mystery Welcome back to a new school year and to a new "Who Am I?" contest. Teachers and Parents: I invite you to enter our weekly mystery contest. It's fun and easy!
Just read the clues below. They describe an aspect of nature—a plant, animal, mineral, habitat, or natural process.
When you're ready to make your guess about who or what I am, click ENTER NOW. Winners are selected monthly. Please note, books are shipped only to US addresses.
Who Am I?
spacerglass1 Clue 1:  I spend almost all of my time underground.
glass1 Clue 2: My tunnels help the soil by mixing and loosening it.
glass1 Clue 3: I eat grubs and insects, but my favorite food is earthworms.
glass1 Clue 4: Some people don't like the little hills I leave in their lawns. They're not mountains.
Do you think you know who I am? ENTER NOW.
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday.
If you guessed correctly, you’re automatically entered into the drawing for a set of nature books from Dawn Publications.
A contest winner will be announced the first week of the month. Good luck!
Throughout the school year, clues for a new Who Am I are posted no later than Sunday night, so you can use them with your class on Monday morning.
The answer to the previous week's mystery was: Potato Teachers, click here to get ideas about how to use the contest with your students.

Why Go Outside?




I love the beginning of a new school year. Everyone (teachers, kids, and parents) have a clean slate.

It’s a time to approach learning with fresh energy and new perspectives  —  it’s a great opportunity to establish a regular routine of going outside.

Why Go Outside? Simply put—it can improve both classroom learning and classroom behavior.

There is no doubt that as a teacher, you get pulled in many directions as you try to offer your students the best possible educational opportunities. It’s a balancing act – you have to make some tough choices about how your students spend their time.

kids-playing-hens-chicksThat’s why it’s worth remembering that a variety of research has shown that creatively engaging children with the natural world on a regular basis can make a huge difference in their health, well-being, and ability to learn.

  • Students who spend more time outdoors in natural areas are more motivated and enthusiastic about learning.  Their academic achievement is also higher across multiple subject areas.
  • Having a natural view from a classroom makes a difference – it positively impacts both student academic achievement and behavior.
  • Students’ classroom behavior is better when they have recess.

But when you can’t go outside, you can use books to foster an understanding and appreciation of nature.

NBIRD_COVERThis week’s featured book is Noisy Bird Sing-Along. Bring the outdoors inside using this free downloadable lesson, called Dawn Chorus.

This lesson is aligned with both Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.





Betcha Can’t Read Just One

girlbookJust like many of you, this blog is going on summer vacation. I’ll be back in the middle of August with more lessons. In the meantime, enjoy some summer reading with these books.

Just like eating potato chips, when you find a good book series, “you can’t read just one.”
Below are several series that will inspire kids and families go outside and discover the wonders of nature—you’ll have a great time and learn something fascinating too!
Extend your nature experience with activities from Dawn Publications.

A Field Trip Between Covers
Look at just one element in nature and you’ll discover a whole community of creatures living in, on, around, or under it. These books combine humor, a fun rhyme, good science, and brilliant illustrations.

Around One Log
Under One Rock
Around One Cactus
In One Tidepool
Near One Cattail
On One Flower

The BLUES Go Birding
—Want to inspire youngsters to appreciate birds? The BLUES books are the ticket. As one major reviewer said, it’s “a lighthearted romp with solid information on birds and bird watching that could inspire future ornithologists.”

The BLUES Go Birding Across America
The BLUES Go Birding At Wild America’s Shores

The “Over” Series
—Adapted from the traditional song “Over in the Meadow,” this series features animals from a wide variety of habitats. Kids will be clapping, counting, and singing!

Over in the Arctic
Over in Australia
Over in the Forest
Over in the Jungle
Over in a River
Over on a Mountain
Over in the Ocean

Noisy Sing-along
—This series is a wonderful bridge to a whole noisy, busy world of insects, frogs, and birds. Kids can sing-along with the book and then listen online to the actual sounds.

