“No child will be able to resist looking under a rock after reading Fredericks’s rhythmic, engaging story.” That’s what Weekly Reader’s Managing Editor said about Under One Rock: Bugs, Slugs, and Other Ughs—the latest Mystery Contest book selection. I’ve invited author Anthony Frederick’s to be this week’s Guest Blogger.
By Anthony Fredericks:
When I wrote Under One Rock I wanted readers to get a sense of the natural world around them—the world right outside their front door or the world immediately under their feet. I wanted them to experience something as simple as looking under a rock—observing a bevy of critters, watching the movements of fascinating creatures, and learning about a small world simply by observing.
Each semester I teach a course entitled “Teaching Elementary Science.” One of the requirements of the course is that students work with the naturalists at a local nature preserve—leading elementary children (from local schools) on walking tours of the preserve and instructing them on how nature can be a valuable learning experience in their lives. Recent comments about their experience included:
- I didn’t realize that the outdoors could be a classroom.
- You were right about inquiry-based science – the kids couldn’t get enough of it.
- This was really fun…I never imagined a tree could be so interesting.
- This has really changed my perception of what science education could be.
What makes these comments particularly interesting is that these students are part of the generation that Richard Louv talks about in his book Last Child in the Woods. They have been kept away from nature. They have been in classrooms where nature is not a priority component of the science curriculum, and they have been tethered to an arsenal of technological devices that tends to pull them away from the natural world and into unnatural (electronic or “plug-in”) environments.
Many preservice teachers save my course as one of the last in their teacher preparation program simply because they have a basic fear of science. That fear has frequently been spawned by high school and elementary school courses in which lots of facts were presented, lots of textbook pages were read, and lots of standardized test questions were answered. In short, these teachers-to-be have a perception that in order to be a good teacher of science they must be repositories of lots of science information. However, through their experience at the nature preserve, they discovered the exciting learning opportunities nature provides.
The other books in my series—In One Tidepool, Around One Cactus, Near One Cattail, On One Flower, and Around One Log are geared to helping children appreciate the world at their fingertips. Teachers have also found these books to be valuable adjuncts to their science programs—opportunities for youngsters to learn about, enjoy and discover first-hand a world of amazing sights and sounds—a world unlike that in dusty science texts, dry curriculum guides or standardized tests.
Inside: My Life Under One Rock
Invite students to work independently or in small groups to select one of the animals featured in Under One Rock. Encourage each child or group to do some necessary background research (Internet, library, community experts) on each identified creature. Then, invite students to write a series of diary entries told from the perspective of each selected animal. For example, “A Day in the Life of a Slug,” “My Life as an Ant,” or “My Life Beneath the Rock.” Invite students to gather their stories together into a notebook or oversized journal. Or, even better, they may want to design a blog (similar to this one) and share their writings with a larger audience.
Outside: The World Under One Rock
After sharing Under One Rock with students invite them to form small groups. Take the students outside and invite each of the groups to locate one or more rocks (on the playground, along the edge of a field, beside a road, in a back yard). Ask each of the groups to carefully lift their respective rocks and observe the creatures that live there (you may want to provide students with simple hand lenses). Afterwards, ask students some of the following questions:
- Which of the animals featured in the book were under your rock(s)?
- Were there animals under your rock that were not mentioned in the book?
- What other kinds of creatures do you think could olive under your rock?
- If we lifted up many rocks what do you think we might find?
More Under One Rock Fun and Facts
- Get more Under One Rock Inside and Outside activities designed by Anthony Fredericks. And find hundreds of activities related to both science and reading comprehension in his book MORE Science Adventures with Science Literature.
- The Music in Nature web site “is dedicated to celebrating the miracle of nature, the “music” inherent in all living things.” Your students may enjoy listening to the sounds of nature as you read Under One Rock to them.
- Around One Log is my latest Dawn book. It’s designed to get kids looking in, under and around a fallen log – the creatures they will discover are just as amazing as those Under One Rock.
As a docent for my local state park, I led a spring nature walk for a group of elementary students. We practiced being “naturalists” by noticing all of the plants and animals living on and around an old rock wall. Looking closely, we discovered small, reddish eggs on some of the heart-shaped leaves of a Pipevine plant, which was winding its way along the wall’s crevices. Just as I was about to explain what kind of critter laid these eggs, a beautiful black butterfly with iridescent blue hind wings fluttered over our heads. “That’s it!” I excitedly told the group, “A Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly!”
The adult Pipevine Swallowtail only lays her eggs on host plants that her larvae will eat, such as Dutchman’s Pipe, California Pipe, and Virginia Snakeroot. These plants have chemicals in them that are poisonous to most animals. However, Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars can eat them without being harmed. The pipevine’s chemicals stay inside the caterpillars, making them poisonous to predators, such as birds. Monarch butterflies use a similar survival strategy using poisonous chemicals in milkweed plants.
Butterflies have other strategies in their survival bag of tricks, including camouflage, disguise, coloration, and transparency. But no matter how well these survival strategies work, they can’t help butterflies survive one of their greatest dangers—loss of habitat.
The life cycle of butterflies is really fascinating, going from a tiny egg to a crawling caterpillar to a floating butterfly. One of my favorite poems, “Chrysalis Diary,” describes this process in the delightful book Joyful Noise: Poems in Two Voices. It’s all about insects! Listen to the entire book being read aloud, or skip to 16:48 to just listen to the poem about the butterfly.
