Phenology Wheels: Earth Observation Where You Live

Phenology Wheels: Earth Observation Where You Live

Phenology Wheels: Earth Observation Where You Live

earthzineBy Anne Forbes, Partners in Place, LLC
This article originally appeared in Earthzine –


M (Dakota)aking a habit of Earth observation where you live is a fun and fundamental way to practice Earth stewardship. It is often our own observations close to home that keep us inspired to learn more and allow us to remain steady advocates for solutions to today’s daunting problems. Earth observation done whole-heartedly becomes skilled Earth awareness that leads to profound relationships with the plants, animals, and seasonal cycles surrounding us in real time, whether we live in the city, suburbs, or countryside.


Courtesy Anne Forbes.

One way to track Earth observations is an activity called Phenology Wheels, suitable for individuals, families, classrooms, youth programs, and workshops for people of all ages. Phenology is a term that refers to the observation of the life cycles and habits of plants and animals as they respond to the seasons, weather, and climate. A Phenology Wheel is a circular journal or calendar that encourages a routine of Earth observation where you live. Single observations of what is happening in the lives of plants and animals made over time begin to tell a compelling story – your story – about the place on our living planet that you call home.

Why a circle? We usually think of the passing of time as linear, with one event following another in sequence by day, by month, by year. Placing the same events in a circular journal, or wheel shape, helps us discover new patterns (or rediscover known ones). We can use the Phenology Wheel to communicate about what is really important or interesting to us.

Here’s the General Idea

A Phenology Wheel is made up of three rings in a circle, like a target. To become a Wheel-keeper, you select a home place, such as a garden, a “sit spot,” schoolyard, watershed, or landscape that will be represented by a map or image in the center ring, the bull’s eye. Next, you mark units of time – such as the months and seasons of a year, hours of a day, or phases of a lunar month – around the outside ring, like the numbers on the face of a clock. Then, as you make specific observations of what is going on in the lives of plants and animals and the flow of seasons, you record them within the middle ring using words, phrases, images, or a combination.

Here’s How To Get Started

Because the wheel is round, you can begin a Phenology Wheel for Earth observation at any time of year.

Although you can pick among different time scales for the outer ring, let’s begin here with a year of seasons and months.


Courtesy Anne Forbes.


1. Draw a set of nested circles on a large piece of paper. You can do this by tracing around large plates or pizza pans, by using an artist’s compass or by making your own compass out of a pencil, pin, and string. You may also purchase a kit of print Wheels or a set of digital PDF Wheels online.

2. If you are making your own Wheel, write the names of the seasons and months on the outer rings.

3. Select an image for the center to represent the place or theme you have selected and to anchor your practice of observation in time and space.

Maps for the Center: If you choose a map, will it be geographically accurate or symbolic? Will it be traced or cut and pasted from an existing map, or will it be a map of your own creation?

Tip: Use a web-based mapping system such as Google Maps to print a map and use it to trace selected features as a base map for your Wheel.

A Centering Image: If you choose an image other than a map, will you create your own image or use one that you find already in print material? Will you use a photo, make a collage, or choose a found object, like a leaf or feather?

Tip: Children often enjoy a picture of themselves at their “sit spot” or other place they have chosen to track their observations.

4. Establish a Routine: Observe → Investigate and Reflect → Record

OBSERVE: What do I notice in this moment? What is extraordinary about seemingly ordinary things? What surprises me as unexpected or dramatic?


INVESTIGATE: What more do I want to know about what I observe? What questions will I seek to answer through my own continued observation? What information will I search for in books or from mentors or websites?


REFLECT: What does my observation mean to me? How is it changing me? How does it help me explore my values and beliefs?


RECORD: A routine of frequent observation provides the raw material to transform your blank Wheel into a circular journal as you record images, symbols, or words as you observe the passing of the seasons in your home place.

Tip: An interactive diagram of this process can be found under the Observe & Record tab here.

5. Share and Celebrate: Use your Wheel to report or tell stories about what you learn from and value about Earth observation in your home place.

Like a wheel on a cart, time turns around the hub of your home place;

the metaphor is a journey taken through a day, a month, a year,

or a lifetime of curiosity and appreciation.

