15 April, 2012

Turtles: A Mini Project

In the Reggio Emilia approach to education, teachers do not choose themes around which to base lessons.  Rather they let the interests of their students lead them.  When many students or small groups of students express an interest in a particular subject, the teacher encourages the children to explore that interest in many different ways leading to learning in many different areas of the curriculum.

Last week a little fellow in my class brought in a baby turtle he and his father had found outside their gym. My students were fascinated, and so our study for the week (and beyond) became about turtles!  While this was not a true project in that the children did not do an extended length and very in depth study of turtles, they certainly are enjoying their work, and their learning - and in many curriculum areas too!

Thanks, little turtle!

I didn't have many turtle books on hand so the first thing we did was list what the children knew about turtles already, from observation of this turtle or from observation or reading outside of school.  I took dictation, and added some pictures to help the children remember what the list said.  

Then while the children were in PE, I ran down to our school library and scooped up a few turtle books. There were not any that were solely about turtles.  However, there were quite a few about reptiles that included small sections about turtles.  Of course after looking at these, the children wanted to know what made a reptile a reptile.  We listed the criteria for reptiles, and I added more of my stellar artwork.  LOL.    

During snack we played "reptile or not a reptile" with the children naming animals and then others looking at the criteria list to see if it was or was not a reptile.  They loved this, and seemed most amused when they figured out that dinosaurs must have been reptiles.  

I found a few fictional turtle stories.  All the children loved Franklin

and this silly little turtle who dresses up as a penguin.  

I told the children the story of The Tortoise and the Hare.  I know what you're thinking, a tortoise is not exactly the same thing as a turtle, but . . .

I set up a small table in the classroom with some little loose parts (turtle beads, sweet gum tree seed pods, small polished stones, some Safari Ltd Toob turtles, and some small glass shapes.)  I added some real turtle shells which the Science teacher kindly let me borrow, and set up a turtle table.

The children also dug up some earthworms and fed the baby turtle.  The were ecstatic when he ate one, right in front of them! 

We learned a very silly turtle song.  Perhaps you know it.  Here is a video that is very close to the little version I do.  (Just in case you want to sing the turtle song too!)  

I had a little turtle
His name was Tiny Tim
I put him in the bathtub 
To see if he could swim

He drank up all the water
He ate up all the soap
And now my little turtle
Has bubbles in his throat

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
Bubbles, bubbles, POP!

The children also created their own tiny turtles, out of air dry clay.  After all the classroom activities about turtles, the children were anxious to get to work!

They did have to take some time out to play with the clay tools though.  They especially loved using the garlic press to create "worms" to feed the turtle.  

They also talked as they worked, about the tongues of snapping turtles, which we had learned are designed to fool fish into believing they are little worms.  Then when the little fish head over to eat up the small worm, snap!  The snapping turtle gets a meal!  

The children began their clay turtles by creating a turtle shell.  I asked them to closely observe the real turtle shells and see what they noticed about them.  I asked the children questions to encourage them to look more closely?  

What colors do you notice on the shell?
Are there any patterns on the shell?
Any shapes?
What shape is the shell?

With a little encouragement, the children did notice the turtle shells were an arch shape!  Yes, the children recalled that specific shape, and knew why the turtle shells might be arched.  They recalled that arches are strong, and would provide the turtle extra protection!  (You can read about our earlier study of arches, here.)

The next day the children created the turtles' bodies.  It was interesting to see what the children thought turtles would look like without their shells.

After the clay dried I used hot glue to attach the turtle bodies and shells, and the children painted them.  They seemed very pleased with the results!

I love this little turtle!

Another activity I thought of doing, but haven't had a chance to do yet is to have the children crawl "along the line" as turtles.  They could put our Bilibo on their backs, and creep along to a song like this . . .

I hope you find these turtle resources helpful!  Maybe the next time a child unexpectedly brings a turtle into your classroom, you can pull up some of these activities and do some project type work.  



  1. I really appreciate the shell-arch connection.

  2. Brulliant ideas!!! You ate so spontaneous!! The whole little project is so much fun and I will have to refer to you if we start talking about turtles!!! Thanks Katen!


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