Teacher Feature: Four Year Old Classroom Explores Dr. Dolittle

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Carrie Heflin and Emma Cowan-Young. Carrie and Emma’s pre-k four classroom learned about Dr. Doolittle. Below you will find a reflection from Carrie and Emma and images from some of their lessons.


What were your topics of exploration?

“The unit we were working on was a case study of the novel The Story of Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting. We looked at a variety of topics including long, long ago (Dr. Doolittle was published in 1920), geography (Dr. Doolittle travels from his home in England to Africa by boat), and communication (comparing and contrasting animal and human communication in real life and in the story).”

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

  • “Making a connection between the story we were studying and our own lives (i.e. the trips we take, our pets, how we communicate with the world around us).
  • Thinking about the differences and similarities between how people communicate and how animals communicate.
  • Practicing some of the different ways that people communicate (i.e. in various languages, with our words, with our bodies).
  • Observing some of the ways that animals communicate.”

What was most successful about your lesson?

“I think that the most successful thing about this unit is the way it has opened up a larger conversation in our classroom about how we interact with the world around us. We had started the year with a unit on portraiture where we talked a lot about how we represent ourselves and how we learn about others by observing and interpreting how they represent themselves. I felt that this was a natural continuation of that line of thought. We went from talking about how we represent ourselves to exploring how we communicate and how that affects how others see and understand us. I began to see these concepts at work in my classroom in the way my students were interacting with each other. I saw a lot more care being put into apologies and working through problems. In particular I noticed the class as a whole took a very marked interest in sign language. We had dedicated one of our lessons to sign language as a form of human communication because one of our students comes from an ASL-speaking family and he was able to demonstrate some signs from the Dr. Doolittle plot that really engaged the class. We are now two weeks into a new unit and I still hear students asking him about new signs and using them in the classroom every day. It has really created strong sense of community in our class.”

What could you have done differently? What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

“I really wish we had been able to find a way to get the kids more one on one time with animals. I think there is so much to be learned from observing and interacting with animals and children treat them in such a gentle and thoughtful way. Ideally I would go back and take the time to contact perhaps a service dog organization and have them come and talk to the class about how people can communicate with animals to extend the thought process even further. Unfortunately, I was gone for a week during this unit and I think it threw off the rhythm a little for me and the kids and our momentum fizzled out so it was time to move on. Otherwise, we might still be talking about Dr. D.”

Here a few images from their exploration of  communication as part of their Dr. Doolittle unit:
DSCN0962They began the lesson by asking the children how they communicate. Carrie then asked if we all spoke the same language. As you can see they came up with quite an extensive list. Some shared a few words in the languages they knew.

DSCN0980One of the children speaks American Sign Language at home and was excited to share some animal signs  from Dr. Doolittle with his classmates.

DSCN0989Carrie is fluent in French and sang the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” first in English and then in French. This was a great way to practice one to one association and get the kids up and moving during their lesson.

DSCN1014The next day the class visited the Park Police horse stable on the National Mall to meet with a few officers who explained that horses have their own way of communicating with each other. They also explained that the officers have a special way of communicating with the horses especially when they are riding them.


DSCN1028The children noticed that the sounds and movements of the horses could tell them something about how the horse was feeling. They loved the opportunity to get up close and interact with these amazing animals.

This class had a wonderful time exploring the magical world of Dr. Doolittle and now they are off on their next adventure. Be sure to check back for our Teacher Feature next week!