Of course, you don’t have to keep a journal to explore and appreciate your home place on earth and the home place in your heart. What are the dimensions of your home place in this moment? What marks of time’s passing do you observe? The more playful you are with these questions, the more you may feel a part of your home place and committed to co-creating its well-being with others in your community.


Courtesy The Yahara Watershed Journal.

Welcome home.

Example #1: The Yahara Watershed Wheel

About twelve years ago, a group of like-minded friends gathered by my fireside to reflect upon what it means to live in this place we call home in Dane County, Wisconsin, USA. We chose to think of the Yahara Watershed as our common home place, and the series of seasonal events that occur in a typical year as the time scale to track. We put a map of the watershed in the center of a large Wheel of the Year, with units of time going around the outside rim, much like a clock, but using seasons and months instead of hours. We then went around our own circle, each speaking of the defining moments in the natural world and in the lives of people enjoying it throughout the months of a typical year. The artist among us sketched the images onto the Yahara Watershed Wheel that you see here. The detail in the enlarged image represents the unique happenings in March and April: pasque flowers in bloom, the return of redwing blackbirds and sandhill cranes, woodcock mating dances, first dandelions, and spring peepers in chorus.


Courtesy Anne Forbes.

Example #2: Poems of Place

In reporting on this Wheel filled with seasonal poems by 4th and 5th graders about the large school woods, just outside an elementary school “backdoor” in Cambridge, Wisconsin, teacher Georgia Gomez-Ibanez writes, “Because the woods is so accessible, the children spend quite a lot of time there developing a deep sense of place, including keen observational skills and a heightened imagination, all enhanced by the affection they have gained by years of exploring, learning and stewardship.” This selection of student poems illustrates how Phenology Wheels can be used to enhance language arts as well as science curriculum.

Example #3: Local Biodiversity

In another example from Cambridge Elementary School in Wisconsin, teacher Georgia Gomez-Ibanez reports that a classroom studied the biodiversity of the area where they live. Each student picked a different animal or plant from their adjacent woods or prairie for the center of an 11-inch Wheel and then did research to tell the full story of the life cycle in words. The example here shows the work of one student who studied the Jack-in-the-Pulpit wildflower.

The next step would be for the students to combine their information for single species onto one large 32-inch Wheel and use it to explore the dynamics of the ecosystem that appear through food webs, habitat use, seed dispersal mechanisms, and so on.

Frequently Asked Questions


Courtesy Anne Forbes.

1. Where do I get more information?
If you are ready to start a Phenology Wheel for yourself, family, classroom or youth program, or any other interest group:

• Visit the Wheels of Time and Place website for instructions, resources, and a gallery of examples.
• Download a curriculum for youth developed in partnership with Georgia Gomez-Ibanez, an elementary school teacher, and Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong, Earth Partnership for Schools, UW-Madison Arboretum.

2. Where do I order pre-made Wheels?
Order the blank Wheel templates as a digital download of PDF files or as a complete toolkit, Wheels of Time and Place: Journals for the Cycles and Seasons of Life. The latter includes a set of print Wheels in 11-inch and 24-inch sizes, a code to download the PDF files, and an instruction booklet – all in a recycled chipboard carrying case.

3. What size should my Wheels be?
Some people prefer 11-inch Wheels because they are compact, portable, and can be easily duplicated in a copy machine on 11 x 17-inch paper. You can trim them down to 11-inch square if you would like.

When people share the 24-inch Wheels, their faces often light up with excitement. This size, or larger, works well if you have a large clip board or a place to keep it posted for frequent use or when people are working on one Wheel in a group.

Of course, if you make your Wheels by hand, you can make them any size you like. If you purchase the PDF files, you can enlarge them up to 32-36 inches at a copy or blueprint shop.

4. What if I’m already a journal-keeper?

Some people who already keep a written journal use the Wheels to review their journals periodically and pull out observations to further explore and put on a Wheel. It’s amazing what patterns and stories can emerge.

5. Can the Wheels be created from databases?

Frank Nelson of the Missouri Department of Conservation has used wheels called Ring Maps, A Useful Way to Visualize Temporal Data to show trends and reveal patterns in a complex set of data.


