Signs of Leaf Eaters – Activities

FOCUS: By summer’s end, nearly every leaf bears some signs of feeding by plant-eaters small or large. Some make holes, some scallop the edges, some roll the leaves into tubes. Plants capture energy from the sun and, in turn, produce food for a variety of leaf-eaters. When we watch a leaf-eater feeding on a leaf – or being eaten by a predator – we are seeing the flow of energy from sun to plant to herbivore to carnivore. These interactions are evidence of food chains and webs, important components of every ecosystem.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about leaf-eaters.

Bring in or have children gather a variety of leaves that have bite marks, spots, or irregularities on them. In small groups, ask children to sort their leaves according to their observations.

Materials: a variety of leaves with bite marks, spots, or irregularities.

Objective: To view examples of leaf-feeding, noticing patterns and grouping by shared characteristics.

Begin by giving each small group of children a set of photos of leaves showing damage by leaf-eaters (Leaf Photo Set). Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Activities

Life in the Dirt – Activities

FOCUS: Life abounds in the soil, from plant roots to earthworms to moles and millipedes. All these organisms play important roles in the flow of energy and matter through an ecosystem. Many soil critters act as decomposers, breaking down plant and animal materials and returning them as nutrients to the soil where other living things may use them again. The soil is a rich ecosystem teeming with life in a complex food web.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about life in the dirt.

Give small groups of children worms to observe and draw, and ask what they notice about them.

Materials: earthworms, one for each pair of children (any kind of garden worm is fine; night-crawlers are less active but larger so the parts are easier to view; smaller worms are often more active and so more fun); water mister, paper plate and damp paper towel for each worm; magnifying lenses.

Objective: To view some special characteristics of earthworms and consider how these make them well suited to life in the soil.

Bring in a container of worms in soil. Have children work in pairs or small groups. Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Activities

Leaf Litter – Activities

FOCUS: Under a canopy of trees, the forest floor is a cool, damp, and protected environment. Here in the leaf litter millions of small organisms – fungi and bacteria, springtails and mites, spiders and centipedes and others – are all part of a rich food web. Many of these are decomposers, feeding on plant and animal remains and turning them back into soil.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about leaf litter.

Pour a garbage bag of full of freshly fallen leaves onto a sheet. Point out that these are just some of the leaves that fall from a single tree, each year. Ask children, “With so many leaves falling in a forest every year, why aren’t they piled up high in the forest?”

Materials: a garbage bag full of freshly fallen leaves, old sheet.

Objective: To experience the world as it might seem to a small creature living on the forest floor.

Spread a tarpaulin or shower curtain on the forest floor and have children lie on it, facing upwards. Continue reading Leaf Litter – Activities

Snags and Rotting Logs – Activities

FOCUS: From standing snags to lying logs, dead wood is essential in a forest, though its importance is often overlooked. As wood decays, a succession of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria come and go, each decomposing it further. At every stage, snags and rotting logs are hubs of activity, providing food, shelter, perches, travel corridors, and many other functions in the forest ecosystem.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about snags and rotting logs.

Give small groups of children a rotting log to investigate with their senses. Ask children to touch the log with their eyes closed, to tap on the log, to smell it, and then to look at it. What do they notice?

Materials: rotting logs (one per small group); plastic tarp or newspaper for each log.

Objective: To examine a rotting log, looking for evidence of living things – plants, animals and fungi – that live on or in it, and to record observations about them.

Log Portrait
Work in small groups of three or four children with an adult. Provide each group with a rotting log to examine. Continue reading Snags and Rotting Logs – Activities

Staying Warm – Activities

FOCUS: In northern climates, ecosystems are very different places in winter compared to summer, with shorter days, colder temperatures, and plants making little or no food. Even so, many warm-blooded animals stay active throughout this cold season, conserving body heat by seeking out shelter or putting on extra fur, feathers, or fat. For small animals, a layer of snow can offer some protection, and the energy stored in dormant plants and cached food provides the nutrition they need to get through the winter.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about animals staying warm.

Either outside or near an open window, ask children what they notice about how the outdoors in northern climates is different in the winter than at other times of the year. Ask children what they do to stay warm outside.

Objective: Use a model to see how a warm object loses heat to its environment.

Ask a child to feel the top of a desk or table and report to the group. (It usually feels cool.) Now set a pan of hot water on the table. Continue reading Staying Warm – Activities

Squirrel Tales – Activities

FOCUS: Three kinds of tree squirrels – gray, red, and flying squirrels – occupy our forests, often competing for the same foods and shelters. Each kind has a special niche – particular habits and habitat preferences – which helps these squirrels live side by side. All are hoarders of food, hiding a supply for the winter, though each uses a different technique. Looking for signs of squirrel activity outside gives us a window into the lives of these busy animals.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about squirrels.

Give small groups of children photographs of the three types of squirrels. Ask them to make observations about similarities and differences.

Materials: Squirrel Pictures (one set per group).

Objective: To examine different parts of a squirrel’s body, its tracks and sign, and consider how these relate to a squirrel’s daily life and its role in the ecosystem.

Set up three stations with items from the Squirrel Set and have children work in small groups, visiting each station and discussing the items on display with an adult. Use the Squirrel Set Questions and Squirrel Set Guide with Answers to guide the exploration. Continue reading Squirrel Tales – Activities

White-tailed Deer – Activities

FOCUS: White-tailed deer are big animals and require a lot of food to survive, so they can have a profound impact on the forests in which they live, and on the many other inhabitants as well. As plant-eaters, seed-planters and sometimes food for large predators, deer are connected in countless ways to the other living things in their woodland homes.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about White-tailed Deer.

Give one item from the deer set to each small group of children. Ask children to take a close look at their object and write down one thing they notice and one thing they wonder.

Materials: Deer Set; paper or journals, pencils, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To think about the connections between a deer’s physical adaptations and its role in the forest ecosystem.

In small groups, give children a chance to hold and study different deer parts such as those listed below. Use the Deer Set Study guide questions to help children think about each part and how it relates to a deer’s life. Answers are provided on the Deer Set Study Guide Key. Consider the following topics: Continue reading White-tailed Deer – Activities