Field notes and photos by Jeff Cantrell
Spring fever and indoor anxiety may arrive early to our local classes. The schools’ classroom windows may be a strong-pulling magnet for the educators’ gaze, as well as their young scholars. It is common-ground belief among naturalists and ecologists that people have and need a fundamental connection to nature.
The launch of February is about 50 days away from the official spring equinox; the amount of day length progressively increases. Late winter (February and March) is a dramatic time of year for homeschool parents and formal teachers to initiate science notebooks or a nature journal. I say “dramatic” time of year because if students are documenting subjects like time-elapsed shadows, types and amounts of precipitation, and day-length outside their alluring windows, they’re equipped to collect an array of measureable data.
Educators and youth leaders in Missouri can receive Discover Nature Schools (DNS) notebooks for free from the Missouri Department of Conservation agency’s website. Simply request the quantity needed and enter the mailing address on the teacher portal. I recommend Nature Unfolds for the beginning scientists of kindergarten through second grade levels. The Nature Unleashed science journals serve upper elementary levels for investigations of animal food chain connections, plant adaptations and discoveries in habitat diversity. They will be a perfect leadoff for inquiry-based investigations throughout the semester.
I instruct several strategies for improving observation skills for educators, master naturalist volunteers and students in Nature Smart clubs. The foundation for most exercises is visual, coupled with different ways of journaling to capture the descriptions or details of the subject. This is when it is perfectly fine to stare!
My job is the Missouri outdoors and using nature to help teachers teach. Nature is very entertaining, but I’m not booked as an entertainer. Conservation education is a serious profession and is a foundation for resource management, accentuating the importance of humankind’s reliance on our life science systems. There is ongoing beneficial research on how just 20 minutes a day in nature helps improve sleep, health, students’ concentration and more. I highly recommend The Nature Principle or Last Child in the Woods by R. Louv. School administrators and homeschool parents are welcome to email me for additional resources and references.
The science note-booking resources are at no cost to Missouri residents and everything is available to download. However, the teacher or parent easily can design a tablet to be a science inquiry tool. I like to use the OWL technique. True, we might have students staring and fixed on a subject like a Barred Owl’s binocular vision, but we will document their study in what educators refer to as a “graphic organizer,” or an easy table of O=Observe, W=Wonder and L= What They Learned. I easily use this graphic organizer technique for adult learners. We start by asking ourselves: “What do we observe/know?” Then we ask ourselves: “What do we want to know?” Then the inquiry leads to what is learned.
February is our shortest month, but it overflows with natural observations:
- Flocks of robins return to the schoolyards.
- Ozark witch hazel in the school’s outdoor classroom is blooming.
- Students notice eastern mole activity correlated to the range of soil temperatures they are recording in their science notebooks.
- Mourning cloak butterflies are discovered on field trips to Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center or George Washington Carver National Monument.
- Male cardinals are singing for territory and groundhogs venture about munching on early clover.
Students of all ages add these types of new nature wonders and much more. They record what they observe and learn. Before you know it, life and learning skills build from the initial stare into nature’s realm. Enjoy the outdoors near the window’s view and out on the trail. – Jeff