living things. Try to become knowledgeable about the kinds of living
things you come across by referring to your field guide to help you
with identification and with the habits and needs of each of these liv-
ing things. Remember, while the name of a living thing can help you
find more information and talk with others about what you’ve seen,
knowing what it looks like, what it needs, what is its habitat, and what
it does are more important than its name.
Careful observation is not always easy or natural for adults. Sketch-
ing will force you to look more closely. Choose a living thing and
sketch it. Have you learned anything new about the living thing by
observing and drawing it? As you look closely, what do you notice
about the basic characteristicsof these living things (color, size, body
structure)? Use your hand lens. What else can you see? Sketch again.
Do you see any relationship between the living things’ structures and
where they are located or how they behave?
Step back from your close observation of one living thing and look
at its surroundings. In order to survive, grow, develop, and reproduce,
living things must meet their basic needs. Animals need food, water,
and oxygen. They need space in which to live, and many of the ani-
mals we come across need light. Plants, too, need food but can make
it themselves using the energy from light, water, and carbon dioxide.
They also need oxygen and space in which to grow.
As you study the surroundings, can you tell how your living thing
or others meet their needs? Where do they find all they need to stay
alive? All living things live in a particular environment and each has
its own habitat. The habitatis the part of the total environment that a
living thing uses to meet all its basic needs. The habitat of a squirrel
may include a number of trees in a park, the ground beneath them,
and the little pond nearby. The habitat of a worm in that same park
may be a very small patch of earth. The pigeons in the trees may have
a habitat that includes the nearby baseball stadium where they find
food after ball games. People’s habitats have become enormous since
we no longer grow our own food but buy it in stores that import from
around the world, and we get our water from reservoirs miles away.
As a result, a living thing’s habitat may be barely adequate.
Another question you can ask yourself as you look at living things
is whether they depend on one another in any way. Did you see
squirrels in trees? Did you see worms in the soil? Were bees carrying
pollen from one flower to another? Critical to understanding the liv-
ing world is the exploration of the interdependenceof living things—
most are dependent on others. Squirrels in the park gather nuts and
seeds to eat, often hiding them in holes in the ground. The forgotten
ones are planted and grow into trees. Worms make their way through
the soil, making it lighter and richer so that plants can grow and
other organisms can burrow easily. Human beings depend on a range
of plants and animals for food and, in earlier times, were dependent
on animals and plants for clothing and shelter. All living things need
the oxygen emitted by plants and those same plants need the carbon
dioxide exhaled from animals.
Can you find more than one example of a living thing? How many
different kinds of living things can you find? There is tremendous
14 Discovering Nature with Young Children
Teacher note: Wednesday
I went out again to see if I could
find any animals. I couldn’t really
find anything and was about to
give up but then looked under a
log. There were lots of things
under there! I found worms, ants,
and round bugs that I thought
might be pill bugs. When I looked
them up in my field guide I found
that they WEREpill bugs—also
known as wood lice—and they
actually breathe by gills, which
is why they can be found in
Teacher note: Thursday
I brought a hand lens out with me
today so I could observe more
closely. This is what I saw:
It looked like some sort of beetle.
I could see that it had six legs—
three on each side. According to
my field guide, this means that it
is an insect!
Young children are likely to think that
an animal’s needs and behaviors are
similar to their own, believing that
snails are looking for their parents or
that worms love ice cream. Observing
the natural world up close and caring
for living things help children broaden
and deepen their understanding of
the differences and similarities in the
needs of different living things and
how they are met.