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.
- Cactus Desert
- Night Sky
- African Savanna
- Arctic Tundra
- Coral Reef
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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).
- “A Simple Meter Square,” Smithsonian Biodiversity Science in the Classroom
- “Backyard Nature Study: A Surprise Visitor,” Homepreschool and Beyond
- “Cycles of Life in an Urban Habitat: Changes in Biodiversity,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
- “Down the Rabbit Hole,” The Tiger Chronicle
- “Earth Day 2006,” Earth Day
- “Ecology,” cstone.net
- “Helping an Old Friend: Our Own Backyard,” Houston Teacher’s Institute
- “Inquiry for Everyone: Authentic Science Experiences for Students,” ERIC
- “Insects Don’t Bug Us,” Muhlenberg College
- “Insects: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Designing Effective Projects: Project-Based Units to Engage Students (Intel)
- “Let’s Get Physical!” Tulare County History
- “Life Underground,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
- “Living Books for Biology,” Green Apples Blush
- “Nature Study in Your Own Backyard,” HarmonyArtMom
- “Nature Study,” Dottie’s Homeschool Universe
- “New Landforms Work and a Fun Introduction to Biomes,” Our Montessori Homeschool
- “One Small Square,” Diack Ecology.org
- “One Small Square: Backyard,” Dr. Judy Science Solutions
- “One Small Square: Outdoor Hour Challenge #9,” Harvest Moon By Hand
- “One Small Square: Take Two,” Blue House Academy
- “One Square Meter,” America’s Rain Forests
- “Our Curriculum for 2012-13 (*Not* Back-to-School Blog Hop),” Boasting in My Weakness
- “Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything!” Upstart Books
- “Our Nature Study,” Discover Their Gifts
- “Science Fact and Fun: Making Sense of It [Teacher’s Guide],” Discovery Education
- “Social Studies Curriculum, Grade 2,” Flemington-Raritan Regional School District (NJ)
- “Soil Microhabitats Field Study,” Muhlenberg College
- “Spreading the Feast: School Plans for 2010-11,” Amongst Lovely Things
- “The Clear-Your Shelves Curriculum Plan for Eliza for 3rd Grade,” Confessions of an Erratic Homeschooler
- “The Outdoor Classroom, School Ground Greening Newsletter, 2007/2008,” Toyota Evergreen
- “’The Soil Around Us’ Project,” YouthLearn
- “Underground Adventure,” The Field Museum
- “Unit 3: Composting,” CalRecycle
- “Wild Links,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- “Wild TV,” PBS.org
- “Wildlife Garden,” Exploring Iowa’s Natural Resources
- “Winter Insects in One Small Square,” Hodgepodge
- “Winter Nature Study for Families,” HarmonyArtMom
- “Worms,” CreativeCurriculum.net
- “Your Backyard Monarch Companion e-Study Guide,” Curriculum Choice
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.
- “A Balanced Whole in a Charlotte Mason Education,” Wildflowers and Marbles
- “Activities for Preschooler-K (Ages 3-5),”Acorn Naturalists
- “Green Spring Gardens Teacher’s Resource List,” Fairfax County, Virginia
- “Pre-K Teaching Times,” Bright from the Start
- “Publications and Websites,” Milton Outdoor Classrooms
- “Resources for Educators and Parents in the Hay Creek Watershed and Hopewell Big Woods Area,” Hay Creek Watershed Association
- “Summer Reading, Summer Camping, Summer Science,” NSTA Blog
- Dig In! Hands On Soil Investigations (Glossary), National Science Teachers Association
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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