readilearn: Observing living things in the local environment – animals

  • Published on January 12, 2018

Observing living things in the local environment helps children develop an appreciation for all living things, not just the exotic animals that feature most commonly in picture books and wildlife shows. It also helps them appreciate the diversity of living things in their local area and may stimulate an interest to know more.

Conducted over a week, including a weekend, observations can reveal a surprising number of creatures. If the observations are repeated throughout the year; for example, during different seasons, a greater diversity may be observed.

Be part of a larger project

While observations can be conducted independently as part of the class curriculum, sometimes you can be involved in larger citizen science projects such as these two Australian projects: the Aussie Backyard Bird Count and The Atlas of Living Australia. Data on The Atlas of Living Australia enables you to find out what living things others have observed in your local (Australian) area.

For those living outside Australia, you may find resources specific to your location by searching National Geographic, Scientific American or simply by conducting an internet search.

Books and other resources

While many species observed may be identified through an internet search, particularly using the resource section of your local museums, it is also useful to source books about the wildlife of your area, or to seek out local groups and experts to assist identification and to develop understanding of local habitats and living things.

Circle by Jeannie Baker

Include picture books if possible too. For example, earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the launch of an exhibition of collages created by Australian author and illustrator Jeannie Baker to illustrate her most recent picture book Circle.

The story tells of the amazing journey of godwits that fly non-stop from Alaska to Australia and New Zealand, the longest unbroken migration of any animal. An important place for the godwits, illustrated in the book, is very close to where I grew up and a popular place for local visitors and school excursions. Perhaps there are picture books that feature locations close to you.

In this video you can hear Jeannie talk about her story.

Of course, our little ones are not required to develop the in-depth knowledge that older ones might, but some will be interested to know more. Regardless of what curriculums say children need to know, it is important to give them opportunities for finding out what they want to know.

Conducting observations

observing living things in the local environment

When conducting observations, it is important to be both still and quiet to not disturb or frighten away any creatures. Some creatures may be heard, or even smelled, rather than seen. Record sightings with photographs or drawings, and record sounds too, if possible.

Generally, we want our little ones to

  • identify something as living;
  • note the diversity of living things;
  • understand that living things have needs that are provided by their habitat; and
  • realise the important role that we have in caring for their environment.

Books such as Jeannie Baker’s Circle can help develop that understanding in an inspiring and non-threatening way.

equipment for observing living things

Observations can be incorporated into the class program in a variety of ways; for example, you could:

  • conduct observations in a section of the school grounds, particularly a natural area;
  • conduct an excursion to a local area such as parkland, lake, or other natural environment;
  • ask children to make observations at home in the morning, afternoons and evenings, and on the weekend.

Children could be asked to record:

creatures observed–birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, possums, fish, crabs, spiders, butterflies, bees, flies, mosquitos–but not necessarily the species, though some may be easily identified;

including observations of things such as:

  • appearance
  • location
  • activity
  • sound
  • food
  • time of day
  • weather.

If observations are made at different times of the day and in different weather, children’s knowledge of and appreciation for their local wildlife will develop.

readilearn resources

A range of readilearn resources have been developed to assist you in your planning for conducting observations. While some of these are specifically related to minibeasts, I have added some new ones to accommodate observations of other animals also.

writing recount field trip lake

Our Field Trip to the Lake – a recount is a collaborative recount of a class excursion to a local lake to observe minibeasts. The recount can be used to compare with animal sightings in your area. It can also be used as a model for children writing their own recounts. The recount is available as a digital estory. A printable version for offline small group or independent reading is accessible from within the resource.

observing living things local environment science biology

I spy living things – animals is a printable booklet that assists children in making observations at home, before and after school, and on weekends. Children record their observations in the booklet. Their observations can be used to create an overview of the diversity of wildlife in the local environment.

have you used

code for caring when observing minibeasts

minibeast diary of observations

teaching ideas for presenting minibeast project

minibeast project information checklist

minibeast ABC printable booklet

alphabet of minibeast words

honey bees interactive

Remember to look for “Related Resources” for each resource. While some of these resources are available only to subscribers, others are available free–simply register to use. And of course, ideas shared in the blog each Friday are accessible free for all.

Whatever your level of engagement, I hope you find something here of interest and am always delighted to receive your feedback and suggestions. Please share your thoughts in the “Leave a reply” box below.

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    Yes, it does. It teaches us to be observant and to take notice of the changes in the environment and be responsive to them. I think we have much to learn from indigenous peoples in this way.

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