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Biomes: Teaching With the ‘One Small Square’ Series

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I spent seven years of my teaching career as a third grade teacher in an urban school district. The elementary school where I taught was actually located at the edge of town, so we had a school full of kids from the city, attending school in the country. The children delighted in the horses that lived at the farm next door, and enjoyed just rolling in the grass and watching the butterflies in our nature garden.

While working on building nature activities to give the students experiences which they had not previously had, I stumbled upon the One Small Square Series of non-fiction children’s books, by Donald Silver.  Each 48-page book covers a different habitat, and guides kids through a close-up look at what you might find if you observed one small piece of that habitat.

  • Backyard
  • Cactus Desert
  • Cave
  • Night Sky
  • Pond
  • Swamp
  • Woods
  • African Savanna
  • Arctic Tundra
  • Coral Reef
  • Rainforest
  • Seashore

There are over a dozen titles in the One Small Square series, by Donald Silver. For the remainder of this post, I will focus only on Backyard, for the following reasons:

  1. While people reading the post might live in different parts of the country, and (hence) in different biomes, everyone has something that they can call a “backyard” – a patio, a planter, a parking lot, a school garden, a playground, or a park. The learning tasks in Backyard can be performed in any kind of outdoor area, including one of the other biomes.
  2. The Charlotte Mason Method of instruction recommends beginning nature studies with the child’s own surroundings, then moving to exotic locations. In all instruction, we do well to connect new information with what the learner already knows. See “Nature Study: Charlotte Mason’s Cure for Tired, Text-Taught Tots” for more on the Charlotte Method philosophy of outdoor education.
  3. Becoming familiar with the “One Small Square” method of nature study in one’s backyard makes the other studies easier.

 

One Small Square: Backyard, from $2.96 at Barnes & Noble. Click image for ordering information.

50 Helpful Links for Use With One Small Square: Backyard

Reviews

These two links provide helpful reviews of the series, one by readers through Google Books, and another from a homeschooler:

Cornerstones of Science provides excellent reviews of many fiction and non-fiction books that can be used in your science instruction. Search by title, topic, author, grade and reading level.

 

Lesson and Unit Plans

 

This section includes a huge variety of types of web links, from .pdf versions of lesson plans to print out and put in your public school lesson plan books, to laid-back, Charlotte Mason-style homeschool nature studies using Backyard, to  unit studies compiled by the National Park Service. You will find plans for preschool through high school students in this list. I think the list is exciting! And all materials are free.

[NOTE: While I did select only links that were relevant (i.e., contained actual lesson plans, included appropriate learning tasks, used Backyard as a “spine” and addressed important educational goals), a site’s presence on the list does not mean that all linked lessons will align with state or national standards (although many provide this information for you). The teacher always has to consider the needs of her own students, as well as any school or state requirements, when choosing lessons and curriculum. ]

 

Many who used Backyard as a basis for their lessons tied it into studies of soils, life underground and worms. For older students, the “meter square” links introduce the idea of quadrat studies, in-depth, scientific investigations of the plants, animals, soil, light and weather of a specific area used in the field of ecology. See also the Creative Curriculum link (which describes a center-based learning approach to teaching with the book).

Learn more about observing in your backyard in “Science Skills: Making Observations and Asking Questions Like a Scientist” (Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2009)

Resource Lists

 

Some links did not specifically include a lesson plan, but had other interesting and important information that might be helpful to a classroom or homeschool teacher, such as schedules for using the book, the role of nature study in a balanced curriculum, lists of materials to include in a comprehensive outdoor study program, and general information on nature study. Think of these as a “shopping list” for a teacher intent on infusing science into classroom practice.

Learn how to “look closely” in “The Power of Observation: Life in a Tiny Ecosystem” (Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2009)

For More Information…

 

All these sites, and others, can be found on my Pinterest board, One Small Square. New sites will be added as I find them.

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