a pile of oak leaves and sticks. Though the cricket crawled quickly into his home when released, it had to move out the next day when its home was flooded with a sudden and heavy rain. Kindergartners assessed the situation in the days that followed and constructed a new cricket house on higher ground. Over the next few rainy days, The Puddle filled with more water.
November 2007: The Story of Our “Aha!” Moment
With the late arrival of autumn, leaves began falling into The Puddle; when still, the water mirrored our reflections. The Puddle retained water for more than a week. Kindergartners noticed tiny things moving in the water and wanted to work with water samples indoors. “What are those things living in The Puddle water?” we wondered. To take water samples, we used pipettes and baby food jars with lids. To effectively use the small muscles of the hand to squeeze and release water from The Puddle, we found it necessary to work at the water’s edge where we could see things moving both on and below the surface of the water. To make the most of our efforts, we eventually turned the jars on their sides and scooped the water, trapping tiny organisms under the tight lids.
Indoors, we recorded observations, and projected the magnified image of the living creatures on the top of the table with a microscope. John traced the shadow of one of the living creatures to keep as a record; we noted its fan-like tail, appendages that look like wings, segmented body, and large head. Tiny bristles/short hairs stuck out from the sides of the creature. Four days after the water samples were taken, silt settled to the bottom of some of the jars but the organisms continued to thrive in the brackish water, and seemed to be growing in number and size in the jars.
Kindergarten wondered if the water outside in The Puddle is too cold now for living things. Kindergarten took a trip to first grade to borrow the desktop video magnifier for viewing the contents of the water. Swirling into view as Teacher Ann poured The Puddle water into the pan, several swimming, wriggling creatures caught the attention of the kindergartners. Incredibly, a winged, leggy creature floated into view, too. A loud exclamation followed: “A mosquito!” “I see a mosquito!” “I get it! The wriggling things are babies!” “Yeah, we have baby mosquitoes! Cool!” We opened the field guides marked with pictures of the swimming, wriggling, floating, leggy and winged creatures we viewed under magnification. Eyes were riveted on the magnifier watching for movement in the water. Some kindergartners studied the drawings in the field guides:
Metamorphosis of the Mosquito: Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Adult Mosquito. We wondered aloud: “Where did the mosquitoes come from?” and almost immediately answered our own question, “From the puddle water, the eggs were in the water!” Minutes later, first graders returned to their classroom and listened to our exciting news. With shared background knowledge (having been in kindergarten at FSH themselves and having had firsthand experience with insects last year!) first graders were fascinated. In the days that followed, in the jars that remained tightly sealed, we watched all that was continuing to happen in the puddle water. Mosquitoes climbed out of the pupae cases, no longer swimming, but flying all around in the air above the water. Though we knew it’s too cold for Monarch butterflies (they’re already in Mexico), the puddle habitat in our backyard was perfect for mosquitoes!
One morning we noticed an unusual chill in the air. It was a great day to practice reading temperatures indoors and outdoors. Kindergartners were introduced to a new tool for collecting data: the thermometer. Outdoors, we made a beeline to the puddle to figure out how to measure the temperature of the water. We watched as the red line in the thermometer fell when covered by water. Kindergartners read the water temperatures on their thermometers and compared their results to one another. On the Celsius scale, the thermometer was “near 0 degrees.” On the Fahrenheit scale, children read the temperature “between 38 and 40 degrees”. “What would happen to the mosquito larvae and pupae if The Puddle water gets cold?” someone asked. “If it freezes and turns to ice, there will be no more mosquitoes,” another child shared.
Kindergarten learned that the FSH administration team, architects, and landscapers had questions and concerns about the way the land is retaining rainwater in the area of The Puddle. Central to the concern were two issues: first, the safety of the depth of the water near an area designed as a playground for young children and second, standing water that breeds mosquitoes. Our kindergarten teacher shared information from our puddle investigations with the Environmental Education Committee members and committee clerks, our facilities supervisor, Head of School, and Assistant Head of Curriculum.
While adults pondered the idea of turning The Puddle into a rain garden that meets the requirements for our Schoolyard Habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation (http://www.nwf.org/), kindergartners did a bit of their own problem-solving with regard to the depth of the water. With more rain in the forecast and our beloved puddle already filled with water, kindergartners endeavored to “empty” the puddle with buckets. Critical to the success of this was mastering the task of sharing 6 buckets among 12 by working in pairs (the kindergartners figured this out independently of the teacher) because, as they reasoned, “6 is half of 12 and if we would go 2 by 2 we would have enough buckets.”
