In the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten (FDELK) program document, one of the expectations under Social Development is that children will talk about events or retell stories that reflect their own heritage and cultural background.
In a rural setting, there is not as much cultural diversity as one might find in an urban school. However, the traditions we celebrate here in Eastern Ontario run deep, and are a very rich part of the children's experiences.
In late September when we were creating a list of "signs of fall", a point that came up several times was that "Daddy is getting ready to go hunting". The boys started pretending to hunt, and it is a credit to the learning journey I am on that I didn't immediately shut down the shooting of pretend guns.
I gathered the boys together and saw their faces fall when I reminded them of our "no guns in school" rule. Then their faces visibly brightened when I asked if they thought it was time to change things up in our dramatic play area. "Do you think you could help me create a hunting centre in our classroom?"
Immediately, they were engaged. They gave me many ideas of items we'd need, which I recorded as a list (modeled writing): camo and orange clothing, hats, stuffed animals to represent local prey, hunting licenses, and guns. The last item had a big question mark after it.
We didn't want to encourage gun play in our classroom or in the school yard, but it was clear to me that these children understand deeply what guns are truly for: protecting livestock from pests, and hunting to provide for their families. We agreed that they could build guns from wooden blocks (with the permission of our administrator), but that they would lose their hunting licenses if they engaged in gun play at recess.
We used camouflage wrapping paper and real tree branches to turn our play loft into a tree stand. The children have really enjoyed pretending that they are quietly watching for prey. They were thrilled with their personalized Ontario Outdoor Cards, and have put a lot of attention into packing their supplies for a trip to the hunt camp.
One day a student offered me some of the moose he'd caught; I asked him if you can eat it right away or if there were steps that needed to be taken before eating our catch. I invited the little hunters to help me create a step-by-step procedure (modeled writing) detailing how to process an animal we've shot. Their prior knowledge runs deep!
One of my students was picked up one afternoon to go see the moose his dad's hunting group had shot. The next day he arrived with a photo of himself standing beside the two moose, suspended from tractor buckets, with their bellies cut. I'll admit, this sounds gruesome. I gave the children the choice of whether or not the wanted to see the picture and they all chose to look. No one said, "Ew!"
The girls have been less enthused about this inquiry, and it has been interesting to observe the preconceptions the children have about who goes hunting. One day, one of the boys said, "The girls can be the moms". We discussed what that means in hunting families; in general, the moms stay home with the children while dad goes to the hunt camp! Some of the children mentioned that their moms engage in turkey or partridge hunting, and a few of the girls have donned the orange vests and hats.
With Halloween just around the corner, we started to pack up the hunting gear. This worked well with the inquiry; I just told the children that this year's hunting season was over! We clarified that there would be no more shooting guns in the classroom and so far, this has worked wonderfully. We are now investigating pumpkins and measurement! More on that in an upcoming post!