Of course, they said no way!
They knew that it matters how the parts of the cow are arranged  matters (the head can’t go in the back and the tail in front- we tried it!)
They knew the parts like the heart couldn’t work on their own without the cow, and the cow couldn’t work without the heart (interdependence). I was amazed at how readily the kids jumped into showing what they already knew about living systems.
(See the list below for simple questions you can use to help children decide if something is a “system”.)

  • Are there parts?
  • Do the parts affect each other?
  • Does it matter how the parts are arranged?
  • If you move or remove, does it matter?
  • Can the parts together do things that each part by itself cannot?

Then we read the APART, TOGETHER book.  Using the CURIOUS ABOUT CONNECTIONS questions*, I took a take a big pause at each page turn and encouraged the children to guess what might change on the next page.

Queuing them to listen for the rhyme helped them think through what might change when PARTS came TOGETHER.  And it became a fun listening game. 

When they predicted that blue and yellow come together to make “GREEN”, they were more likely to guess “BEANS” when anticipating what sun, soil, water, and seeds might create.

After the reading, they all waved their felt circles in the air.  We paused to look around. That’s what the felt circles looked like APART.  Then I invited them to see what they could create TOGETHER with those circles.  We had three-year-olds up to about eight-year-olds.  I loved how they made room for each other, as each carefully placed their circle on the felt board. When they stepped back, they had created a brightly colored flower!  (Next time I might give each child two or three circles, to make an even bigger flower).

To close, I handed each child a small roll of streamers.  Then, inspired by the last scene of the book where a Mama bird and her baby bird are building a nest, we tried something epic:  take each PART and work TOGETHER to make a human-sized nest (with the help of the adults in the audience). Some of the children hopped in the middle to be the baby birds! It was really fun and, next time, I would have the children sit in a circle and weave the streams around themselves so they become a part of the nest.🐦😀

️A few days after this storytime debut, APART, TOGETHER received a starred review from School Library Journal, calling it “A sweet read-aloud for younger readers to help them learn how the individual is part of a greater community; a standout for conveying complex concepts in an accessible format.”

A starred review from SLJ gives APART, TOGETHER a chance of being on the shelves and in story times in libraries across the country, and one step closer to making systems thinking or “joined-up thinking” (as my British friends say) not just for experts from MIT, but a natural way of thinking for all children.

Though this year is coming to a close, we are just gearing up to share more Curious about Connections “sit-ins” and resources for early childhood educators, parents, and researchers   I’m looking forward to being in touch again in the new year! In the meantime, if you have ideas comments, or suggestions, please do be in touch.

— Linda

*Draper Kauffman, perhaps one of the greatest of all time systems eduators, posed this simple but profound question, in his book SYSTEMS ONE – An Introduction to Systems Thinking, co-authored with Morgan Kauffman.

*To receive a free CURIOUS ABOUT CONNECTIONS companion guide, subscribe here.