Inside: Predator Prey Hide and Seek
To prep this activity, make photocopies of an outline of a closed butterfly wing (several wings will fit on one piece of paper). Use colored pens or crayons to “camouflage” four-six wings by coloring them to look like different surfaces in the classroom. Cut out the wings and stick them to those surfaces with tape. Make some wings more difficult to find than others.
When students arrive in the classroom, invite them to become predators and hunt for the butterflies that you’ve placed around the room earlier. Keep the hunt brief (30 seconds-1 min).
Collect the butterflies that were found and point out any that weren’t. Discuss the features that made some easier to find than others. Discuss the importance of camouflage.
Provide students with colored markers or crayons, scissors, tape, and several copies of butterfly wing outlines. Ask them to camouflage their paper butterfly wings using colors or patterns that blend with different surfaces in the classroom. Remind them that their butterfly must be in full view, not hidden under a desk or behind a bookcase. Have children label the uncolored sides of their butterfly wings with their names and tape them into place around the room.
Invite a willing and playful adult, such as school principal or counselor, to become the predator. Give the predator a time limit of 2-3 minutes to find as many prey (butterflies) as possible.
Alternately, have your class hide butterfly wings for another class to find. Then have the other class reciprocate by hiding butterfly wings for your class.
Outside: Butterfly Gardening
You can create habitat for butterflies by planting a butterfly garden. Follow the step-by-step directions in a Teacher’s Guide to Creating a School Butterfly Garden. Butterfly gardens can be any size—a window box, part of your landscaped yard, or even a wild untended area on your property or school grounds. By planting a butterfly garden with all of the right kinds of plants and flowers that butterflies love to feed on and lay eggs on, you will certainly have a (school)yard full of butterflies throughout the growing season. Keep in mind that local native plant species will attract and support local butterfly populations.
- Monarch migration is happening right now! Involve your students in a citizen science project that follows the Monarch’s amazing migration south in the fall and north in the spring. Plan now participate in Journey North.
- Wild Kratts for Teachers has lesson plans for raising Monarch butterflies, tagging them, and learning about their yearly migration.
- My Monarch Journal by Connie Muther makes it easy to record observations of a Monarch butterfly’s life cycle.
- On One Flower: Butterflies, Ticks, and a Few More Icks! by Anthony D. Fredericks introduces butterflies and other insects that are found on a flower.
I saw my first ducklings of the year swimming in a little pond near my home. For weeks I’ve had my eye on the nest box that stands at the edge of the pond. Then this morning seven wood duck babies greeted the world on a perfect spring day!
The ducklings, covered in fluffy down, had just hatched the day before. Using their tiny webbed feet they had climbed out of the duck nest box and jumped 12 feet into the water. Just one day old and so independent!
Not all birds are as fully developed as ducks upon hatching. Songbirds for example, including robins, wrens, and finches, are born with closed eyes and without feathers. They’re kept warm and fed by their parents for several weeks before they’re ready to leave the nest. Unfortunately, some baby birds can fall out of the nest before they’re ready to be on their own.
What do you do if you find a baby bird? Maybe you’ve heard the warning, “Don’t touch a baby bird. The mother will smell you and quit feeding the baby.”
There are many reasons why it’s not a good idea to touch a bird, but this is not one of them. Most birds have a very poor sense of smell and a very strong instinct to take care of their young. A mother bird will not abandon her baby if you touch it. But your scent will rub off on the baby, which could attract predators.
However, don’t touch a baby bird unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you find a baby bird that’s fallen out of its nest, follow these Baby Bird Tips.
Inside: Physical Flit-ness
Tell children that although it is the smallest bird found in eastern North America, it flies non-stop for 25 hours as it migrates across the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico and Central America. That’s a long way! The hummingbird has to be in top physical condition to make the trip.
Explain to children that they will “flit” from station to station around the room. At each station they will perform a bird-related physical activity. Demonstrate the activity at each station around the room before beginning.
Station 1—Flap wings like the Ring-billed Gull: children do jumping jacks
Station 2—Peck at food like the Northern Cardinal: children reach up and down touching their toes
Station 3—Lay eggs like the Bald Eagle: children toss ping pong balls into a box or waste basket
Station 4—Hop on the ground like the American Robin: children jump rope
Station 5—Paddle in the water like the Mallard: children run in place while moving arms.
Divide the class into five groups and assign each group a beginning station. Play lively music and have students perform the physical activity until the music stops. When the music stops, shout “FLIT,” and have the children move to a new station. Continue playing until the children return to their beginning station.
Source: The BLUES Go Birding Clubhouse
Outside: Observation Game
Children love to see wild birds! Prepare for a bird watching outing by playing a game that practices careful observation. It’s a quiet game that involves very little talking. The only prep is to choose an area that has a diversity of plants and animals, such as bushes and trees as well as birds, bugs, or butterflies.
It’s important that children can easily hear each other during the game, so arrange your group close to one another. If you have a large group, children may stand in a circle or you may have them sit in two or three lines. Alternately, you can divide them into smaller groups.
Have children sit quietly and look around the area. Ask them to use one of their senses to become aware of something in the area. Explain that each person will take a turn completing the phrase, “I am aware of . . .” Give an example such as, “I am aware of the clouds in the sky,” or “I am aware of the pattern of shadows under the tree,” or, “I am aware of the wind blowing on my face.”
After each sharing, have children silently take a moment to appreciate each other’s awareness. They may need to turn around to see what’s been identified. Remind children that the only person who talks is the one who is sharing an awareness.
Sitting quietly and looking around the environment is good practice for bird watching. The quieter you are, the more you will see. Keep the activity fun by doing it only as long as children are engaged.
Source: The BLUES Go Birding Clubhouse
More Bird Fun and Facts