Noisy Bug Sing-along

Noisy Frog Sing-along
Noisy Bird Sing-along

Jo MacDonald
—Young Jo is Old MacDonald’s granddaughter. Children will love joining her to discover three new habitats E-I-E-I-O!
Jo MacDonald Had a Garden
Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods
Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond

Earth Heroes
—The books in this series are especially for upper elementary and middle school kids. They’re biographies that feature the youth, careers and lasting contributions of some of the world’s greatest naturalists and environmentalists.

Champions of the Wilderness
Champions of the Ocean
Champions of Wild Animals

UNIV1_COVER2The Universe Tells Its Own Story—This series tells the amazing story of the universe and our Earth’s creation with scientific accuracy but without diminishing the mystery and wonder.
Born With a Bang
From Lava to Life
Mammals Who Morph

What’s in the Garden?

Read the riddle below to figure out what’s in the garden:

Delicious, nutritious, what could it be?
In spring there are blossoms all over the tree.
Red, green, or yellow, with fruit that is round.
If you don’t pick it, it plops to the ground.

(The answer to this riddle is found in the book What’s in the Garden? by Marianne Berkes and also at the end of this post.)

LESSON PLAN: Name the Plant
In this activity, students solve fruit and vegetable riddles, learn about the six parts of a plant, and match the twelve fruits and vegetables in What’s in the Garden? to a specific plant part.

Suggested Grade Level: K-3


  • The book What’s in the Garden?
  • Optional: the 12 fruits and vegetables mentioned in the riddles–apple, lettuce, broccoli, blueberry, celery, tomato, cucumber, onion, potato, corn, and pumpkin

Download complete directions available on the Dawn Publications website. The lesson includes suggestions for younger and older students.

Additional Resources
Easy-to-prepare recipes for each of the fruits and vegetables are included in the book, and bookmarks of all the plants are available on the Dawn Publications website, click the Activities tab and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Common Core Standards (ELA K-3)

  • Reading: Literature–Key Ideas and Details (K.1, 2.1, 3.1); Craft and Structure (K.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5); Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (K.7, 1.7, 2.7, 3.7)
  • Reading: Informational Text–Key Ideas and Details (K.1, 2.1, 3.1); Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (K.7, 1.7, 2.7, 3.7)

Next Generation Science Standards (DCI K-3)

  • LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: A. Structures and Processes; B. Growth and Development of Organisms
  • LS2: Ecosystems: A. Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics; B. Cycles of Matter and Energy in Ecosystems
  • LS3: Heredity: A.Inheritance and Variation of Traits; B. Variation of Traits

ggk-book-award-seal-SGARDENING AWARDS GALORE
The Junior Master Gardener Program and the American Horticultural Society honor engaging, inspiring works of plant, garden and ecology-themed children’s literature through the “Growing Good Kids – Excellence in Children’s Literature Awards” Program.

What’s in the Garden? is the current winner and Molly’s Organic Farm (last week’s featured book) was the winner of the award in 2013.

(Answer to the riddle: Apple)


Children learn about the world they live in through their five senses, and the garden is rich in sensory experiences. In Molly’s Organic Farm, children experience a year on the farm through the eyes, ears, and paws of a stray cat—Molly!
A gate creaks open (hearing), Molly looks (seeing), Molly sniffs compost (smelling), the sun is hot (feeling), and Molly eats treats (tasting).

In this activity students listen for sensory words in the story and match them with one of the five senses.

All of the sensory words in the story are compiled in a Sensory Word List in a pdf from Dawn Publications.

A list of additional resources and suggestions for more nature connections are also listed.

