All Sorts of Insects – Activities

FOCUS: Honeybees, grasshoppers, and butterflies are all insects, yet they look and behave very differently from each other. So what makes an insect an insect, and how is it different from other animals? Insects all share the same basic design of three body parts, six legs, wings, antennae, and compound eyes. Variations in the size and shape of these parts account for their great diversity. We’ll learn to recognize common groups of insects by their characteristic features and watch them as they go about their daily lives.

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

Give a variety of adult insects in jars to children to examine in small groups, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.

Materials: a variety of live adult insects collected in clear jars with lids, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To construct and compare felt insect models and identify common features and differences in insect anatomy.

Ahead of time, create bags of insect parts using the five Build an Insect templates and a variety of craft materials. In every bag use the same material to represent Continue reading All Sorts of Insects – Activities

Leaves: Nature’s Suncatchers – Activities

FOCUS: Leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they are all designed to make food for the plant, using sunlight, water, air, and their green pigment, chlorophyll. With close observation, leaf features such as shape and venation can provide important clues to the identity of plants.

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

WARNING: Before collecting leaves, be sure to check your school grounds for any poisonous plants, such as poison ivy,  wild parsnip, and chervil.

Have children work in small groups with a leader to look for different types of leaves. Provide paper lunch bags to collect samples. Ask them to collect leaves from different types of plants, such as grasses, weeds, trees, shrubs, even garden plants. Have each small group sort their leaves into two piles and see if the other groups can guess which feature was used to sort them.

Have the children save their leaves for future activities.

Materials: paper lunch bags, Fact Sheet on Poison Ivy, Wild Parsnip, and Chervil.

Objective: To identify physical features of leaves and associated vocabulary.

Have each child choose a leaf from their Leaf Grab Bags (see Introduction above). Using the Leaf Anatomy and A Variety of Leaves diagrams, have them note the various features on their leaf. Explain that you will now be asking them to split into two groups based on one particular leaf feature. Continue reading Leaves: Nature’s Suncatchers – Activities

Conifer Clues – Activities

FOCUS: A closer look at the many variations in conifer cones and their leaves makes each species unique and recognizable and distinguishes the common evergreen trees in our neighborhoods and nearby woods.

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

Give a variety of conifer boughs to small groups of children, and ask what similarities and differences they notice.

Materials: a variety of conifer boughs, magnifying lenses.

Objective:  To sort and identify cones by their patterns of similarities and differences.

Ahead of time, collect a wide assortment of cones, being sure to have some cones that match any conifer trees growing on or around the school grounds, for a total of at least 100 cones. Try to collect five different kinds of conifer cones. Continue reading Conifer Clues – Activities

Snowflakes – Activities

FOCUS: A snowflake’s life is one of constant change, from its trip through the sky to its resting place in the snow bank. Each one is a unique, six-sided crystal with temperature and humidity as key factors determining their shape, size, and design.

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

If it’s snowing, provide children with black felt squares and magnifying lenses to catch and observe snowflakes. If not, put out several snowflake photographs, and ask children what they notice about them. After they mention some similarities and differences, ask them to sort them.

Materials: squares of black felt or dark fabric, chilled in freezer or outdoors; magnifying lenses; optional: Snowflake Photo Set: photos of various snow crystal categories

Objective: To observe snow crystal photos and sort into categories based on their design features.

Using the Types of Snow Crystals diagram, review the various design features and growth patterns of different snow crystals. Point out that as each type of snowflake grew, decorative patterns were repeated on all six sides, creating symmetrical designs. Continue reading Snowflakes – Activities

Track Detectives – Activities

FOCUS: Tracks in the snow give us hints about the lives of animals that live nearby. Learning to recognize tracks and sign helps us identify animals and their activities from the clues they leave behind.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about tracks by observing photos depicting interesting track scenarios.

Divide the children into small groups and share a photo from Mystery Track and Sign Photos with each group. Ask children to share their observations about the photo.  Encourage observation first without interpretation (for example “I see tracks that end at the tree” instead of  “A squirrel was climbing the tree”). Based on their observations, who are the possible animals who could have made the tracks? What do they wonder? Pass the photos between the small groups. Afterwards, everyone can share their observations and wonderings together, piece together the story, and reveal the mystery animal.

Materials: Mystery Track and Sign Photos.

PUPPET SHOW “Tracking the Tracker”
Objective: To learn the four basic patterns of animal tracks and other important sign or clues used to identify animals and their activities.

