What is alive?

Side conversations in Pre-K can often illuminate quietly held misconceptions. The other day, three children were talking about whether or not a particular playground item was alive or not. Piquining my interest, I tuned in. The debate brought in neighboring children and it became obvious that each had their own rules for what might prove a thing’s “aliveness.”

Things the children thought might be alive:

Toy Cars

The next day, we set this as our Morning Message.

How do you know something is alive?

  • You see it moving.
  • It has eyes.
  • It can move.
  • It moves with its whole body.
  • It eats.
  • It is crawling.
  • It’s moving its arms and its legs.
  • It can be alive because it moves and tries to crawl around.
  • They go poop on the potty.
  • If their mouth has a bubble coming out of it with words.

Collating this list, there was some confusion as a few children felt there are things in the world that are alive, but do not fit these rules. Instead of refining our rules, we had many more questions.we asked the children to draw a picture of something that was alive and something that was not alive. The assignment for the day was for the children to find something outside that was either alive or not alive for me to take a picture of.

The next day, we decided to try approaching this topic from another angle. This time, we asked them to draw a picture of something alive on one side of a piece of paper and something that was not alive on the other. This task was much easier for the children. Every single one drew something that is certainly alive on one side and something that is not, on the other. However, we realized that we, the teachers, had made an erroneous assumption. Although we meant “things that can be alive”, that is not what we said. When a quarter of the class identified their non-living things as things that have died, we realized our mistake. The children weren’t wrong, but we’d missed the concept we were trying to help them process.

As we continue to follow the questions, we’ll see if maybe we can agree on a more inclusive list of rules that will inform us if something is alive.

Spring Has Finally Sprung

Now that we can [hopefully] expect to have frost-free evenings here in Western Pennsylvania, we’ve begun to explore our growing world outside.  Our first question was how to identify something that is alive vs. something that is not.  We decided that things that are alive need to breathe and grow. (Please note that, thankfully, one of the children put me on the list.)

Many items on our list were creatures, but a few were of the plant variety.  We talked about the differences between plants and creatures and tried to figure out how plants eat and drink.  To help us with this problem, we invited a new friend to join us.

We tried to think up a name for him, but the children lost interest after they tried to name him “Brown Head” and I suggested that a name doesn’t always describe someone.  Oops.  I guess I should have left well enough alone on that one.  Instead, we decided that we should all make a new friend to share our class with.

The children have been helping with the care of their freshly planted grass seeds by spritzing them with water on a daily basis.  One child suggested today, “If I give it lots and lots of water, I bet it will grow really, really big!”  I asked him how well he would grow under water.  Of course he said that he couldn’t possibly live under water because he needed air.  There was almost an audible Ding! when he made the connection that the plant needed air, too.

When the children arrived this morning, I heard exclamations of “Look at my friends hair!” and “It’s growing! It’s growing!”  We’ve been looking at the roots from the grass seeds along the sides of the cups for a day or two, so it was quite exciting to finally see some green poking out of the top of the cup.  Señora Sewald has been helping us understand the structure of a plant by making a collage using real plant parts.  Of course the children practiced saying roots, stem, leaves, and flower in Spanish, too.  Now they can see their own living versions of the collage.