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Sensory splendor

photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Caledonia — While sitting at picnic tables outside of Dutton Elementary, Heidi Kruizenga asked her students, “Can we smell squirrels?”

Mikaylah runs to show her classmates the flower she found outside

Thirteen kindergarteners replied with a resounding, “Yes!” followed by fits of laughter. 

The class spent a sunny Friday afternoon exploring their five senses — smell, touch, sight, sound and taste — outside their building.

“Being outside for our nature walk allows the students to gain real-world experience using their senses and focus on our unit question: ‘What do we observe with our senses outside?” Kruizenga explained.

Students used tree map worksheets to record their observations and sorted them into categories based on the five senses. Kruizenga said Dutton Principal Shawn Veitch had all teachers trained on the Thinking Maps program.

Kindergarten teacher Heidi Kruizenga teaches about using the sense of sight to see a colorful leaf

Trying Their Best

When the students’ attention wavered, Kruizenga regained their focus with the “quiet coyote” hand signal. 

“Close your eyes and listen. What can you hear?” she instructed. 

After a few moments of impatient silence, hands shot up waiting to be called on.

“I heard a truck going by, a giant big truck,” Wren said. 

Smith, with his eyes still closed, said he heard the wind in his ears. Kruizenga told her students to draw what they heard on their tree maps. While they picked up their pencils to sketch their surroundings, she joined them and drew her own.

Natalie picks flowers to put in her bag of things she can touch

When Kruizenga admitted to her class she was not very good at drawing, Adalyn reassured her, “That’s okay. Just try your best.” 

For their last activity before returning inside, the students took plastic bags and walked along the paths to collect items they could touch.

Smith found a dandelion and plucked it from the ground.

“I found a flower and it smells super good,” Smith said. He then put it in his bag and whispered, “Here you go flower.”

When Kruizenga rang the bell, the kindergarteners ran back to the picnic tables. Even if only for a portion of the class, they all got to have a “brain break.” 

“As kids are spending the bulk of their days in the homeroom classroom, we have worked to incorporate more movement into the day’s lessons,” Kruizenga explained. 

Ayden uses his senses of sight and touch to examine a pine cone he found outside

Over the summer, Dutton teachers worked together to prepare lessons with creative twists to accomodate the needs of the kids while following the safety requirements for the 2020 back-to-school plan. 

“Despite the new challenges of safety protocols in the classroom, the kindergarten students have adapted well,” Kruizenga said. “We are mindful of safety in our classroom routines, but our primary focus day to day is providing care and consistency for the kids.”

She also credited technology as a valuable tool for teaching in person and virtually. Through Google Classroom, she said, she has built stronger communication with parents and is keeping students up to date with the curriculum. 

She said Veitch emphasized the importance of overcoming challenges with a positive attitude this school year.  

“Regardless of what is going on in the world, a teacher’s heart remains true to serving their students with learning and love,” Kruizenga said. “With the challenges of this season, there is an opportunity to take on a positive attitude and overcome, and that is what our students, teachers, parents, and community are doing together.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia and Kenowa Hills and is a roving reporter for Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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