Anne Forbes of Partners in Place, LLC is an ecologist who seeks to integrate her scientific and spiritual ways of knowing. For over 35 years, she worked on biodiversity policy as a natural resource manager and supported environmental and community collaborations as a facilitator and consultant. Her years of spiritual practice in varied traditions, most recently the Bon Buddhist tradition of Tibet, inspire her commitment to engaged action on behalf of present and future generations. She failed her first attempt at retirement and instead created the Wheels of Time and Place: Journals for the Cycles and Seasons of Life.

Teaching Stewardship Through Native Legend

Teaching Stewardship Through Native Legend

Teaching Stewardship Through Native Legend


Abstract: This article provides the reader with a general background of Alaska Native education and resource conservation, focusing on southeast Alaska cultures. European contact severed these education models by creating government schools. Since then Alaska Natives have worked to balance Native culture with western education. A synopsis of several legends which speak to natural resource conservation is presented with the conservation ethic discussed. The use of these types of legends in the classroom is encouraged as a means of bringing Native values and lessons into the classroom as one means of making education relevant to Native students. The lesson from this discussion can be applied to other indigenous groups.

by Dolly Garza


To address environmental stewardship and education among Alaska Natives it is necessary to start with a brief review of Native cultures and educational systems.

Alaska Natives have lived along this northern coast for thousands of years. Groups developed cultures that revolved around local resources. The Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Eyak, Supiak, Alutiiq, Yupik, Siberian Yupik, Inupiat, and the Athabascan learned how to use surrounding resources for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, regalia, and the arts.

Careful observation of animals, plants and weather over the seasons provided the knowledge base to know when to gather, or when to move. This accumulation of knowledge was necessary to the survival of the community; therefore, it was necessary to pass the knowledge from generation to generation. Knowledge was transferred through oration, observation, and action. Written instructions were generally unknown.

In southeast Alaska, among the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian, children did not learn from their parents. It was generally understood that parents loved the children too much and would spoil them. It was the job of the aunties and uncles of the clan to teach the children important knowledge and skills.

Southeast Culture and Stewardship
Much of Southeast Alaska where I come from was owned or occupied by the Tlingit and Haida. Tlingit historians will tell you that many areas and the associated resources were part of a clan’s property. Their territory included permanent village sites. However a clan’s use,
territorial rights, and stewardship extended beyond these typical areas to seaweed picking areas, berry picking areas, and into the rivers and ocean with herring egg gathering sites, salmon streams, seal hunting rookeries, and halibut fishing grounds.

Anthropologist and early explorers documented many types of conservation techniques and practices. Legends such as Moldy Salmon or Herring Rock were lessons which Elders told to teach youngsters to respect and properly use salmon, herring, and other resources. Clan leaders would decide when fishing would begin and end, and determine other resource harvesting methods. Clan members understood their obligation to follow these rules and rituals. European Contact
In 1876 Alaska were purchased by the United States from Russian, an action which was protested by the Tlingit Nation in Sheetka or Sitka, Alaska. The Russian had a stronghold to very limited sites in the Sitka, Kodiak, and Aleutians areas.

The early traders brought beads, bullets, alcohol, and diseased blankets. In addition, early traders were sick from months on ships with poor water and nutrition. They passed along their sicknesses which were new, and tragic, to Native populations.

The ravages of diseases in the 1800’s have had one of the largest impacts on Alaska Native cultures. Indigenous populations were reduced to less then 1⁄2 the estimated pre-contact populations. In some areas entire villages died from small pox or influenza. Much knowledge was lost with the death of each Elder, hunter, or mother.

Gold miners, fishing companies, and pioneers followed. The military, preachers, and teachers accompanied these early arrivers. The military came to protect the white people, the Christians to convert, and the teachers to civilize the Native.

The Native peoples generally were moved from their traditional sites to designated communities where religion and education could be taught. In many areas the traditional clan structure of government was abandoned. The new education and religion systems were embraced in fear of the ravages of disease. Natives believed they would better survive under this new system, since their old plant medicines and ceremonies did not save them from new diseases.

Early Education Systems
After being taken away and educated at government schools, many Natives made it back home and were expected to live a new life. They tried to be religious and teach their children English and new cultural ways. This assimilation process was only partially successful. Many such as my grandmother Elizabeth were forced to stop speaking Haida to her children. She was devoted to her church. Her children were sent to boarding school and came home years later.

