Monday, May 12, 2014


by guest blogger Nancy Viau

A naturalist is someone who loves and appreciates nature and who studies plants and animals as they live in nature. Naturalists often write about their observations in journals, magazines, and non-fiction books. I chose to pen my observations in the form of a picture book, Look What I Can Do!. My goal was to have children see a variety of animals in their natural habitat, accomplishing tasks and overcoming challenges that are part of growing up. Illustrator Anna Vojtech has done a wonderful job bringing my words to life and creating lush spreads filled with color and depth.

What follows is a very basic science activity with writing tie-ins (for grades K-2). Its purpose is to increase awareness and respect for the animals in our immediate surroundings.  

Train your young students in the art of observation by practicing with common objects. For this activity, they should use only two senses: seeing and hearing. Allowing children to use only sight and sound as reference points helps them to stay on task. Plus, later on, when observing animals, students may be too far to smell them, and of course, they shouldn’t be encouraged to touch them!

Put a pencil on every desk.
Using the questions below, have students create a list (oral or written) based on what they see and hear.
           What color is the object?
What shape is it?
            How big is the object?
(Big as a______; Long as a _______; Fat as a _______, etc.)
                          What is the object’s placement in the environment?
                          Does the object make a sound of its own?                           
Repeat with three other objects: a watch, a cup of water, a crumpled paper.

Students research three animals that may be found in the immediate area of the school. They note color, size, what they eat, their homes, families, and habits.

The easy part:
Students choose two to three favorite animals.
Each student receives a notebook (Naturalist’s Journal) and pencil. A towel or rug square to sit on comes in handy, too.
Time to head outside! Students find a place where they are likely to spot one or more of the animals they have picked.
The hard part:
Students sit and wait, very quietly. Students should not coax any animal out with snacks or noises.
The writing:
When an animal is spotted, students observe and make notes based on sight and sound only.  
They are not to make up stories (yet).
A sketch is also appropriate.

Back in the Classroom
Share and compare findings.
Make a classroom collage using sketches or cut-out pictures of animals observed.
Create a map of the observation area. Students add in their animals.
Discuss non-fiction and fiction, and how facts and research are used in both.
Children use their detailed observations of animals to write each type of story. Encourage use of descriptive language with sight and sound elements.

Corresponding Lessons
             Five Senses
Introduction to Scientific Method 

Nancy Viau is the author of three nature-inspired books: Look What I Can Do! (Nominated for the Keystone to Reading Book Award), Storm Song, and Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head. Her Fall 2014 title, City Street Beat, invites readers on a toe-tappin’ musical journey from the country to the city. When not writing, Nancy can be found hiking, biking, or visiting schools across the country and around the world (via Skype). Visit her at

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