FOCUS: As insects develop from eggs to adult, they undergo metamorphosis, their bodies changing dramatically as they mature. Most insects go through complete metamorphosis with four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Other insects go through simple metamorphosis with only three stages, changing from egg to nymph to adult. These tiny animals must find partners to reproduce, and they use a variety of signals to find and attract mates.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about insect life cycles.
Give a variety of insects in various stages of their life cycle in small jars to children to examine in small groups, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.
Materials: a variety of live insects in various stages of their life cycle collected in small jars, magnifying lenses.
PIECE IT TOGETHER
Objective: To observe and compare the life stages in a variety of insect species, looking for patterns and sorting by type of life cycle.
Ahead of time, mount each Metamorphosis Puzzle on a different colored backing. Continue reading Insect Life Cycles – Activities
FOCUS: After a plant flowers and produces fertile seeds, those seeds must still find a spot to grow. We’ll see what the inside of a seed looks like, how it holds all that is necessary for a new plant to grow, and explore outside to see the many different seeds we can find and the ways they move from place to place.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about seeds.
Give a variety of seeds to children to examine in small groups, and ask what similarities and differences they notice.
Materials: a variety of seeds and seed heads, magnifying lenses.
PROFESSOR SEED E. BACKPACKER
Objective: To use a model to learn the parts of a seed and their functions.
A seed has everything it needs to travel, like a backpacker. Tell the children that you’re going to dress up the teacher as a seed. Continue reading Traveling Seeds – Activities
FOCUS: Some birds migrate thousands of miles to find the food and shelter they need in winter, but other birds stay right here through the cold months. Which birds migrate and which birds stay? Birds that migrate face many challenges on their journeys, and those that stay here must cope with cold weather, shorter days, and a diminished food supply. All birds must survive this critical stage of their life cycles in order to raise families in the spring.
Objective: To begin to explore bird migration.
Show a picture or video of a flock of migrating geese. Ask children to tell you what might be going on in the photo.
Materials: photo or video of migrating geese.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Objective: To model the connection between diet and migration.
Hand out a Food for Thought card to each child or pair of children. Put up two signs at opposite ends of the room, one saying “Stay” and the other, “Migrate.” Continue reading Birds on the Wing – Activities
FOCUS: Of the four seasons in the year, winter is the most difficult for living things. Temperatures are often cold, days are shorter, the ground is frozen and covered with snow, and there is a dearth of food for many creatures. Each animal species has evolved a survival strategy, and plants overwinter in different ways as well. The dried seed heads of winter weeds provide a welcome source of food for many animals.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about winter compared to other seasons.
Take children outside, and have them talk in small groups about how winter is different from other seasons.
UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Antifreeze Tests (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To investigate the effect of different dissolved substances on the freezing of water.
Many animals build up high concentrations of sugars in their cells in preparation for winter. How do dissolved substances affect the way water freezes? How could we test this? Continue reading Winter Ways – Activities
FOCUS: The combination of warm days and cold nights in early spring reawakens maple trees and starts the sap flowing. This yearly event in the life cycle of a maple tree provides sugar makers with the sap needed to produce maple syrup. Even without leaves, sugar maples can be recognized by their bark, twigs, and buds, so we know we are tapping the right trees.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about maple sugaring.
Pass out a sugar maple twig to each child, and ask children to observe and describe their twigs.
Materials: sugar maple twigs, one for each child; magnifying lenses.
Objective: To observe patterns of similarities and differences among a variety of winter twigs, and learn the special characteristics of sugar maple twigs.
Ahead of time, cut fresh twigs from sugar maple and three or four other opposite-branching trees (e.g. ash, red maple, silver maple, Norway maple, ash-leaf maple), enough so that there is one for each child. In addition, cut a fresh twig from an alternate-branching tree (e.g. elm, beech, poplar). Continue reading Maple Sugaring – Activities
FOCUS: Winter trees may look dead, but concealed in their buds are the beginnings of next year’s shoots, leaves, and flowers. Food is scarce in our winter woods, and for many animals the twigs, buds, and bark of dormant trees provide a welcome source of nutrition. Animals have no trouble recognizing which trees make the best meals, but for us identifying trees when their leaves are gone requires a close look and attention to detail, the skills of a good detective.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about trees in winter.