Perform or have a group of children perform the puppet show for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story. Use the puppets and track pattern props to review the four basic track patterns. Continue reading Track Detectives – Activities

Feathering the Nest – Activities

It is illegal to collect birds’ nests, feathers, or eggs without federal and state collecting permits.

After handling nests, be sure to wash hands.

FOCUS: Although all birds’ nests are made to contain and conceal the eggs, the design, location, and construction of nests varies greatly. Nests are built in many different places and they are built with many different materials. Some are simple scrapes and others are intricate woven baskets. Each nest is characteristic for its species, and every bird knows by instinct how and where to build it.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about bird nests.

Set out a variety of nests, ask children to take a close look, and ask what they wonder about them.

Materials: Bird Nest Set: five bird nests from key plus additional nests if available (from a licensed owner), magnifying lenses.

Objective: To investigate a variety of birds’ nests and create an inventory, documenting the materials used in their construction.

Ahead of time, place the five nests from the Bird Nest Set at five separate stations. Label each station with the letter listed on the paper tag attached to each nest.  Continue reading Feathering the Nest – Activities

Animal Disguise and Surprise – Activities

FOCUS: All around you there may be animals hidden in plain sight. They can be variously colored, patterned, or shaped to blend into their surroundings. Some animals are concealed by camouflage, while others warn off predators with bright colors. Those with the best disguise or surprise will survive and pass along these important characteristics to their offspring.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about protective coloration in animals.

Show a photo or two of animals with protective coloration in the wild, and ask children to share what they see, notice, and wonder.

Materials: 1-2 photographs of animals with protective coloration.

Objective: To see examples of different types of protective coloration.

Show photographs of the different types of protective coloration – matching color, disruptive coloration, countershading, masking, warning and flash coloration. Continue reading Animal Disguise and Surprise – Activities

Frogs and Toads – Activities

FOCUS: Wetlands come alive in spring as frogs and toads serenade us with their chorus of voices. We’ll learn to distinguish who’s who in the pond by studying different amphibians and their pattern of development, observing field marks of frogs, and listening closely to their distinct songs. A field trip to a frog pond is a must!

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about frogs and toads.

Play a short spring frog chorus, and ask children to share thoughts about what they’re hearing.

Materials: audio recordings of frog voices, device to play audio.

Objective: To carry out a field investigation of frogs and other amphibians at a local pond or wetland.

Ahead of time, scout out a frog pond and get permission from the landowner to use the site. Find a place where there is easy access for everyone.

Before going to the pond, discuss proper field methods and collection techniques. Remind children that amphibians along with their eggs and tadpoles are very fragile creatures and need to be handled with care. Please leave eggs in the water. If you have nets, let the children practice catching small objects and scooping them up in the net.  Continue reading Frogs and Toads – Activities

Ferns and Fiddleheads – Activities

FOCUS:  The arrival of spring is heralded by the appearance of fuzzy spirals poking up through the soil and leaf litter – fiddleheads ready to unfurl into fern fronds. By examining similarities and differences, sorting by leaf structure and creating leaf prints, we’ll see how patterns can help us recognize and classify our common ferns. All ferns have leaves with a blade and a stem, but the many variations in leaf form, spore-bearing structures, and preferred habitat make each species unique and recognizable.

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

Give each child a fern frond. Ask children what they notice about ferns and what they would like to know about them.

Materials: a variety of fern fronds, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To learn the parts of a fern and sort ferns into three basic groups by leaf form.

Have children work in small groups with a leader. Give each group some once-cut ferns (such as Christmas fern) to examine, pointing out the axis, blade, leaflet, stem, and roots (if present). Now give them a twice-cut and thrice-cut (lacy) fern. Continue reading Ferns and Fiddleheads – Activities

Sunlight and Shadow – Activities

**Caution: It is not safe to look directly at the sun!**

FOCUS: As the Earth spins on its axis and travels around the sun, we experience day and night and the seasons. The sun’s rays give us energy in the form of light and heat. Solar energy warms the Earth, fuels the water cycle, and generates our weather systems. It provides the energy for plants to carry out photosynthesis, the basis of food chains and webs, and the conditions in which living things can exist. Through engineering we can also harness the sun’s energy for our own uses.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about the sun.

*Remind children that they must never look directly at the sun because it can harm their eyes.

Remind children that looking directly at the sun can be harmful to their eyes. Have everyone close their eyes and turn slowly in a circle two times, and then stop when they feel the sun shining on the back of their heads. Where will their shadows be? Continue reading Sunlight and Shadow – Activities