When children were sent off to school parents had no control over what they did, what they wore, what they were taught, or what they were led to believe. This generation, my mothers, came home and began their own lives. They sent their children to school and believed that this is what should be done. “Send your children to school and expect the system to do everything”. Many in my mother’s age believed they had no right to interfere with their children’s education; and for the most part this was true at the time.

Many of the “educated” from my mother’s generation came home and believed that their parents lived backward lives; or if they tried to live this new life they found their were no jobs, and no money to buy all these new commodities. Many put this education aside and went back to living the old way: hunting, fishing, putting up food, living in old ramshackle houses, some with no running water, or sewer.

Current Educational Efforts
In some senses Native people have come full circle. Part out of necessity, and a great part out of love for our culture and land, we continue to live simple lifestyles. Alaska Natives are working to balance Native culture and mainstream education.

However there is still the early education mantra that prevails among the conscious or subconscious of our Elders and thus our community: “Native people must be civilized and cleansed of their former ways”, “Western education is better”.

Today many Alaska Natives still believe that the western education is better. They see education as severed from their daily life and do not feel that they can add to this educational process. Children come to school still thinking their home life, and cultural dance or stories, are archaic and not important. This leads to poor self-esteem and often, an aversion to Native ways. It is important to help Native students understand the value of cultures.

Recent efforts such as those of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, funded by the NSF, promotes incorporating Native science, knowledge, and education skills into the classroom as a means of making the science relevant to local areas and helping students understand the value of parental knowledge and their culture. One part of this broad educational effort focused on Native stories or legends that were taught to children. While these stories are entertaining their main purpose has been to teach respect.

Native Legends as Teaching Tools
As an example of ritual, in some areas salmon would be harvested only after the first salmon went upstream and were properly honored through dance and ceremony. It was told that this was done so that the spirit of the salmon would return to its brothers and sisters and report that these were good people and that the salmon should give themselves to these people.

Someone would notice the first salmon coming up stream and alert the community. Eagle down was gathered, regalia donned, and people commenced to the river. Songs were sung, and words were spoken to the salmon. Respect was shown. After this, fishing could take place at the chief’s orders. In the time it took to set up these ceremonies, hoards of salmon went up the river. Today we refer to this as escapement; the necessary brood-stock to ensure continued survival of the salmon. Without the eagle down, this is a standard fishery management practice.

In the Moldy Salmon story a young boy is taken to live with the salmon people after he disrespects salmon. Upon his return to his people he educates them on how important it is to eat all of the salmon and to respect salmon.

In the herring rock story a man is turned into a stone after he disobeys the clan leaders rule to not fish for herring after nightfall. The rest of the community understands the consequences of fishing after nightfall as they pass by this rock everyday. The rock was known to recent time in the Sitka area until it was covered during a construction project. Herring biologists know that herring school up and rise to the surface at night. During this time they are very susceptible to over harvest. A “legend” as it is now called served as a regulation.

As we teach environmental ethics to our young it is well worth using Native or other indigenous folklore to highlight traditional means of conservation. It is important to keep Native children in the folds of education and help non-Natives to understand that Natives were not savages, but lived in balance with their environment.

But as we use legends we must remember to respect tribal and clan property rights. I have not written any legend in full nor do we have permission to commercialize these legends for
profit. However the use of these legends as an educational tool is welcomed by most Elders and tribes.


Dolores “Dolly” Garza is a full-time Professor for the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program. She has worked in Kotzebue and Sitka and now works in Ketchikan as a Marine Advisory agent, interfacing European science with Alaska’s marine resource users in the areas of subsistence management, marine mammal management and marine safety. This article reprinted from proceedings of the 2006 North American Association for Environmental Education annual conference in Anchorage, Alaska.

Literacy as a Stepping Stone to Environmental Citizenship

Literacy as a Stepping Stone to Environmental Citizenship

“The librarian tells me that there have been skirmishes over books, especially on topics we’ve been discussing in class. She and the librarian see this as a problem but not me. I see small steps towards victory with my class. The interest [in Environmental Literacy] is ‘kindled’ and I hope to have a ‘forest fire’ by May.”
— Second Grade Teacher

“Roaches and other small insects continue to lose their lives under the hands and heels of my well-meaning students. How can I change the way they feel about these creatures, especially when their parents feel the same way and have instilled this in their offspring?”
— Pre-Kindergarten Teacher



by Carole Basile and Cameron White

Environmental literacy is not just learning to read and write about the environment; it’s about acquiring knowledge, skills, dispositions, and feelings that transfer to the real world. It’s about developing a concept of literacy that is more global in nature. Environmental literacy is about helping even our youngest citizens gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom about the world around them. Citizens who respect living things; can learn about the perspectives of others, share their own views, solve problems, make reasonable decisions; and can take appropriate action. In this time of high stakes testing where literacy has become the primary focus in schools today, environmental educators need to continue to find ways of offering the environment as a contextual framework.