Pass out a twig to each child, and allow children to observe and ask questions about their twigs.
Materials: twigs showing at least two years of growth, one per child; magnifying lenses.
Objective: To make observations and ask questions about twigs.
Ahead of time, cut twigs from a variety of trees including some that have alternate branching (e.g. elm, beech, oak, poplar) and some that have opposite branching (red maple, sugar maple, and ash). Continue reading Trees in Winter – Activities
FOCUS: Odd bumps and lumps on twigs, buds, and weed stalks might be galls, swellings on plants that are homes for an insect, mite, or other organism. A gall-maker causes its particular host plant to form a bulge in which it will live and feed for a time. Galls on buds, twigs, roots, or leaves of plants provide a safe home for the gall-makers and are an essential part of their life cycles.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about galls.
Pass out a goldenrod ball gall to each child, and ask children to observe and describe their gall.
Materials: ball gall on a goldenrod stem, one for each child; magnifying lenses.
THAT’S MY GALL
Objective: To make observations and ask questions about goldenrod ball galls.
Ahead of time, collect a selection of goldenrod stems with goldenrod ball galls on them. Continue reading Galls Galore – Activities
FOCUS: The singing of birds tells us that springtime has arrived. Songbirds use song to defend a territory and to attract a mate. In addition, shorter calls communicate information about danger and food. With their voices, birds can converse with each other over large distances and in dense vegetation. As we learn to recognize different bird songs and calls, we can begin to understand what they are saying to each other.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about songbird songs.
Take children outside, and ask them to close their eyes to listen to songbird songs and calls. Ask children to silently keep count on their fingers each time they hear a new bird, and to gesture to the location where they heard it.
SOUNDING THE HOUR
Objective: To model how each songbird species has a particular song and preferred time to sing.
Give each pair of children a Sounding the Hour card showing a bird and the words to its song. As a group, practice all the different songs on the cards. Continue reading Songbird Songs – Activities
FOCUS: Dandelion flowers serve the same function as all other flowers: to produce seeds for the next generation. Whether you consider them wildflowers or weeds, these hardy plants are here to stay, and they provide an important food source for birds, bees, and other animals. We’ll dissect simple flowers to see how seeds develop and compare these to the complex structure of dandelions. Outside, it’s easy to find examples of dandelions in all stages of development and get a first-hand view of the progression from flower bud to fluffy white seed head. You and the wind can help spread their parachute seeds far and wide.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about dandelions.
Give each small group of children a variety of flowers, including a dandelion, and ask children to talk about what they notice about the different flowers.
Materials: an assortment of flowers, including dandelions; magnifying lenses.
Objective: To investigate a flower’s structure, sorting the parts and looking for patterns of similarities and differences.
Give each pair of children a simple flower, such as a Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), daffodil, or tulip, and a magnifying lens. It is helpful if everyone has the same kind of flower. Continue reading Dandelions – Activities
FOCUS: Flowers come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same function: to produce seeds. We’ll look at the insides of flowers to see how seeds develop and compare different kinds of flowers and their structures. To make seeds, flowers need to be pollinated. Some do this with the help of the wind and others with the help of animals, like hummingbirds, moths, beetles, and especially bees.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about flowers and fruit.
Give each small group of children a variety of flowers, and ask children to talk about what they notice about the different flowers.
Materials: an assortment of flowers, magnifying lenses
Objective: To investigate a flower’s structure, sorting the parts and looking for patterns of similarities and differences.
Give each pair of children a simple flower, such as a Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), daffodil, or tulip, and a magnifying lens. It is helpful if everyone has the same kind of flower to begin with. Continue reading Flowers to Fruit – Activities
FOCUS: Spiders come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, but they all share some specific characteristics: two body parts, a hard exoskeleton, eight legs. They all make silk, too, though not all weave webs. Here we take a close look at web spinners and wandering spiders, examine their anatomy, and consider their special adaptations. We’ll learn about their lives as small predators and scout outdoors for spiders and webs.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about spiders.
