Adopt-a-Plant: A Season-Long Observation Project

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Watching a plant or tree change over time

Here’s a twist on the “One Small Square” activity that can be done virtually anywhere, regardless of whether you live in the country, the suburbs or a high-rise apartment in Manhattan. All you need is one plant or tree that your child can observe once a week.


Step 1. Find a Plant

Your plant can be a tree in a sidewalk planter, a garden tomato plant, or a rogue grass seedling sprouting up in the crack of a parking lot. The activity will be just as rewarding in any of these cases. All you need to be able to do is get up close and personal with it on a weekly basis — you’ll need to be able to spend about 15 minutes sketching and writing, so your plant shouldn’t be right in the middle of foot traffic of other pedestrians.

Step 2. Start Recording Data

What data will you record? That depends on the interest of your child and his age and ability.

Sketches and paintings

Charlotte Mason advocating using a dry-brush watercolor painting technique and blank sketch pages for nature study with all ages of students. Her philosophy is that the act of sketching and painting forces the child to patiently take the time to closely observe the object they are studying. Ever look at paintings of little ones when you say, “Draw a flower?” These bold, simple drawings have their own delight, but do not really reflect close examination of a flower, which is the point of this activity. Check out one of her articles on the purpose of nature study.

For older children, this activity can branch into quite complex studies of anatomy and structure. Check out the work of Michelangelo and Ernest Haeckel for some breathtaking work that came out of close study of living things. Also check out this site which features photographs of fractals in nature — mathematically calculable, repeating patterns in the natural world. Simply astounding.

Stories, descriptions, labels and poems

As children get older, and begin to write words and stories to convey meaning, they will naturally begin adding these to their nature study notebooks. There are many downloadable journaling pages that provide space for drawing or sketching, and either primary or narrow ruled lines for written response work. I would allow these to be free writes — the idea behind this activity is to get the child to engage with the natural object that she is studying for a period of time, to gain greater awareness of it. Click here for my set of journaling pages that can be used with this activity.

Check out Spring Nature Study Ideas (by HarmonyArtMom) for a description of a Year-Long Tree Study that would be suitable for all ages, plus her original notebooking pages for download or purchase.


Numbers and Facts

While this article is about the science skill of observation, Recording and Working With Data is another science process skill that is important for children. For little ones, pictures ARE their data. As kids get older, we will want them to practice looking for patterns with other data, as part of their science numeracy thinking. [NOTE: Nature study fans, this goes away from Charlotte Mason’s more open way of observing into more analytical thinking.]

Here is a data form I created that can be used with an herbaceous plant, and another version that can be used with trees.

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2 responses to “Adopt-a-Plant: A Season-Long Observation Project

  1. Pingback: Creating Integrated Curriculum I: Brainstorming Cross-Curricular Connections

  2. Pingback: From Apple Flower to Apple Fruit | Simple Science Strategies

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