Whether you are investigating seeds, plants, animals, or insects, you will need to help children become conscious of the fragility of life. As they decide what aspects of life they want to study, invite them to suggest how they can "handle everything with care."

A "Lively" Set Up

What materials do you need in order to add investigations of living things in your center? First you will need tools for observation and comparison such as: a pan-balance scale and other standard and nonstandard measuring devices; magnifiers (hand-held and free-standing); and small dental mirrors (found in drug stores) for examining under and around small plants and animals. You will also need containers such as clear plastic cups and containers with lids for collecting insects, seeds, and plants; cheesecloth and rubber bands for covering some containers; clear plastic boxes or terrariums; ziplock plastic bags for collecting on walks; and muffin tins or egg cartons for sorting and classifying seeds and plants. You may even consider purchasing (or borrowing) a commercial ant farm or butterfly house, or an incubator for hatching eggs. Don't forget to include art materials and notebooks for children to create field recordings of their observations.

Insect Investigations

Questions of where bugs come from, where they live, and what they eat are great starting points for experimentation. A group interested in insects may like to study the life cycle of the fruit fly. Fruit flies are among the easiest to collect and observe. Children can place cut pieces of ripe fruit in two open glass jars. They can place one jar outside and the other in the science center. Ask children to predict and observe which jar will attract the most flies. Soon, tiny flies will be attracted to the fruit inside the jars. Once they have appeared, you can cover the jars with cheesecloth. Watch closely. The eggs left by the flies will mature and hatch into new young fees and then grow into mature flies, thus completing their life cycle.

Plant Investigations

Children's seed and plant discoveries outside can lead to great activities inside. Have you ever noticed how a seed can push away a small rock, sprout in a place without soil, or even brow up through pavement? Why not try some of these amazing "Feats of Nature" as science experiments? Invite children to collect and discuss their observations from many plant and seed walks. What were some of the amazing things they saw? How would they like to experiment with these things? Children may want to experiment with the strength and power of plants by planting bean (or other large) seeds in small containers with different soil, gravel, rock, and other materials in them. After predicting what materials the seeds will grow best in, the children can water place in the sun, watch, and record their predictions and observations.

There are many other forms of life to explore. Examining and comparing pond water (and other natural sources) and tap water is fascinating, as is growing mold, hatching eggs, and catching tadpoles. The natural world is the source of a "lifetime" of exploration and play.

Extend Your Focus on Ants and Plants Throughout Your Classroom

Art Center: Can you paint with a plant? Replace the brushes at the easel with dried and fresh plant parts: stems, flowers, pine boughs, twigs, even roots!

Library and Writing Center: Collect books about insects and plants to create a "nature library" in the classroom. Include both fiction and nonfiction picture books. Invite children to organize and display the books in their own ways. Children can create library cards and take turns being the nature librarian.