How do octopuses eat? This simple question, and the unceasing inquisitiveness of a four-year-old boy, created a fascination that spread throughout the classroom at Friendly Grove Head Start/ECEAP Center in Olympia.

Fueled by this young man’s passion, the curiosity of thirty-seven preschoolers grew until they too were captivated by this eight-legged, ocean creature. Classroom teachers Patti Maxson and Katee Lilloren took advantage of this motivation and created an emergent curriculum, planning activities around the students’ new found interest.

The students drew pictures of octopuses and then sculpted them with clay, creating a dimensional representation. An inquiry chart and a pictorial was created incorporating Preschool GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) strategies. GLAD is child focused instruction emphasizing vocabulary and differentiation.

Community Connections were developed when Betsea Antonio, from the South Sound Estuarium, visited the classroom to tell the children about Giant Pacific Octopus.

McGraw-Hill My Math curriculum provided ideas for a mathematically rich environment, using manipulatives, games, center activities and daily routines to enhance students’ understanding of math concepts. “Students worked on counting, quantities, and the connection between numerals and their quantities. These concepts were woven into learning about a subject that highly interested them,” shared Patti.

The teachers also pulled a wide range of activities and experiences from the Growing Up Wild curriculum. “It provides an early foundation for developing positive impressions about nature and lifelong social and academic skills,” Katee said. Growing Up Wild supported knowledge of the alphabet, letter-sounds, print concepts and the use of scientific inquiry skills, among others.

In post-unit assessments, students demonstrated counting, language and content knowledge. When asked to share what they knew about octopuses, answers ranged from the simple, “They have eight legs,” to the comprehensive… “They have really big suction cups, I felt inside where the brain was…it felt weird. It was inside its head. The octopus can change the color of its eyes…camouflage. Crabs are like a treat to them…they sneak and grab it with their suction cups and tentacles…then they eat it with their beak.” (Five-Year-old Boy’s comments after Octopus Unit Friendly Grove Head Start/ECEAP Center)