Discovering Insects on the Playground: NIU Campus Child Care featured by Illinois Early Learning Project

Kendra Nenia didn’t originally plan to teach about bugs. But Nenia and her co-teacher Denise Fenn noticed that the two- and three-year-olds in their classroom at NIU Campus Child Care (CCC) were fascinated by insects and spiders, so she followed this interest. The result—a six-week learning project titled “Discovering the World of Insects on the Playground”—is currently featured on the statewide education website Illinois Projects in Practice.

Illinois Projects in Practice—part of the Illinois Early Learning Project funded by the state board of education—provides support, resources and information for teachers and others interested in implementing project based learning for preschool children. Nenia’s project is one of just 16 chosen to model the project approach for educators throughout the state.

Nenia says of the honor, “This is a very exciting opportunity for me. I love having the opportunity to share a glimpse of what I do everyday for the children and families here at Campus Child Care.” CCC Director Kristin Schulz adds, “I am so proud of the work we do at Campus Child Care and that Kendra had the courage to share her work so publicly. For the study to be featured on the site is so validating to us as a center.”

Nenia has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for 24 years. Schulz describes Nenia as “one of our veteran staff members” who has explored a variety of trends in education “through years of professional development and continued exposure to best practice with an emphasis on play based curriculum delivery.” In Nenia’s words, “I have seen the most learning take place with the children when I use play as the foundation.”

CCC Assistant Director Amy Lofthouse has helped to encourage project based learning at Campus Child Care. “Project based learning demonstrates a natural approach to experiences that create a love for learning,” she says. “Oftentimes the adults are learning alongside the children in a shared learning experience. As the project unfolds, the excitement builds for both the children and the teachers, making the learning more meaningful.”

During the six-week project, the children learned very basic knowledge about insects—number of legs, where they are found, how they are to be handled, and what arachnids and insects can offer humans. But perhaps more importantly, the children learned to express curiosity, to notice the insects around them, and to see that insects can be beautiful, cool and interesting.

Nenia says one of the benefits of focusing on bugs was to learn to slow down, watch and listen. “More questions and learning happened through observations than anything else during this study. When I slowed down and watched or listened, so did the children.”

In Lofthouse’s words, “In today’s society, children are often rushed, and aren’t given the opportunity to play for long periods of uninterrupted time.  Project based learning allows the children to have the opportunity to learn while experiencing topics of interest to them in a play-based manner.”

With questions or for more information contact jboyer@niu.edu or call 815-753-0125.

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