Grade Level Suggestion: K-2

Materials: the book Molly’s Organic Farm


  1. Review the five senses.
  2. Read aloud Molly’s Organic Farm pointing out the examples of Molly using her five senses on page 30. Show the class the related pages in the story, especially the small boxes that highlight Molly’s nose, tongue, paws, and eyes.
  3. Using the Sensory Word List, read a word and have students do a corresponding motion:
  • Seeing—point to eyes
  • Hearing—point to ears
  • Smelling—point to nose
  • Tasting—stick out tongue

       4. You may then reread the entire story having children listen for and act out the sensory words.

In a Speck of Soil

There’s lots going in the school garden! Connect your students’ garden experiences with science—soil science!

Soil is like a thin living layer of skin covering the land. Everything we come into contact with on a daily basis can be traced back to soil. Soil is capable of supporting plant life and is vital to life on earth.


Read aloud the book Jo MacDonald Had a Garden. Youngsters learn about garden ecosystems and stewardship through this playful adaptation of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

Then have them examine garden soil through observation and using scientific tools. Soils are complex mixtures of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and countless organisms that are the decaying remains of once-living things.

Suggested Grade Level: K-2

Complete directions, as well as extension activities, are provided in a PDF of “In a Speck of Soil” created by author Mary Quattlebaum. Your students will become “scientists” as they investigate the soil.

Common Core Standards (ELA K-2)
Reading Literature: Craft and Structure (K.5, 1.4, 2.4)

Next Generation Science Standards (DCI K-2)
LS-1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structure and Processes
LS-2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
PS-1: Matter and Its Interactions


More Than Just “Tweet-Tweet”

NBIRD_COVERIt’s spring. You’re out for a morning walk and you hear birds singing! It’s more than just “tweet-tweet.”  You hear buzzes, warbles, and trills. Maybe even a quack. Why are birds singing? And what are they saying? And WHO are these birds anyway?

Get the answers to these questions in this week’s lesson plan!

LESSON PLAN: Dawn Chorus

Listening to birds is a fascinating way to learn about animal communication. Noisy Bird Sing-Along introduces students to the sounds of 12 common birds. In this activity, students imitate the sounds of the birds as you “conduct” them in a “dawn chorus”—after listening to recordings of actual birds!
You may follow the directions below, or download a PDF of the lesson, which includes two handouts.

Common Core Standards (ELA K-3)
Reading: Informational Text
•Craft and Structure (K.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5)
•Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (K.7, 1.7, 2.7, 3.7)
Speaking and Listening
•Comprehension and Collaboration (K.1, 1.1, 2.1, 3.1)

Next Generation Science Standards (DCI K-3)

LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
A: Structure and Function
B: Growth and Development of Organisms
C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
D: Information Processing

Suggested Grade Level: K-3


  • The book Noisy Bird Sing-Along
  • Handout: “About the birds in this book,” included in PDF
  • Handout: “Bird Sounds,” one copy to post or write on the board, included in PDF
  • Overhead projector or white board
  • Computer access to play the online sounds of actual birds from the Dawn Publications website
Teacher Prep:
Cut apart the handout so that each bird is on a separate slip of paper


1. Read aloud Noisy Bird Sing-Along. Have students imitate the sound on each page. Point out that some birds have
melodious songs, others have calls, and the woodpecker makes a noise called “drumming.” The additional
information on the page refers to the habitat and feeding behavior of each bird.
2. Discuss the reasons why birds sing. Then reread the book again, but this time play the recording of the
actual bird, which is available on the Dawn Publications website. Listen for the sounds as they are written in the book; for example, ask students if they can hear “cheery up, cheerio” in the actual robin’s song.
3. Explain that birds are active singers in the early morning as they’re waking up and establishing territory
or singing to attract mates. The sound of many birds singing in the morning is called the “dawn chorus.”
4. Tell the class that you’re going to conduct them in a dawn chorus. Divide the class into small groups and
assign each of them a bird. Give each group a slip of paper with information about their bird. Choose one
student to read it aloud to the entire class.
5. Refer to the list of “Bird Sounds” (either projected or written on the board). Give groups a few moments
to rehearse their sounds. When they’re ready, point to one group at a time and have them “sing” for the
others. You may go in the same order as presented in the book, or you may choose to have the wood-
peckers begin tapping to set the rhythm for other groups to join in.
6. Now they’re ready for the dawn chorus! Point to a group and have them make their sound and keep
singing as you point to the other groups. Let the entire chorus resound for several seconds. If possible,
make a recording of the performance to play back to the class

Note: This activity is adapted from Bird Sleuth’s Feathered Friends Activities, a collection of monthly lessons about birds. You can download an entire year of activities!
Take advantage of the free information and resources at BirdSleuth K-12.

