Discovering Connections in the Natural World

Living things are connected to each other and to their environment in many fascinating ways. In a sunny field, grasses, clover, and goldenrod capture sunlight to make food by photosynthesis. Rabbits and grasshoppers feed on leaves and shoots, and foxes feed on rabbits and grasshoppers. The wind scatters grass pollen and milkweed seeds, rainfall brings water, and worms turn dead leaves into soil underfoot. These are examples of the many interactions between plants and animals, sunlight, water, and air that go on in a field. Every different environment – field or forest, pond or stream – functions as an ecological system, or “ecosystem.” An ecosystem consists of all the living and nonliving things in a particular place and the ways they are connected. All the organisms in an ecosystem depend on everything else – both living and nonliving – for food and other needs. Continue reading Ecosystems

Ecosystems Table of Contents

Ecosystems – Vocabulary for Children

active  Keeping a pattern of sleeping, eating, and moving about.

 adaptation  A special feature of a plant or animal’s body or behavior that helps it to survive.

algae  Small, usually green, plant-like organisms without flowers or seeds, found in or near water, free-floating or growing on rocks (and making them green and slippery).

antler  Branching extension of the skull, made of bone, on animals in the deer family, that is grown and shed each year (unlike horns, which are never shed). Continue reading Ecosystems – Vocabulary for Children

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Background

You don’t have to go far to see nature at work – bees visiting flowers, fireflies twinkling in a field, a hawk circling overhead. Less familiar, but right under our noses, are countless tiny animals busily feeding upon leaves or hiding in them from their predators. The signs of leaf-eaters, or leaf-hiders, are easy to find. Peer into any bush or tree and you are sure to see leaves that are chewed, rolled, folded, or sewn up with silk. Snails, aphids, and caterpillars feed upon this bountiful food supply, while spiders and hunting insects prowl amidst the leaves. Looking for signs of leaf-eaters gives us a glimpse of an ecosystem in action. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Background

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.

Gather a variety of leaves that have bite marks, spots, or irregularities on them. In small groups, ask children to sort 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.

Give each small group of children a set of photos of leaves showing damage by leaf-eaters (Leaf Photo Set). Ask them to look for patterns of similarities and differences and sort the leaves into several groups by the kind of damage they notice. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Activities

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Puppet Show

Leaf-eaters and their Foes


Characters: Benjy Bear, Leafcutter Caterpillar on leaf, Chickadee, Gertie Grass, Grady Grasshopper, Freddie Fox

Benjy Bear  Boy, my belly’s so full of berries, I need a nap. I’ll just lie down in the shade of this maple tree. (leaf enters) Why, look at that leaf. I wonder why it has those big holes in it?

Leafcutter  They don’t call me a leafcutter for nothing!

Bear  A leafcutter? You look like a caterpillar. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Puppet Show

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Standards


The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Standards

Life in the Dirt – Background

Unless we are gardening, farming, or digging a hole, we don’t think much about the dirt beneath our feet. Yet it teams with life, and within it are complex food webs and a host of interesting creatures. Here nutrients that were once part of living plants or animals become part of the soil again, eaten and digested by a multitude of organisms. As they eat, grow, or tunnel through the earth, the many inhabitants of the soil have an important role in the making of soil and the ongoing life of terrestrial ecosystems, from the richest prairie to the rockiest northern forest.

Most people use the words “soil” and “dirt” interchangeably, meaning bits of earth we have to sweep up or wash off. But to a scientist, Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Background