Tag Archives: nature study

Taking a Sock Walk: a Strategy for Nature Study

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Take a sock walk to get a closer look at the seeds in your area. (Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012)

[This article is the first in a series to accompany the September Simple Science Newsletter. Click on the link for more information, and the other nature studies in the series for the month.]

Getting Kids’ Attention…

When it comes to things to observe in the environment, seeds are one of the toughest items to draw a child’s attention.

  • They are small (often very small…)…
  • They are often hidden…
  • They are brown…
  • They aren’t very flashy…

In the birding world, birders refer to the plethora of sparrows, inconspicuous warblers and other tiny brown birds as “LBJs,” or “little brown jobs.” Like our seeds, they don’t stand out, and tend to blend into the backdrop, as well as into each other.

Seeds might be the “little brown jobs” of the plant world. In short, if we struggle to get kids to notice things around them, anyway, we have to nearly bend over backwards to get them to pay attention to things like seeds. So, we develop engaging ways to get them to interact with their surroundings. Such as a “sock walk.”

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The September 2012 Simple Science Newsletter – Focus on… Observation

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The September 2012 Simple Science Newsletter – “Focus on… Observation”

Simple Science Strategies — the Newsletter

Think of it as a road map to the September blogs on the Simple Science Strategies website. Or perhaps a Table of Contents. Think of it as a planning tool for your classroom, nature studies or homeschool lessons. Or even an idea-generator.

The September Simple Science Newsletter provides the science educator with a collection of focused learning tasks, links to online resources, and background information to help you prepare to teach big ideas with the simple materials you already have in the classroom.

In the September 2012 Issue:

  • The Writing Connection: Elaborative Detail
    September Science Tasks & General Instructions
    September Coupon Specials and Links
  • For Your Science Journal: Observation Page
    September Science Centers: The Nature Corner
    The Book Nook: One Small Square
    September Skill: Observation

To download a copy of this 9-page newsletter, right-click on the link, below, and click “save target as” — save the newsletter wherever you wish on your home computer or electronic device. If you’d like to share it, please direct friends and colleagues to this page, not the actual .pdf file.

Download the September 2012 Newsletter here.

If you subscribe to the Simple Science Strategies blog, you will automatically receive email notice about the October newsletter. Simply enter your email in the “Subscribe to my feed” widget in the sidebar.

For tons of extra information on observation, order my e-Book, The Gentle Art of Observation, regularly priced $10.95, which is available for the September special price of $8.95 (price good through 9/30/2012).


Use discount code = discount5 to save $5 on your $10+ purchase at NotebookingPages.com

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The Gentle Art of Observation – eBook Promotion

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I spend a lot of time working with teachers all over the country, talking about high-impact adult practices to help kids think, think and think some more. Many times, folks have asked me, “Why don’t you put these ideas into a book?” What an idea!



This 142-page e-Book introduces the reader to the science process skill of observation, then describes two indoor and five outdoor learning tasks that can be used to help students hone these skills. Included in this volume are explicit instructions for several strategies that build students’ observational skills, links to writing, 20 reproducibles ready for classroom use, and detailed materials lists and electronic resource links.  Great for starting off the school year, at any age!

Get a glimpse inside…

Table of Contents:


  • Focus on… Observation

The Nature Corner: Observing Nature Indoors

  • Featured Center: The Nature Corner — An Invitation to Observe
  • Class Pets and Observation

Outdoor Observations and Nature Study

  • Featured Strategy: One Small Square
  • Study 1: Ants,Termites and Ant Lions
  • Study 2: Mushrooms and Other “Fun Guys”
  • Study 3: Animal Migration
  • Study 4: Adopt-a-Plant — A Season-Long Observation Project
  • Study 5: What’s Under There?
  • Using a Hike to Generate Even More Nature Study Topics

Observing Across Content Areas

  • Writing in Science: Observation & Elaboration


  • Featured Thinking Tool: The Bubble Map (2 pages)
  • One Small Square: Printable Resources (7 pages)
  • Adopt-a-Plant: Printable Resources (3 pages)
  • “No Place Like Home” – Additional Notebooking Options for Nature Study (4 pages)
  • “An Apple a Day” — September Botany Notebooking (2012) (7 pages)

Materials List

  • Observation: Stocking Your Classroom

Helpful Resources on Observation

  • For More Information on Observation…

Buy this eBook now for the special September Newsletter price of $8.95, and receive a reply to your email address with the link to your purchase, within 24 hrs. [NOTE: After 10/1/2012, the price will return to the regular price of $10.95, available through CurrClick].