In literacy, context is often forgotten in the midst of phonics worksheets and testing. As Coles (2000) suggests, the meaning of literacy is diminishing and the goals are narrowing. “The narrower the goals, the more they reinforce narrow instruction aimed at a narrow conception of children’s education (p. 108)”. This passion and enthusiasm in the early years is what helps encourage students to enjoy reading and writing. Routman (1996) emphasizes that inquiry and language in authentic use is at the heart of curriculum. Meaning and knowledge are constructed from the learner’s experiences. This step will ultimately be important as the child makes decisions relevant to what they study and what they choose to write about as they get older. The goal is to involve students by encouraging the social construction of knowledge through student-centered approaches (Brooks and Brooks, 1993).

The Environment as a Context for Literacy

We propose four components that teachers should think about as they begin to think about the environment as a context for literacy: (1) teaching children the basic science concepts that they need to understand how environmental systems work, (2) nurturing children’s respect for all living things, (3) facilitating the processes of problem solving, decision making, and critical thinking, and (4) developing environmental citizenship.

Teaching About The Environment

During these years, effective environmental literacy development should begin by providing a knowledge base that is developmentally appropriate, but it should also be meaningful and relevant to students and involve them actively. The use of non-fiction is critical here. There is a myriad of basal readers and picture books for children at all levels that are non-fiction and teach children about environmental systems. Observation of nature can be used as a purpose for writing in a variety of genres.

A group of kindergartners did observations in their schoolyards and wrote the following (translated from inventive spelling):

”I found a ladybug. It tickled me. My friend let me have her ladybug. Then I found a doodlebug. Then my Mom said she was going to help me find the bugs.” “A butterfly was going to land on my house. Then there came another butterfly.”

“I saw a bee was eating my little flower. I scared it. There was stiging at me because I scare it.”

“I found a butterfly and he didn’t bite me. He was my friend.”

“A bee was going to sting me. The grasshopper was bouncing in my hose. I saw two ants eating some food.”

Nurturing Respect

Nurturing respect is a critical component in this process. It teaches children to be not only respect and protect living things but to be tolerant of each other. Literature can enhance discussions about honoring living things and working for peace. Read-alouds using books that focused on respect and peace stimulated conversations and reflections like these with young children.

Gabby, age 7
”Yesterday, we were playing outside and we saw a bird. I think it’s called a killdeer. It doesn’t live in a tree; it lives in the dirt on the ground. I was running and my friend and me were playing and I almost tripped over it. People were coming over and it was acting like it had a broken wing. My teacher was telling us to move away from it. If you kill the bird or step on it, or step on its eggs, or smash them, you will be killing the environment because birds are part of all life. If we just watch the animals outside, if we just leave them alone, we’re not trying to mess with them, so we won’t get hurt and they won’t get hurt either. If we bothered plants and animals, we couldn’t admire anything or we couldn’t smell the flowers or have any energy. One time outside in my backyard I saw an orange cocoon. My brother and his friends were poking at it and I asked my mom if they were supposed to be doing that. She told them to leave it alone and go play somewhere else. I told my mom I was helping to save the environment.”

Ignacia, age 5
“Insects are good for dirt, like rain. And like pill bugs and ladybugs, they help everything. They help the leaves from bad insects; the ladybugs eat little insects that are bad. So we have to take care of them and not kill them or give them poison stuff; we have to be nice to them.”

Beverly, age 6
“We’ve been learning and doing things outside. We must catch and release insects we find because if you keep them, they might die. We are writing about what we see. I see a big bird that is black. I hear all the birds singing. I saw a mommy bird go by; it was finding food. I saw it find a worm and take it back to the nest to feed the babies. We caught a butterfly and took it to our class. We are going to release it now. We need to stop killing animals because sometimes they help us. Once my sister was about to step on a caterpillar. I yelled, ‘No!’ and the caterpillar got away. I told her that they can help us. I told my teacher all about it.”

