Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"underGROUND" by Denise Fleming

Denise Fleming created "underGROUND" a simple, few-words picture book that is perfect for toddlers up to kindergarten. The simple rhymes, large design, and outdoorsy premise is sure to be a hit with young kids. The loose story--which is almost more like a happening--follows the creatures who live in many backyards across the U.S. as they form their homes and settle in their spaces.

Me (no, I'm not eating the book) and "underGROUND"


This is  a great read aloud for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in a group setting. I can see this being used as a springboard for discussion with older children, but it finds its perfect home in the world of preschool and Kinder. Here's what I would do with it with preK and K...

1. Backyard Bingo:

At the back of the book, you will find a great "Creature Identification" guide to find all of the creatures in the book. You can use it like a "Where's Waldo?" for the book and search for the pictures in the book, or you can make your own Backyard Bingo with the guide. Use the guide to think about which animals live in your backyard. Then make copies of the page. Paste the animals on a tic-tac-toe-styled board or Bingo board, and make copies for the kids. Take the book (your research guide), some crayons, and your boards outside. Then have the kids settle down and sit somewhere... and be silent as nature starts to creep around them. 

I have done this activity when I went on a nature hike with my K-2 class at Oso Flaco Lake, thanks to the good people at The Guadalupe Dune Center and The Target Corporation. I have found it is a good idea to come up with some sort of hand signal when I child finds a creature. The worst thing that can happen is a child screams out, "I see a bird!" and because of all of the commotion, the bird flies aways before we can get a good look at it.

Sometimes with younger kids in preschool I have made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls like the ones here--it adds to the fun, but they aren't necessary.

After finding some creatures (few truly find them all), I have the students write their findings down in sentences. With young children I write the words they dictate in yellow marker and they trace over the letters. With slightly older kids in the first half of Kinder, I have a sentence frame that starts them off such as "I saw one ______ outside." The child then can use his Bingo card to find the name of the animal he saw. He can then fill in the blank and create a successful sentence. Kids who are more advanced can even create their own sentences.

Remember, nature is just outside your door. You don't need to spend money to go to a lake or the beach--find nature in your own backyard!

2. Dig:

I hope this goes without saying, but I would simply grab some shovels and start digging after reading this book. Spray the ground, get some gardening tools and see what you can find! I always have the best time with my preschool-aged son when we are in the garden together. Great teachable moments happen in the garden.

A page from the book that inspired carrot growing.
3. Science Experiment:

I love to grow small plants inside the classroom. This book is a great way to kickoff growing any sort of plant as Fleming does a superb job of showing the different parts of a plant, including the rarely seen roots. The three most successful "growings" I have done in my classroom are: beans inside of a plastic bag (here is a link to another person's bean project), carrots in a see-through planter (here is that link), and simple house plants.

With the house plants, I do a variation on this project. I talk to my kids about how plants get all they need out in nature. We discuss that they typically get enough soil, water, and space to thrive. To further demonstrate these needs, I purchase five small 99-cent plants at the store to conduct an experiment.

I tell the kids we are going to take away one of the required needs away from each plant. We make signs to label each plant (e.g. Plant 1, Plant 2, etc.), and a table to understand what our labels mean. It might look something like this:

Plant 1
Plant 2
Plant 3
Plant 4
Plant 5
Normal Conditions
No Soil
No Water
No Sunshine
No Space

I have the kids help experiment, and I give them the term variable. Over the next month we take time every few days to see what happens to each plant. As we observe, I give kids a journal to keep track of their observations. 

As time goes on, it is clear the plant with the book on top of it needs more space. Plant 2 without its soil always does ok--but it has seen better days. The one without sunshine does ok, but starts to turn yellow. The one with no water, Plant 3, looks horrible. And finally the one that I put a book on top of to eliminate its need for space, looks like a pressed flower leaf and is normally brown or yellow. Kids seem to internalize the lesson once they have truly experienced it first hand.

4. Get Denise and Talk Paper:

If you want a real treat, get Deniese Fleming to come to your school. I had the privilege of meeting her at a conference a few years ago, and I was amazed to learn about her paper making skills. You can read about them here on her website; however, nothing will compare to an in-person visit.

If anything, you can show your kids the interesting process of making your own paper and creating a book. "underGROUND" is made through a process of pouring and shaping pulp into the beautiful works of art you see in the book. Check out this YouTube video of Denise talking about her work. I also suggest you check out some paper making on YouTube, there were hundreds of good videos on there, so just spend some time clicking around.

After looking at the work, you may even try to make your own paper (I haven't done this yet, but a few of my teacher friends in the upper grade classrooms have done this to great success.)

With that in mind, ALWAYS contact authors and illustrators about sharing at schools. You should pay them for their work, but many are willing to do Skype visits at huge discounts.

5. Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books don't need to stop in second grade!

1. Predict what will happen when it rains. What will become of the animals' habitats?
2. How can we help keep animals that live underground safe in their habitats?
3. What colors does the author use to draw your attention to the page?
4. What other sorts of foods can you grow out of the ground?
5. Imagine you are in one of the underground scenes. Describe what it would feel like to be there.

I hope you enjoy "underGROUND"... And I hope you take some time to dig around!

Happy learning!

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