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“No Place Like Home” – Additional Notebooking Options for Nature Study

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For our rotting log twist on the “One Small Square” task, I developed two notebooking pages, called “No Place Like Home.” These can be used instead of, or in addition to, any of the other printables in this e-Book, as they all focus on nature study and observation.

This journal page is a simple frame and lines for any type of written observations.

For list-making (we love making lists of things in our house), I created a simple lined page to document the types of organisms observed.

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Adopt-a-Plant: Printable Resources

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This fall, we will be using the “Adopt-a-Plant” strategy for observing plant life over an extended time frame. Here are printable resources that you can download and use with any of the the Adopt-a-Plant tasks this month.

This set of journal or notebooking pages can be used in multiple ways. The frame sizes and line spacing vary. Use a different one each day to encourage more sketching, or more writing, as appropriate.

If you want to encourage data collection, choose from either of the following pages:



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One Small Square: Printable Resources

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Here are some handy resources you can print out for use with this strategy:


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What’s Under There?

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The next time you are on a nature walk, prepare to explore life under an old, rotting log. Bring along a couple of containers or bug houses, some magnifying glasses, and your notebook and pencil.Any large log will do (it should be large enough to create a really tight space underneath), but the more decomposed the log, the better.

“The Earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” — Psalm 24:1

A Close-up Observation: A Tiny Forest

First, examine the surface of the log before you turn it over.What is growing on it? Are there any little critters crawling on it? What are they doing?

Look at the area around the rotted log. How does the plant life on the log differ from the plant life around it? Why do you think that is so?

You will probably see several kinds of moss growing. Use your magnifying glass to see the little brown “antennae”-looking things that stick up above the green moss. These are the spore cases of the moss. Mosses don’t have seeds, but produce spores. Their life cycle is very different from a seed-bearing plant’s life cycle.

You might also see lichens, which are drier, and are usually a whitish-green color. A lichen is an interesting organism that has some features of green plants and some of fungi. You can collect lichen — they will dry out and keep their color. If you are starting a lichen collection, make sure to write down the date, name of the place you found it, and what kind of log it was growing on (if you know).

There are some interesting kinds of lichens and mushrooms that you might see — check out the photo gallery below.

Of course, if your log is really rotting, it will also be the home for some tree seedlings. See if you can identify what kind of tree the seedling will grow up to be.

If you’ve brought your nature journal or notebooking supplies, take a moment to sketch the log before you move it.

The Handbook of Nature Study’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #42 Moss and Lichen describes some activities that you can use as a follow-up to observations of moss and lichens in the field. For notebooking pages that you can use with these, and other, plant studies, see Apologia’s Botany Notebooking pages, which include 60 pages that you can use for studies of mosses, lichens, fungi and seed-bearing plants.

Great photos of lichens and mosses can be found in Nicolette’s Notebook and Delightful Learning.

The Notebooking Treasury has thousands of notebooking pages that can be used with any subject, including nature study notebooking pages that are divided by habitat, such as “rotting log,” or “in the woods.”

Use discount code = discount5 to save $5 on your $10+ purchase at NotebookingPages.com


Observation Under a Log: Knock, Knock…

Now, get ready to move the log.NOW, we are getting ready to look at tiny things living under the log, but remember, there might be bigger critters living under there, too. Snakes, chipmunks and other creatures take advantage of the spaces under logs, as they don’t have to work to dig. Because they would rather get away than fight for their lives, give them that chance — turn the log by rolling it toward you, instead of away, so that any big something underneath can safely skitter away, and roll it slowly, so you don’t squish fingers or toes of anyone. Always make sure that your friend is not peaking under the other side of the log before you move it!

NOTE: Use your judgment when deciding to move a log. Don’t move one that is too big to move safely without hurting yourself. And don’t move anything if it will cause too much disturbance to the environment. You are going back to your home, but the log is the only home some critters have right now.


The Process of Science

The Skills of a Scientist


Okay, so you know all the scientific names of all the tropical fish in your school aquarium. You can identify bird songs from 5 miles away. You have the periodic table memorized. That’s the content of science. WNow let’s test your knowledge of the process of science.

Which of the following is not a science process skill?


Observation: Time to Rock and Roll

(the log, that is!)


Ok… Let’s get rolling!One of the first things you might see are the tunnels of one of many kinds of ants. When you disturb their home, you will see them scurrying around, carrying ant eggs and pupae to safer locations down in the ant hill. This is a great opportunity to observe the habits of ants, and how they work together for their survival.

You might also see sow beetles. Some people call them pillbugs or rolly polly beetles. They are not really a beetle.They look like miniature armadillos, and will often curl into a ball if they feel threatened. They like to eat rotting plant materials. Put a few in a bug house with a small amount of the composted log to look at later.