One kindergartner suggested we use the buckets of water for the new plantings on campus. So, we gave it a try. A big slate stepping stone was discovered submerged in the water. Pulling it out a bit, we found ourselves able to get to the middle of the puddle where it was the deepest (approx. 5 inches) to fill the buckets. This worked well, the kindergartners decided, except for two things: What if it rained really hard for many days? And, what if it got colder and The Puddle froze? Aside from that, it was a lot of fun emptying buckets of water! Fourth graders with the first grade science teacher heard about our project became our science buddies. They shared with us all that they were learning about different soils and the effect types of soil has on the absorption of water. Kindergartners were very enthusiastic about sharing what they knew about The Puddle, using photographs as the spark for conversation in pairs.
December 2007: The Winter Puddle
What happened when temperatures eventually dropped below freezing? Over the course of falling temperatures, we made three visits to The Puddle in one week. Kindergartners witnessed the gradual change of water to ice (liquid to solid), inspected bubbles and leaves suspended in the layers of the ice, and tested the strength of the ice. We discovered that surface ice obscures our view of the water below. Our pre-kindergarten friends wrote a letter to us, asking many questions about The Puddle. In return, our kindergarten Puddle experts wrote and illustrated responses to their questions. We told them all we know about how The Puddle collects and holds rain water, how dropping temperatures turn the water in The Puddle to ice, why leaves are floating and sinking in it, and what happened when we tested the strength of the ice. Kindergartners received the news that The Puddle would be filled in with smooth river rocks over winter break so that it wouldn’t be so deep for future explorations. As that had been one of our original ideas back in September when the Puddle first came into existence, we gave the plan an enthusiastic thumbs up!
January 2008: The Winter Puddle, Revisited
Kindergartners returned from winter break to find The Puddle lined with rocks somewhat submerged in the water. Ice chunks dug out of The Puddle the week before were piled nearby. During winter break, landscapers had found it necessary to break through the ice and remove it a shovelful at a time before adding in the river rocks! The water in the Puddle changed to ice again when the temperatures fell into the twenties at night. Once again, the kindergartners were intrigued by the change in appearance and form of The Puddle. In most areas, solid, thick, clear ice covered The Puddle. In other areas, ice forms around partially submerged rocks in great displays of suspended ice bubbles.
Curious first, second and third graders came down to the Puddle at recess to have fun learning how to “puddle shuffle” safely across the ice. After a snowfall, we found paw prints around the puddle, this time the tracks were leading to the edge of the property. In learning to distinguish the bare-branched deciduous (broadleaf) trees and the tall evergreen trees in The Puddle area, we found a pile of slate that inspired us to bring our idea for a stepping stone path to life. Indoors, invigorated by the wintertime discoveries, kindergartners created collages of The Puddle habitat with sticks, pine needles, clear plastic, and paper of various earth tones. Kindergartners are looking forward to doing some experiments with puddle ice in the weeks to come!
(Author’s note: In the months that followed, kindergartners continued generating ideas for Puddle investigations with their teachers, propelled by a sense of adventure and curiosity inherent in outdoor, open-ended activities. After consulting with landscape artists from a local native plant nursery, teachers and students transformed The Puddle into a rain garden, teeming with native plants to attract wildlife. The rain garden habitat, in the area affectionately embraced by Friends School Haverford kindergartners as The Puddle, flourished.
During the summer that followed, a Friends School Haverford alumnus designed and installed a permanent water feature in the rain garden habitat, planted host and nectar plants of the monarch butterfly, and successfully certified the site through the University of Kansas Monarch Waystation program (www.monarchwatch.org). The Puddle now features a small pond with solar-powered fountain, various types of meadow grasses, and native plants that provide color throughout the season. Nearby shade trees and mature evergreens compliment the meadow-like quality of The Puddle and offer Pennsylvania wildlife in an otherwise populated suburban community, the shelter and coverage needed for nesting. Kindergartners return to The Puddle every year as curious young children, intrigued by the wonder they find in springtime sightings of foxes, chipmunks, and rabbits, the diversity of seedpods and leaves that become available in the fall, and the mysterious footprints of animals in newly fallen snow. The kindergartners return to The Puddle throughout the year as they experience firsthand, the habitat of their beloved monarch butterflies. Serving as a canvas on which a young child can experience the natural world, create meaningful connections to the planet, and develop a sense of place, The Puddle is a beloved wild space for many in our community.)