Jonathan, age 7
“Respecting living things means being nice to stuff outside because its nature and you have to take care of it. What if that was you and somebody was bothering you, doing something bad to you. You wouldn’t like it.”

Facilitating Processes

Environmental literacy is more than just reading and discussing. It’s giving children opportunities for examining processes, problem solving and decision-making. Learning occurs when children are engaged in the process; it’s not necessarily the content itself, it’s what children do with the content that facilitates learning. For example, learning the parts of an insect or the five senses becomes meaningful when the children are engaged in the process of the classification, analysis, and synthesis of the data they collected. Students begin to understand issues when they are involved in the issues.

Young children do have their own issues – not global issues like acid rain, global warming, or habitat loss – but little kid issues like: Should I take this lizard or frog home for a pet?, Should I feed the animals I see in the park?, Why do I need to stay on the trails in the nature center?, Why should I turn the lights off when I leave the room or turn the water off after I get a drink?, Why can’t I throw trash down the storm sewer or out in the schoolyard? Reading, writing, and debating the issues with young children can begin to build foundations and practice the skills necessary to examine larger issues later in life right in their own neighborhood or school community.

Developing Environmental Citizenship

There is an old saying, “think globally, act locally”. Young children need to “think locally, act locally”. The process of environmental literacy must lead to citizenship. Community projects can include: creating a new bird/butterfly habitat where children write their plans or write reflective books about the process; writing school community environmental information bulletins, brochures about recycling, water conservation, or energy conservation, building bat boxes or bird feeders and reading “how to’s” and writing about the process or posters; or creating stories or poems for an Earth Day celebration.

This is an example of a book that was written and illustrated by a group of 2nd graders after they created a garden in their schoolyard. This book along with other they wrote throughout the year were placed in their school library for everyone to see and read.

“Proper Planting Procedures for Wildflower Seeds”
Rake the area to get good seed/soil contact. Remove trash and dead grass from the planting area. First you open the seed packages. Then you pour them into a bucket so you can mix them up. You want to mix the little seeds with the big seeds. Pour half of the mixed seeds into a second bucket. Plant the seeds in two directions: north/south and east/west to make sure the entire area is covered. This is called “feed the chickens” method and is done because most of the seeds are so small. It also allows you to see how much seed has been planted and how much seed still needs to be planted. Next lightly rake the area. Next step on the soil to provide good soil/seed contact. Lightly water the seed to provide moisture for the seeds to germinate. Label a planting pot or bucket with the type of seeds planted in the wildflower area. Put potting soil in the pot and add a pinch of seed to the soil. Water lightly. This labeled pot will make identification of sprouting seeds more easy. Continue to lightly water the area until the seedlings sprout and are several inches tall. The End.

Giving Children Voice

If we can successfully use the environment as a context for literacy, we give young children voice – intellectual, emotional, and social voice.

We often read words that we don’t use in every day language, but these words help us in an intellectual way to understand more about what is happening in the world. The vocabulary that is part of environmental literacy is important and we shouldn’t be afraid to take kids to those levels. It’s fun to hear first graders talk about habitats and symbiosis and find second graders who use words in their writing like recycle, respect, and responsible. It makes them feel smart and gives them language that spurs a higher level of imagination, creativity, and thought.

The intellectual voice allows for the development of critical thinking and problem-solving as children interact with each other, they have more words to use, to express how they feel. The intellectual voice comes from reading and writing about the environment, developing an awareness of what is living around them, showing them how they are part of the ecosystem, and how they affect their world. The emotional voice comes from teaching children to respect living things and developing their passion about protecting and conserving life and natural resources. Giving them the words of feelings, this passion is often transferred home and shared with others. Social voice comes from kids developing their own language, one where they are able to develop their own sense of identity and connection to the world. It embodies a language of both critique and possibility; a language that allows students to locate themselves in history, find their own voices, and establish convictions and compassion necessary for democratic civic courage (Freire and Giroux, 1989). These young children can influence their peers and their families because they have the intellectual, emotional, and social voice — that’s what makes a difference.

