explore different environments, inviting experts into the classroom,
and using books and videos. The resources section provides more
information about science teaching, observation and assessment,
essential information for working with living things indoors and
out, strategies for involving families, and book and video resources.
Step 3: Preparing the Physical
Environment—Materials and Resources
Finding the places where your children can explore living things is
fundamental to this exploration. Tools and resources must be collected
and available before you start. In this step you will do the following:
• Identify a nearby outdoor environment for children to explore.
• Prepare an indoor environment for exploring living things (ter-
rarium); prepare an outdoor environment for attracting living
things (compost heap).
• Collect and inventory young naturalist tools.
• Collect and inventory art and writing materials children can use
to represent and describe their observations of living things.
• Collect and inventory books, videos, and posters related to
plants and animals.
Use the classroom environment checklist on p. 139 to help you find
outdoor space for the exploration, inventory classroom materials, set
up your classroom, and plan your schedule.
1. Be certain that children will be able to explore an outdoor environ-
ment for living things. Explore a nearby outdoor environment
(many schoolyards are fine), and note the kinds of living things
children are likely to find there. Look for the following:
• Small animals, such as snails, ants, pill bugs, and/or worms
(check under piles of old leaves, under or in logs, on or
• Larger animals, such as birds and squirrels
• Plants, such as flowers, weeds, seedlings, bushes, and trees
2. If you have difficulty finding animals and plants after looking care-
fully around school grounds, locate a spot in a quiet, preferably
shady area where you can begin a compost heap. Moisten the earth
around the area well. Place either a piece of wood or a pile of
leaves directly on the moistened ground, and then wet the leaves
or wood. If you keep the area wet, in about a week (but even better
if you can wait two or three weeks), you should notice some evi-
dence of animals—most likely worms, pill bugs, or ants. (See “Cre-
ating an Open Compost Heap,” p. 122.)
16 Discovering Nature with Young Children
Young children certainly categorize
things in their world. There are bugs,
flying things, trees, and birds. Their
categories are built on their own crite-
ria—what is important to them.
Research (Bell 1981; Bell and Barker
1982; Osborne and Freyberg 1985)
has indicated that children tend to
have varying ideas about living things
and how they are grouped. For exam-
ple, in one survey, almost all five-year-
olds said that cows are animals but
that spiders and people are not. Simi-
larly, young children often do not
think that trees are plants, but rather
distinctly different organisms. As chil-
dren focus more closely on living
things by describing and representing
them and as they explore one kind of
living thing, they will notice variation:
not all worms are exactly alike; two
flowers on the same plant do not look
exactly the same.
Teacher note: Tuesday
I saw a lot of ants on the play-
ground today. I can’t tell whether
they are all the same or different
kinds. They seem to vary in size,
yet they’re the same color and
Teacher note: Thursday
I’ve decided to plant some seeds
so I can observe the life cycle of a
plant. I have a small garden, but
I’ve always bought little plants.
This time I’m going to do it myself
and see if I can grow one from