Lesson 1

Census With Your Senses



Using observation skills, students will take an inventory of the plants and animals - sightings and signs (tracks, droppings, homes, etc.) - on their school grounds. They will place the community members (plants and animals) on a large map. ​ ​


Content Standards Addressed:
Common Core State Standards


Pre-Trip Activities:

1. Send a letter home about the field trip.

Informing parents about an outdoor excursion will help in having your students appropriately dressed to explore outdoors. A letter also gives a sense of importance and learning value to the "field trip." Also, encourage the participation of parent volunteers.

2. Student activity about appropriate dress.

Several days before the field trip, discuss with students what they feel is appropriate clothing to wear. Using a drawing of a child's body and choices of difference types of clothing, have the students dress the body appropriately.​

3. Student activity making toilet paper tube binocular and hand lenses.
Several weeks prior to the field trip, request that students bring from home two toilet paper tubes. Stress the importance of waiting until the toilet paper is used to avoid waste. You could also request that the custodian of the school building provide the used tubes from the school restrooms for this project.
  • Explain to students that on the upcoming field trip, we will need some special tools to help with discovery, and we will be using the tubes to make one of these discovery tools. Not explaining further can lend an air of excitement and anticipation to the field trip.
  • Have the students decorate and assemble the binoculars. The tubes can be connected by paper clips at either end or by stapling at both ends. Use a hold punch to place holes where yarn or string can be attached so that the binoculars can hang loosely from students' necks.

4. Student activity creating color cards.

Cut 4" x 4" pieces of white poster board. Let students select a favorite color of marker or crayon and color the entire card, both sides, with that color.


*Note: The three discovery tools students may use - binoculars, color cards and magnifiers - do not all have to be used during the same outdoor excursion. Selecting one per field trip may be more manageable. Additionally, you may want to consider reproducing the Logbooks prior to the field trip.

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Out We Go ...
Take students out to the school grounds to search for plants and animals which can then be recorded on the map in the classroom. Before leaving, focus their attention by asking what plants and animals they think they might discover. What tracks and other signs of animals - animal droppings, fur, feathers, animal homes (nests, holes) - should they watch for? Using their sense of sight and their tools, they will census the ecosystem of the school ground. When they find an interesting plant, animal, or sign of an animal they should draw or write, if they are able, what the found in their Logbooks.
During another outing, have students look for living things (other than themselves) that match their color cards. Stress the importance of not picking up the object that matches, but rather just observing. Some students will find their color quickly. To keep them engaged, challenge them to find additional matches.
When finding a color becomes an individual challenge, encourage the group to help. Some colors will be difficult or impossible to find. Discuss why this might be - the time of year, geographic location, camouflage colors, etc. Remember, an exact match is not the object of this activity. Rather, the goal is having the students develop and demonstrate observation skills. Through this process, they will also discover additional ecosystem plants and animals.
Students can also develop their sense of hearing. Part or all of a field trip can be spent silently listening for nature sounds.
School Grounds Map
As a continuing activity for the field trip, create a large mural map of the school grounds. Locate and mark the group's findings each time you return to the classroom. For younger children, you might outline the school grounds, school buildings and any large landmarks in advance. Explain that the map is a special drawing of the school grounds as a bird flying overhead might see it.  

Logbook: Census With Your Senses
  • Draw a plant you found. Try to find a plant no one else has found. Write where you found it.
  • Draw an animal you found. Write where you found it.
  • Draw tracks or other signs of an animal. Write where you found it.
Suggested Materials for School Grounds Exploration:
  • A backpack or large Tupperware container.
  • Sit-upons (pieces of plastic).
  • Write-upons (8.5" x 11" pieces of cardboard to hold activity sheets. Clipboards work too, but can be cumbersome.
  • Magnifiers provided by Modern Woodmen.
  • Bug boxes.
  • Plastic peanut butter jars.
  • Zip Loc bags.
  • Index cards.
  • Color and shape cards.
  • Toilet paper tube binoculars.
  • Fat crayons and scrap paper for "rubbings."
  • Pencils.
  • Peterson's First Guides or Golden Guides nature field guides.
Tips for Taking Students Outdoors
1. Always take enthusiasm out with you and your students. Develop a sense of excitement and discovery. Arouse anticipation. Have fun! Your attitude will carry over to your students.
2. Before going out, have a plan and share it with your students. Enlist their input when possible, especially in reviewing appropriate outdoor behavior and creating rules.
3. Avoid picking plants or retrieving pieces of flora and fauna. Take only memories, leave only footprints. Try not to step on plants and animals.
4. If collecting small critters in containers, be sure they are collected carefully and, most importantly, returned to where they have come from. Making a big deal about this helps in demonstrating and building respect for the natural world while promoting discovery. The following "Release Poem" gives a ceremonial aspect to the release and appeals to young children. It can be read aloud or memorized.
Release Poem
Fly away, crawl away, run away, hop
You're free to go - I'm not going to stop
You from living your life.
You deserve to be free
Thanks for sharing this time with me.
                               - Jenepher Lingelbach*

5. Postpone "labeling." If a student has a question about the identity of an organism, encourage him or her to carefully observe the organism: color, size, how many legs, how does it move, what does it eat, what eats it, where is its home, how does it protect itself from predators? Answers the student works out for himself will have the biggest learning impact.
6. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know." The outdoors is a continuous learning experience for even the most seasoned naturalists. Challenge students to imagine themselves the first naturalist to observe the questioned organism. What would they name it? Join with them to find a way to learn more.
7. Respect student fears and be prepared to talk about them but not dwell on them. It is helpful for students to understand that their fears are shared by others (including you if applicable.) Fears are often overcome through the excitement of discovery and learning with others who are fearless.
The lyrics to this song can be copied, if desired. The children will enjoy singing, moving and/or marching to the music.
* From Hands On Nature: Information and Activities for Exploring the Environment with Children, Jenepher Lingelbach, Lisa Purcell, Susan Sawyer. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2000. Used by permission.