When we walked into the rainforest exhibit building at our local zoo, we were hit by a wave of warm, moist air. A soft fluttering of leaves drew our eyes up into the foliage, and a small, black monkey scampered into view. We stood still and watched that monkey for a very long time as it hopped from branch to branch, and when we came home, the impact of the experience was evident in the children's playful behavior. The oooh-ooohs and aaah-aaahs rang through the house.
What's a grown-up to do? Join them, of course! When the children have an experience that really impacts them, use it as the teachable moment. Here are a few tips to guide this process.
1. Choose a time when the children are relatively calm and ready to learn. A great way to get kids to calm down is to rev them up first! Trust me on this. A good romp gets the blood going and brain cells firing.
One monkey song I adore (who doesn't?) is Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed. It's even better if you are actually jumping on a bed, but even if you aren't, I recommend that you join in with them and act the part of the doctor, examining their heads and shaking your finger gently at them. Another funny monkey song I love is Aba Daba Honeymoon, an oldie but goodie written 1914 and famously recorded by Debbie Reynolds in 1950. We usually use rhythm sticks to tap the beat, and during the musical interludes, we twirl and jump.
2. Model brainstorming out loud. When the kids seem exhausted from the jumping, hold up a picture of a monkey and comment to yourself out loud something like this: "This is a monkey. I like monkeys! This one has a loooooong tail. I wish I had a long tail like that! I bet it would be fun. Hey, I wonder why monkeys have tails...."
3. Write your ideas down. If your child has the patience to brainstorm a million ideas about monkeys with you while you write them down, enjoy this learning time together. If your child is not the patient sort and is ready to move on, just scribble this this one idea down on a scrap of paper or on a dry erase board.
4. Research to find the answers. Use whatever resources are available to you. The next time you are at a public library, check out a few nonfiction monkey books to read at home. Look for nature-oriented monkey clips on YouTube. Type your questions into Google. Check out the Enchanted Learning Monkey webpage for inspiration and child-friendly information. Don't worry if your children are not coming up with their own questions and answers about monkeys. Remember that you are modeling this mode of learning, and it will pay off big time. Your children will surprise you someday with their own entire research project.
5. Make a hands-on impression. Choose a hands-on activity to go with your research study. If you are learning about monkeys, you might be interested in this crayon-rubbing activity. It would work for any jungle-related theme.
Here's an example of an activity I created using some basic leafy and viney designs cut out of a cereal box.
We placed the cardboard designs on a tray and put a white piece of paper on top. Rub, rub, rub in various colors. Ta-da! Jungle! We added our monkeys into the trees. My youngest did the rubbing himself and asked me to draw the monkey. (No problem, babe, I'm modeling this, too.) My oldest finished his jungle monkey and then used the cardboard piece that looks like a palm tree to create a beach scene on his next piece of paper. That kind of spontaneous creativity is the kind of thing I love, and it only happens if you model the process on a regular basis.