Developing Voice through Children’s Literature

As we have seen using children’s literature as an integrating factor can open a new world for literacy learning and teaching. Having literacy discussions within or across grade levels allow teachers to understand what children think about a variety of issues that are meaningful and relevant to them and help children develop their voice about the environment.

The following is a list of suggested children’s literature. This is far from a comprehensive list, but questions following each reference give teachers a look at possible discussion topics.

Baker, J. (1991). Window. New York, NY: Greenwillow.
How has our neighborhood changed? If you could live anywhere, where would it be: country or city? Why?

Bash, B. (1990). Urban roosts. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club
What are the animals in our neighborhood? How have they adapted to being around people?

Bunting, E. (1991). Night tree. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.
What are ways we can appreciate mother nature?

Cooney, B. (1982). Miss Rumphius. New York, NY: Viking-Penguin.
What kinds of things can we do to make the world more beautiful?

Fleming, D. (1996). Where once there was a wood. New York, NY: Henry Holt.
How are things in our neighborhood changing? How do you think the changes are affecting the wildlife?

French, V. (1993). Caterpillar, caterpillar. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Why is it important to preserve different plant species? What can happen if we don’t preserve them?

Hoose, P, & Hoose, H. (1998). Hey, little ant. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Should we kill insects or other living things just for fun? Is there ever a time to kill living things?

James, S. (1990). Sally and the limpet. New York, NY: McElderry.
Should we touch or catch animals in the wild?

James, S. (1991). Dear Mr. Blueberry. New York, NY: McElderry Books.
How do we find out about things we don’t know or understand?

Larson, G. (1998). There’s a hair in my dirt. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.
What can we do to find out about the real stories of how nature works?

Lasky, K. (1995). She’s wearing a dead bird on her head. New York, NY: Hyperion.
How can we let others know about things we care about? Is there anything we care about that we would like others to know about?

London, J. (1993). Voices of the wild. New York, NY: Crown.
What is our relationship with other animals and living things?

Mazer, A. (1991). The salamander room. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Is it okay to take animals out of the wild? When we take them out of the wild, how can we take care of them?

Peet, B. (1966). Farewell to shady glade. New York, NY: Houghton-Mifflin.
What things do we see changing in our neighborhood?

Ryder, J. (1996). Earthdance. Markham, Ontario: Henry Holt.
How can we learn more about our community and our world?

Schimmel, S. (1993). Dear children of the earth. Minnetonka, MN: Creative Publishing.
What is man’s responsibility to other animals and living things? How can we respect living things?

Stewart, S. (1997). The gardener. New York, NY: Farrar, Starus, and Giroux.
How can we create natural habitats in the city?

Ward, L., & Jacques, L. (1993). A walk in the wild. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Why is some land protected for refuges or parks?

Wood, D. (1992). Old turtle. Duluth, MN: Pfeifer-Hamilton.
What is our relationship to other animals and living things?

At The End: Teachers’ Voices

Literacy, especially environmental literacy, development means much more than promoting traditional reading and writing skills. In fact, just as important to our kids is for us to allow the connections promoted through the use of the environment as a context. We can’t keep censoring our children’s lives by only providing literature that is bland and writing that is meaningless. We can’t take the chance that they’ll get it sometime, but right now they just have to learn to read and write. They should be learning to read and write about something, why not the environment.

As children are developing not only their intellectual being but their emotional and social being why not facilitate their natural engagement in learning and transfer early on through the integration of the environment. Let’s not just make them literate, let’s make them environmentally literate. But don’t take our word for it, listen to the teachers and children. “As a teacher, I wear many hats. I have enjoyed my new naturalist hat. I plan on wearing it every day of every year. I found that I can start my children on a path to being naturalists too. I now include issue-based literature and challenge the children to think about their actions towards the world and the living things on it. I teach them about their relationships with nature – how they are in the web of life. I don’t just teach them about insects anymore. I teach them about respect for life, no matter how small the creature is. I have shown the children that they can be problem-solvers and be active in doing something that will benefit everyone. The children are not passive listeners but active doers. The classroom environment has changed as well. The children protect living things. They cry out when someone is going to kill a bug. They pick up trash when it is not in its place. I have grown as a teacher and I have seen great growth in the children as well.” “We have come a long way baby since that first day in August. I would love to move up to third grade with my class but can’t. I just hope they will remain conscious of the world around them and will continue to nurture it and in turn spread this belief to others. The have truly become environmentally conscious, stewards of the land.”

