Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

The Naturalist's Apprentice: Up Close and Personal


These activities need not be limited to summer. They can be done anytime, even in winter. In winter, the students can look for signs of animals in the snow. There is also no need to go to a natural area to observe nature. The school yard or a park should have plenty of life for students to discover. This activity works best if the students work individually or in pairs. Discourage larger groups. When students get back to the classroom, they should share their findings either by reading sections of their notes, or you could collect the journals and take excerpts from them to form an essay (chronicle, record) of the day's field trip.

Encourage the students to take notes of whatever they see and hear. This will be the beginning of keeping a nature journal or field notebook. They can use the notes they take and the sketches they make to try to identify what they saw once back in the classroom. Try to have reference books on trees, flowers, and other plants. Guides to animal tracks, soil life, forest life, prairies, or whatever types of habitats you visit would be helpful.

Recommended equipment: Each student should have a small notebook and a pencil for notes and sketches. A hand lens and a pair of forceps for each pair of students would also be very useful.

Precautions: Make sure you and the students are familiar with the appearance of poison ivy and stinging nettles. Also, be careful when turning over rocks and logs--snakes may be underneath them. Take precautions against insect bites and ticks.


Up Close and Personal: Take a closer look at the world around you.


Summer is a great time to go out and observe nature. When you go into the woods, you can't help but notice the trees around you. When you walk into a prairie or old field, the grasses and flowers are the first thing you see, and the calling and displaying birds are difficult to overlook. However, there is much more to be seen than what first meets the eye. All you need to do is take a closer look. Here are a few exercises that will help you learn to observe the little things around you.


1. Take a notebook and pencil with you and write down your observations. You will find that keeping notes will make you look closer at your subject. You may find it helpful to make a sketch of your subject.

2. Whether you are visiting a forest, grassland, or wetland, slow down and take your time. You will see a lot of things that you will miss by running or even walking too fast.

3. Stand or sit in one spot for at least five minutes. Be very quiet. What is going on around you? Close your eyes. What do you hear?

4. Observe a single plant. If it is in flower, use a hand lens to look at the flower. Are there any insects or spiders there? What are they doing? Also look at the leaves. Are there any insects present? Are there any spots, holes, or curled areas? Is the leaf smooth to the touch? Is it rough or hairy? Look at the stem or bark. What do you see and feel?

5. Find a rock or a piece of wood that is on the ground. Very carefully turn it over. What do you see underneath it? Do not pick up any life you find. Just observe it. How do the animals react to being exposed to the light? Carefully place the wood or rock back the way you found it.

6. Look closely at the ground. Is there any bare ground? Are there any animal tracks? If so, make a sketch of them. Is the ground littered with leaves or plant debris? What is it from? If there is plant litter, carefully lift up some of it. Is there any life underneath it? Look at the litter closely with a hand lens.

7. Find one plant that you can't identify and describe it in detail. Include sketches of the leaves and flowers, or any other distinguishing character. When you get back to home or school, look in books and try to identify the plant. You may need to go to the library and check books there.

Carolyn Nixon, INHS Office of the Chief

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