young naturalists—the classroom must convey the
excitement and wonder of observing and learning
about living things. Some of the characteristics of such
an environment and culture follow.
A Respect for Living Things
A naturalist environment conveys an attitude of serious
respect for living things and their habitats. It is a place
where children are asked to think about the needs of
living things and how they are met. It emphasizes
learning about plants and animals in their natural envi-
ronments. Outdoors this means disturbing the environ-
mentas little as possible; indoors this means moving
from practices such as keeping animals as pets and
growing houseplants to creating mini-environments
in which living things are in as natural an environment
as possible, often only for short periods of time.
An Emphasis on Inquiry
Naturalists ask questions, observe closely over time,
and think about what their observations tell them.
What are the special characteristics of a particular liv-
ing thing? Where is a particular living thing found?
Why is it found there? What are the differences be-
tween two kinds of snails? What changes are taking
place? A naturalist environment encourages children
to ask such questions and to try to find answers. It em-
phasizes the importance of gathering data through
observation by having appropriate tools on hand and
time to explore. The naturalist environment is full of
children’s ongoing dialogue and work, photographs,
charts, and panels communicating the value of docu-
mentation and recording to good naturalist study.
Sharing Observations and Ideas
In a naturalist culture, children are encouraged to share
their observations and ideas through small and large
group discussions, and they learn to listen to what
others have to say. They share their records of what
they have seen; their ideas about science concepts,
such as what makes something living or nonliving; and
their thoughts about what different plants and animals
need to survive. They learn that ideas are valued and
important whether right or wrong; that people may
have different ideas; and that one can learn by asking
question of others. They also learn that they need to
share how and why they know what they know as
well as what they know.
Documentation and Recording
Naturalists spend a great deal of time documenting
what they see—using careful sketches, descriptive
words, and names to most accurately remember their
experiences. They use their notes to reflect with oth-
ers and find patterns in their observations. Young natu-
ralists can begin to develop these skills no matter their
level of development. In a naturalist environment,
materials for representation are easily available and
children’s work is used to discuss their ideas and to
stimulate more focused investigations.
A Focus on Actual Living Things
The naturalist culture emphasizes the wonder of living
things as they are, not as they appear in fantasy. There-
fore, the books and other resources you use are accurate
in their portrayal of living things. As young naturalists,
children are encouraged to try to represent what they
see, not what they imagine, and to begin thinking
about the needs and behaviors of living things. Fantasy
certainly has its place, but is clearly distinguished from
the real thing.
Children as Young Naturalists
This exploration is designed to provide experiences
over time in which children can engage in multiple
ways depending on who they are and what they bring.
You may find that some children are immediately
drawn into the exploration, constantly searching for
clues about where different small animals live or how
and what they eat. Other children may be more reluc-
tant, shying away from bugs or anything that moves.
Some children will quickly grasp the concepts of living
and nonliving, while others struggle with these ideas.
How children approach this exploration, and what
they learn, is influenced by a range of factors including
the different experiences, needs, skills, and ideas that
young children bring. As you prepare for this explo-
ration, you will need to consider these factors.
Young children bring to a study of living things their
own ideas, interests, and beliefs based in experience
and culture, and tempered by their developmental
level. Some children may have had contact with many
living things both in natural habitats and as part of a