If you’re really lucky, and it’s the right time of the year for your area, you might see striped salamanders. These are locally plentiful, which means, if your area has them, you’ll probably find a lot of them. A little less frequently, you might see red efts, if your rotting log is close to a water supply (efts are also salamanders, which are amphibians, like frogs, so they spend part of their life in the water). If you are hiking at night (try it sometime!), you might be fortunate enough to see a spotted salamander, a large, black, prehistoric-looking creature with yellow spots. They are not plentiful, and are more sensitive to changes in the environment. We used to pay $1 to the first of our children to find a spotted salamander in the spring. The first one was usually unearthed in April or so, by turning compost or digging in the woodchip pile. They hide during the day, and come out almost exclusively at night, so be on the lookout under your log.

Another kind of ant you might see is the very interesting citronella ant. They often are confused with termites, as they are light yellow to whitish in color, and they are often seen in a line of thousands crawling along house foundations. They are not pests, though. They get their name because, if you accidentally squash one, it gives off a smell like the citronella candles you burn to keep mosquitoes away. You can usually see this kind of ant in the late summer, when they move house for the season.

The earthworm is another resident of the secret world under a rotting log. Their tunneling is very important to the energy cycle in the forest. Did you know that dirt is worm poop? That’s a fact that kids just love to hear. On another lens, I’ll tell you how to make a worm bin, and you’ll get to try an experiment that will prove that dirt is worm poop. It’s very cool, and I can’t wait to share it with you. A hint about earthworms: people like to take them home to study, but the kind of worms that you will probably find under the rotten log are particular about their home, and usually die inside (it just gets too warm for them). Be on the lookout for my lens called “Bucket of Fun” for more information about raising worms.

Don’t forget to check out the plant life under the log. You will probably see a net of whitish or yellowish threads that look sort of like roots. These are the underground body (called mycelium) of some non-green plants. Some are fungi — the mycelium is a sort of “root” for the mushroom that will grow above the surface. But others are another organism called actinomycetes. Everyone knows about these, but they don’t know it! Ever smell that wonderful smell that tells you that rain is coming? That is the smell that soil makes when actinomycetes grow after a rain storm. We think that bacteria and fungus are what make our leaves turn into soil in the compost pile, but it is really the work of those nets of white and yellow actinomycetes that you see under your log.

Check out the photo gallery, below, for pictures of some of the critters you might come across under your log. Use this journal page to write and draw about what you see. If you want to make a list of creatures you find, use this checklist.


Look for these…


Be a Good Steward


God created the whole earth for us to enjoy, but He also put us in charge of caring for it. Always make sure that you leave an area looking cleaner than it was when you got there. That means, carefully roll the log back. Replace any critters you have in your critter catchers, where you found them. Pack out any trash you created, and pick up any trash other hikers have left behind. Remember, it’s not YOUR home!


For More Information About Life in the Forest…

One Small Square: Woods

by: Donald Silver, Patricia Wynne

An excellent book if you are doing a nature study in the woods, or preparing for a woodland hike. One of a series.

Amazon Price: $4.51 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

A Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America (Peterson Field Guides)

by: Kent H. McKnight, Vera B. McKnight

There are many field guide series. I have used many of them. Peterson Guides usually group organisms by color, which bothers some people (because it’s not taxonomically correct), but helps beginners.

Amazon Price: $11.99 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

by: Robin Wall Kimmerer

Amazon Price: $11.98 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

A Salamander’s Life (Nature Upclose)

by: John Himmelman

If your nature study is part of a larger one about life cycles.

Amazon Price: $437.56 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

Lichens (Smithsonian’s Natural World Series)

by: William Purvis

Amazon Price: $10.49 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

A Fascinating Look into the World of Fungus

What’s in the News Now…

Check out these articles about molds, mildews and other mushroom cousins.
Video: From Allergies to Deadly Disease, Feeling the Effects of Climate Change
In this video, doctors blame the world’s strange climate lately, on the rise of exotic diseases caused by fungi.
Paul Stamets and the Holy Grail of Mushrooms
One mushroom expert believes that a certain kind of mushroom holds the secret for the cure of many diseases.
The Strange World of Mushrooms, Above and Below
Just when you thought that you had this taxonomy thing all figured out, they go and find something that breaks the rules. Take a look at a kind of undersea coral which has part of its life cycle that looks remarkably like the above ground mushrooms it so closely resembles.
Better Living Through Mycology
A fanciful description of how the world would be a better place if we just loved fungi more.
Magical Kingdom
A quick guide to mushroom taxonomy.
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