Young students are fascinated with living things, whether it is a classroom pet, a school garden or simply sprouting bean seeds under a variety of conditions. Experiencing and exploring natural history in the primary grades provides an ideal medium for introducing science to younger students. The same skills used to study natural history, observation and measurement, are the most fundamental skills used when studying other areas of science in the higher grades. Students’ natural curiosity and the hands-on approach often utilized when studying living things allows teachers to make the most of a wider variety of learning styles than some other subjects.
One of the most fundamental skills learned when studying natural history is observation. Teaching young students to look for details, compare differences and notice various inputs provides them with valuable skills they can use throughout their lives. As plants or animals grow and develop, students can be taught to measure and document their observations.
If space allows, students can be given lengths of string, tied into a circle and laid out on a patch of lawn or even dirt, and asked to draw or otherwise document everything they see. At first, most students will say they don’t see anything except the obvious. A few minutes of careful study (aided with a magnifying glass, if possible) rewards students with a secret view into a miniature living world they never knew existed. Their surprise frequently turns to delight and further interest in what they might find, if only they look closely enough.
Predictions and expectations
Encouraging students to make predictions about natural history activities is the first step to teaching them how to develop science questions in the higher grades. Making a prediction engages students in the activity before it even begins. It also provides a point of reference when results are gathered. When predictions vary from results, students learn how to analyze and other higher thinking skills.
Classifying life forms (and other things) is an excellent exercise for primary grade students. Classifying encourages improved observation skills. Is it a plant or an animal? Does it eat meat or plants? Is it awake during the day or at night? These simple classifications can help primary students further examine a variety of subjects.
Natural history and science lend themselves to a variety of measurement activities. The growth of a seed, the reproductive abilities of hamsters and the grouping characteristics of fish all provide excellent opportunities for observation and measurement. Simple natural history activities in the primary grades provide students with a bedrock of science related skills they will use in the higher grades.
Small group activities
Small group activities offer an excellent opportunity for teaching, not only natural history and science, but they can also help students learn from each other. Small groups should include a variety of learning styles to be the most productive. The benefits of studying natural history in this way include making the most of each students’ natural abilities, improved problem solving and learning to look at things with a variety of perspectives, all useful skills when studying science.
Regardless of the specific aspect of natural history being studied, the various learning styles can be used to make the most of the learning experience:
• Aural learners can create a song to report findings Logical learners can be record-keepers for the group
• Physical learners can construct experiments
• Social learners can lead and organize
• Solitary learners can be charged with tracking down relevant data
• Verbal learners can present the group’s findings
• Visual learners can illustrate the group’s experiment or findings
Studying natural history in the primary grades provides students with skills they will use in more complex science coursework in the higher grades and later in life. Allowing students to conduct their natural history experiments in small groups made up of a variety of learning styles furthers the benefits of studying natural history in the primary grades by adding interpersonal and problem-solving skills to their fundamental understanding of science.