Give a variety of spiders in small jars (one spider per jar) to children to examine in small groups, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.
Materials: live spiders in clear jars with perforated lids with moist cotton ball and bit of vegetation, only one spider per jar; magnifying lenses.
SPIDERS UP CLOSE
Objective: To observe closely and compare a variety of different live spiders.
A day or two ahead of time, gather a variety of different spiders in jars with perforated lids, only one spider per jar, and include a damp cotton ball plus a piece of vegetation in each jar. Give each small group of children a few different spiders in jars to observe. Continue reading Spiders: Web-Builders and Wanderers – Activities
FOCUS: Wood, leaves, bark, roots, flowers, and fruits: disassembled, these various parts don’t begin to convey the majesty of a mighty tree in full summer foliage. However, each part of the tree serves an important function that contributes to its survival. Roots reach into the soil for water and nutrients, wood provides strength for the trunk, branches hold the crown of leaves up to the sunlight. Like other living organisms, trees grow, reproduce, and die, but they are more to us than just tall woody plants: they are neighbors that grow and change with us through the years.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about trees.
Hold up a small cardboard box and tell the students that you’ve discovered a beautiful object that can turn sunlight into sugar, pump gallons of water a day, purify air, move and split rocks, change color with the season, and provide shelter and food to all sorts of animals. What do they think it is? Open the box and present the small sapling hidden inside.
Materials: cardboard box, small sapling.
Continue reading Tremendous Trees – Activities
FOCUS: Grasses are hardy plants that grow over much of the earth, flourishing in harsh conditions. They are able to withstand high winds, hold onto slippery slopes, and grow back after being mowed, burned or grazed. Grasses have fascinating and unique adaptations that make them extremely resilient and set them apart from other kinds of plants.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about grasses and grains.
Give each child a grass stem with flower/seed head, and ask what children notice and wonder about their plant.
Materials: grass stems, one per child; magnifying lenses.
GRASSES UP CLOSE
Objective: To make observations about the structure of grasses and consider how these function for the plant.
Working in small groups, give each team a complete grass plant with roots, stems, leaves, and flower head. Ask each group to share one observation about their grass plant. Other groups compare to see if their grass plant has the same or similar feature(s). Continue reading Grasses and Grains – Activities
FOCUS: Both predators and prey need to eat, but they face different challenges in getting their food. Predators must find their prey, chase and catch it, subdue it if it fights back, and eat it. Prey animals must forage for food cautiously, always on the lookout for predators. The physical and behavioral characteristics of predators and prey reflect their needs and ways of life.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about predators and prey.
Ask children to take a moment to imagine being either a stalking cat or a squirrel alert to danger. Then ask them to share what they were thinking as they were imagining life as their character.
LOOK OUT! SCENARIOS
Objective: To model some behavioral adaptations that help predators and prey survive.
Have children work in small groups to rehearse and act out vignettes about animal life in the wild. Continue reading Predators and Prey – Activities
FOCUS: The shape and structure of skull and teeth are adaptations related to an animal’s food and way of life. The teeth and eye placement of carnivores differ from those of herbivores, omnivores, or insectivores. Much can be learned about an animal from its skull, for these are the bones that protect the brain and house the mouth, teeth, and sense organs – all of which are critical to its survival.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about skulls.
Give each small group of children a skull to examine. Ask children to draw their skull, and to write down one thing they notice and one thing they wonder about it.
Materials: Skulls Set, magnifying lenses, paper or journals, pencils.
Objective: To observe our four different kinds of teeth and investigate how we use them.
