Get Outdoors and Hands-On with Science

April 10, 2014
Written by:
Guest Author

Springtime is a great time of year to take learning outside. Your children will be itching to get out, and you can build their science skills by helping them observe nature the way scientists do.

Have you ever seen a young child get down on the ground to see ants marching into their hill or heard them squeal with delight at the sensation of cool mud squishing between bare toes? Children are great observers, but they may not connect their own explorations with the work scientists do.

Help your children make the connection by taking a nature walk. As they explore, encourage your children to use their senses of smell, hearing, sight, and touch to observe changes in springtime. Feel the mud. Listen to the birds. Look at the bright green of new leaves. Smell a lilac or an apple blossom. Then, talk about what your senses helped you discover.

Ecologists, botanists, and other scientists who spend time in nature keep field logs to help them remember their observations over time. Before your second nature walk, make or find a field log. It can be a special notebook, pages on a clipboard, or simply a few sheets of blank paper folded and stapled along the crease.

When your field logs are ready, take a plant walk. Have children date each page as they work. Use words and sketches to record observations. If the children’s language skills outpace their writing skills, let them dictate observations to you. Remind children that field logs are a tool to help them remember. Entries don’t have to be perfect. The words don’t have to be in sentences. The sketches don’t have to be masterpieces. They’re simply a way to remember what was seen and observed.

Here are some tips for making great entries in a field log:

Use Adjectives. Adjectives help describe the particulars of what students are observing. A new leaf may be “yellow-green” or “fuzzy.” A tree may be “tall and straight” or “short and bent.” Its bark may be “rough” or “peeling.” These adjectives help distinguish one plant from others.

Make Comparisons. Encourage your children to make comparisons as a way to give clear and memorable details about the plants they see. A seedling might have leaves that are “as small as the nail on my pinky.” A tree might be “taller than a house.” A flower might be “whiter than the snow.” With each comparison, your children will be strengthening both their observation and language skills.

Sketch what you see. Use some pages in the field log for sketching. It’s often easier to convey the shape of a leaf or the configuration of branches by simply sketching them. Ecologists and botanists use sketches as an important part of their field logs.

Collect samples. Manoutdoors2y botanists collect samples of the plants they’re studying and press them in their field logs to examine in greater detail later. Before children start collecting, make sure they understand that samples should be taken only from plants that are found in abundance. Since plants get their nourishment through their leaves, these must be collected sparingly to allow plants to survive.

Compare observations over time. Take field logs along for walks once a week or more. It’s a great way to compare the changes in plants that take place over time. Compare leaf size on one bush or tree over the course of several weeks. Measure a seedling each day or each week to note its growth. Observing and recording will help your children learn about plants while developing great science skills!

Children can build strong science skills from a young age by learning to think like scientists.



In the K-2 science curriculum, young learners are encouraged to build a science foundation through a combination of interactive, online learning activities, offline resources and hands-on activities. Look for more fun science activities at