On observing animals

Do you remember the book Play With Me, (Viking Press, 1955), written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets about a child observing wildlife? Cabbage White butterfly on a flower.Including Play With Me, five of her book are Caldecott Honor books. I also love her book, Gilberto and the Wind. In Play With Me, a young child seeks to play with animals in the woods that border her home. The animals range from insect to amphibian to mammal, and none want to play with her. She discovers that they will come closer if she sits still. In the book, the animals come right up to the child, not a realistic expectation, but the message that wildlife can be observed, not played with, comes through.
Children hold a "roly-poly" for close observation.I find it difficult to take groups of children for a “nature walk” to observe animals but in the small city where I teach but we did see wildlife this week: Crows flying overhead, Cabbage white butterflies, roly-polies and starlings building a nest. So often the children at the front of the group see a robin on the grass or a squirrel in a tree and rush to get a good look, loudly shushing those behind who also want to get a close look, and scaring the animal away.  There isn’t time for the children to draw the animals but at least they can count them. A data collection log is a useful tool to carry with you as you walk.
If you have access to a park, arboretum, or a slightly wild border land, your students may see more animals. And if they go in small groups, such as with their family, they may be able to get closer to them. What do you think about making an information sheet describing a nearby park or natural area and listing the directions to it from the school, to give to each student to take home? The first question I got after speaking to parents at a local preschool was, “Where do you suggest we take our children to experience a natural area?” I think right outside our front doors is a good place to start but hope that all children will experience the untended places in woodlots and nature preserves often enough to become comfortable with nature as it is not controlled by humans. It is a different kind of experience in small and large ways and helps us understand our human place as part of nature. I love being outside where I’m just another animal, and I’m glad to be able to come inside when the weather is unpleasant or dangerous to me.
Does your class observe animals in nature?

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3 Responses to On observing animals

  1. Jennifer Fee says:

    Thanks for your post–I agree, getting kids outside is important, and they love watching animals! I like the “data collection log” for little kids. For older students, consider collecting citizen science data while you are outside (for bird watchers, consider eBird and Celebrate Urban Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). Children like the fact that their data has real meaning and can help scientists better understand animals. Cornell also has the BirdSleuth program (www.BirdSleuth.net) that helps support educators and the children they take outside for citizen science!
    Jennifer Fee
    K-12 Programs Manager
    Cornell Lab of Ornithology

  2. Alana Kendall says:

    I also agree that getting kids outside is so important…. and healthy! Every spring, in my kindergarten classroom, we take turns letting one child each night take home our “It’s Springtime Box”. This is a cutely decorated box with all sorts of springtime nature pictures covering it. Inside the families will find a poem about springtime and a spot where they must write with their child what they saw outside in nature that day, as well as draw a picture of it. This is a simple activity that gets the kids outside with a loved one to observe nature. Many will write that they saw flowers blooming, butterflies flying, birds tweeting, or even a squirrel eating.
    The kids absolutely love the “job” of taking this box home to find something to write/draw about. Even more, they love the next day at school when they get to be the “share person” and show the class what it was that they saw. This helps get the kids outside and to paying attention to nature since I teach in an urban school district.

  3. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Thanks for sharing your “It’s Springtime Box” activity, Alana. It sounds very engaging and a good way to connect with families. It is a more tangible version of the First Hand Learning’s Young Observer’s Notebook.

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