Have children smile at each other and notice each other’s teeth. Continue reading Skull Sleuthing – Activities
FOCUS: All birds share a similar body plan with two legs, beaks, wings, light-weight bones, and feathers. Unique to birds, feathers are an extremely versatile body covering. They provide warm, light-weight insulation, a streamlined shape, colors and patterns for hiding or attracting a mate, and of course they are essential for flight. Birds live in a variety of different habitats, eating a wide range of foods. Each species’ beak, feet, shape, color, and behavior are adapted to meet its particular needs.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about bird bodies.
Give small groups of children a variety of feathers to examine, and ask them to discuss what they notice and wonder about them.
Materials: feathers, magnifying lenses.
Objective: To observe different kinds of feathers, considering their different functions.
Have children work in small groups, at tables. Give each group a small pile of mixed feathers including flight, contour, and downy feathers. Ask the children to sort their feathers into groups of similar feathers. Continue reading Birds of a Feather – Activities
FOCUS: Owls are birds of prey with many special adaptations related to their lives as nighttime hunters. With soft wings, huge eyes, and superb hearing, they can detect the slightest sound or movement and swoop down silently on their unsuspecting prey. Owl pellets tell us about their food preferences, and their calls, an adaptation for communicating with others of their kind, tell us which owls are living in our area.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about owls.
Turn off the classroom lights, and play a Barred Owl call. Ask children what they think about when they hear the sound. Then show a photo of a Barred Owl, and ask children to draw it.
Materials: audio recording of Barred Owl call, photo of Barred Owl, paper or journals, and pencils.
SEEING WITH OWL EYES
Objective: To investigate and model differences between owls’ eyes and our own.
Show the children pictures of owls, paying special attention to the eyes. Are they on either side of the head or in the front? (In front, facing forward.) Continue reading Calling All Owls – Activities
FOCUS: Plants and animals have traits that help them avoid being eaten. Defenses like sharp spines, noxious odors, hard shells, and poisons are common in both plant and animal worlds. These last lines of defense help animals to fend off attackers at close quarters. Defensive adaptations help plants protect essential parts needed to produce and ripen seeds for the next generation.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about defenses.
Give small groups of children a variety of items that are examples of natural defenses, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.
Materials: Defenses Set, magnifying lenses.
PUZZLING OUT PATTERNS
Objective: To use observations to describe patterns of similarities in plant and animal defenses.
In small groups at tables, have children work together to assemble Defense Puzzles that compare plant and animal defenses. Continue reading Daunting Defenses – Activities
FOCUS: Muskrats and beavers are furry mammals that spend much of their lives in and around the water of streams, ponds, and wetlands. Both animals modify their habitat to suit their needs, and beavers in particular have a significant impact on their environment. Beavers and muskrats have many special adaptations for their largely aquatic lives.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about beavers and muskrats.
Give small groups of children several photographs of beavers and muskrats to examine and sort.
Materials an assortment of photographs of beavers and muskrats.
BEAVERS AND MUSKRATS UP CLOSE
Objective: To examine and compare beaver and muskrat skulls and pelts and to consider how their special adaptations function in their lives.
In small groups, give children a chance to hold and study different beaver and muskrat skulls and pelts. Use the Beaver Kit Study Guide questions to help children think about each part and how it relates to a beaver’s or muskrat’s life. Continue reading Beavers and Muskrats – Activities
FOCUS: Honeybees are social insects, living in colonies of many thousands of bees. Working together in a highly organized way, honeybees accomplish remarkable feats of construction, navigation, decision-making, defense, and honey making – far beyond what an individual insect could do on its own. Many fascinating adaptations, both physical and behavioral, are important in the life and work of these busy, buzzy insects.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about bees.
Place in front of each child a dead bee (on a jar lid) to examine using a hand lens. Ask children what they notice and wonder about the bees.
Materials: dried, dead honeybees in jars with lids, one per child; magnifying lenses.
Objective: To examine closely and compare different types of honeybees and their cousins.
Ahead of time, contact a local beekeeper and obtain some dead bees, both workers and drones, if possible. These should be dried completely and stored in a shallow cardboard box. Before class, place bees in jar lids, one for each child. Continue reading The Buzz on Bees – Activities