Children’s Voices

“I think that the world is beautiful. There are things I can do to make the world more beautiful. One of the things that I can do to make it beautiful is I can plant flowers. I would probably plant tulips and amaryllis just like my father. I would plant them in parks, forests, and gardens (2nd grader).”

“I would make a difference because I would recycle lots of stuff and plant some trees and get some of my friends to help me clean up the city not the whole city some of it and plant more plants and make the world a better place (2nd grader).”

“If I could make a difference I would save energy. If you don’t save energy you might not be able to use it again (2nd grader).”

An Earth Poem (3rd grader)

Every day we leave we have
An opportunity to make this world better by
Recycling and cleaning our streets
Today I did my part, tomorrow
I Have to start again.


Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. (1993). The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Coles, G. (2000). Misreading reading: The bad science that hurts children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Routman, R. (1996). Literacy at the crossroads: Critical talk about reading, writing, and other teaching dilemmas. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Carole Basile is on faculty at the University of Colorado at Denver in the Initial Teacher Education program. Cameron White teaches social studies education at the University of Houston.

BOOK REVIEW: Three new nature titles from Dawn Publications

BOOK REVIEW: Three new nature titles from Dawn Publications

by Michael D. Barton
CLEARING Associate Editor

Dawn Publications (Facebook/Twitter/blog) has three new children’s nature books out for ages 3-8, and I am delighted to not only have copies for my children, but to share with you how awesome they are. This publisher does wonderfully how books about nature for kids should be done: entertaining, beautiful, and engaging. They are not dry, simple lists of facts that would lose the attention of any kid (or adult).

Over in a River


Continuing with their “Over in the…” series (I shared about Over in the Forest previously), Over in a River: Flowing Out to the Sea by Marianne Berkes with lively cut paper illustrations by Jill Dubin, serves as an introduction to rivers in North America and the animals that call them home. Ten rivers are covered, each page showing the river’s place on our continent. Following the classic rhythm “Over in the Meadow,” kids will paddle with manatees in Florida, splash with salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and gnaw with beavers in the Southwest. They will learn what to call the young of the ten animals throughout the book, and as the paddle, splash, and gnaw above indicates, something that each animal does to survive. And as expected with books from Dawn Publications, there is more detailed information about the animals and rivers at the end for parents and educators to use for learning opportunities.

Sample Pages (Double-click to see full-sized):

Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods


Perhaps you want to get out of the water and on drier land. Mary Quattlebaum offers her third in the Jo MacDonald series: Jo Macdonald Hiked in the Woods. Jo goes along with her grandfather for a walk in the woods on his farm, and discovers a world of sound. Woodpeckers rat-tat, turkeys gobble-gobble, butterflies flutter-flutter, and owls hoo-hoo. Along with five other creatures, they all make their sounds here and there. Combining song and listening with Laura J. Bryant’s warm paintings of Jo and grandpa taking delight in discovering what’s in their woods makes for an enjoyable read.

Sample Pages (Double-click to see full-sized):


Noisy Frog Sing-Along


John Himmelman has followed up on his Noisy Bug Sing-Along (shared here) with Noisy Frog Sing-Along. Himmelman introduces us to eleven different species of frog and toad and the sounds they make. The text is minimal, but the enlarged font size of the spelled-out sounds calls for the readers to make some noise. Take a break from being a mammal and practice being a noisy amphibian! The last few pages give more detail about each species, explains metamorphosis, and offers tips for how to see frogs (or salamanders). Additionally, a link is provided for a page on the Dawn Publications website where you can listen to audio files of the actual sounds shared in the book.

Sample Pages (Double-click to see full-sized):



This review by Michael D. Barton appeared originally at Explore Portland Nature –

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How to Give Kids a Nature Experience to Remember

How to Give Kids a Nature Experience to Remember


One of my favorite nature quotations comes from the Japanese conservationist Tanaka Shozu who said, “The question of rivers is not a question of rivers, but of the human heart.”

I wanted to touch the hearts of my middle school students with the beauty of nature as well as inspire them to take care of the local environment. I found the perfect spot for a nature experience less than an hour away from our school campus in the Sierra Nevada. (more…)