By Emilee Harvey
Each fall students in both the preschool and toddler classes at Glebe Cooperative Nursery School (GCNS) spend October and November discussing hibernation. The teaching team uses crafts, stories and songs to communicate the concept of a long winter’s nap, when animals, in this case it’s mostly bears, slow down for a rest. Finally, one day in the middle of November, the bears settle to sleep until March when each class will wake up their furry friends for spring.
“We’re always excited when the month of November comes around as we focus on our hibernation topic,” says head teacher Helen Brydges, “As the weather outside gets colder, it’s the perfect time to talk with the children about where the animals go when the weather gets colder outside.” As the teaching team discusses why bears hibernate, the activities in the classroom focus on bear dens, how and what the bears eat, how long they sleep and when they wake up.
Hibernation is a way for many creatures – from butterflies to bats – to survive cold, dark winters without having to forage for food or migrate to somewhere warmer. Instead, they turn down their metabolisms to save energy. For bears, this is called denning, a light form of dormancy where their body temperature drops only slightly but they can lose up to 40 per cent of their body weight. Ahead of denning, bears consume high-energy food to build up fat reserves that will last all winter.
This year students made a bear den out of boxes and paper mâché. Each student also made their own clay bear to put inside the den. The children even used a short lullaby to put the bears to sleep, to the tune of Frère Jacques:
“Bears are sleeping, bears are sleeping. In their cave, in their cave.
When will they wake up? When will they wake up? In the spring, in the spring.”
Using art, song and storytelling to explain and understand hibernation helps young children connect with an idea that is complicated and new for many of them. It also helps them consider what changes in the weather mean for their outdoor environment. Hibernation day was marked with a pajama party and teddy bear picnic snacks of berries, cheese and teddy-bear crackers. The clay bears that the children put in the hibernation den will reappear later in the school year when it is time to wake up again.
Emilee Harvey is communications manager and a parent with a child in Glebe Coop Nursery School.