What’s Blooming Where You Are?

What flower do you think of when you hear the statement, “Spring flowers are blooming.” Did tulips, daffodils, crocuses, or poppies come to mind?

If you live in southern Arizona, you may have thought of a cactus flower. The desert blooms from March through May, and one of the most spectacular flowers belongs to the Saguaro Cactus—home to many desert critters.


The book Around One Cactus: Owls, Bats and Leaping Rats introduces students to the fascinating creatures that live in and around the Saguaro Cactus.

One desert animal, the Kangaroo Rat, is so efficient in converting the dry seeds it eats into water that it needs no other water source.

In this activity students use scientific observation to discover how changes in an animal’s environment can effect water retention.

Note: Refer to the directions below, or download a PDF of this lesson. Additional lesson plans for this book are available on the Dawn Publications website under the “Activities” tab.

Suggested Grade Level: 3-5


  1. Read aloud the book Around One Cactus. After reading the story, read the “Field Notes” in the back. Discuss some of the special adaptations desert animals use to survive, especially the Kangaroo Rat.
  2. Provide each student or group with a small sponge saturated with water. Explain to students that this represents a desert animal with a limited amount of water.
  3. To measure the beginning moisture content, each student or group should use the balance to determine the mass of the sponge. A control sponge should be left unprotected for the experiment’s duration.
  4. Over a 24-hour period, students should take care of their “animal” in a manner that will best conserve the water it contains using only natural materials. During this 24-hour period, the “animal” must be left out for at least 4 hours to “feed.”
  5. At the beginning of the experiment invite students to plan a water retention strategy and write it down along with predictions of what will happen.
  6. During the 24-hour period, students should make and record observations.
  7. At the end of the allotted times, students should again record the mass of their sponges, compare it with the previous mass, and make inferences about the results in relation to real organisms with limited or temporary water supplies such as the lizards, rats, and foxes mentioned in Around One Cactus.

    Common Core Standards (ELA)
    Reading Informational Test
    Key Ideas and Details (3.3, 4.3, 5.3)
    ~Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (3.7, 4.7)

    Science Framework Connection
    ~LS-1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
    ~LS-2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
    ~LS-3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation in Traits
    ~LS-4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

International Mother Earth Day

Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22! Education is at the heart of Earth Day. It began in 1970 in the U.S. with an “environmental teach in.” In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day. This year 193 participating countries will be participating. 

Just imagine all of nature—mountains, prairies, oceans, deserts, and all—lying on your bed as a patchwork quilt.  Nature’s Patchwork Quilt does just that!

This nonfiction picture book spreads out the plants and animals of Earth’s unique habitats for children to learn about, enjoy, care for, and love. 

Choose from three different lesson plans based on the book, meeting standards for grades K-8.

LESSON PLAN (grades K-2)
Where’s the Wilderness Kid?

Images of children interacting with nature are shown in some of the quilt pieces in Nature’s Patchwork Quilt. Read the book aloud to your students. Then follow the directions in the lesson “Where’s the Wilderness Kid?” to have your students find the hidden kids and discuss human activities that can be done in each habitat.

Common Core Connection

~ Informational Text: Key Ideas and Details (1.6); Craft and Structure (K.7); Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (K.7, 1.7, 2.7, )
~Speaking and Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration(K.1, 1.1, 2.1)

Science Framework Connection
~Earth and Human Activity (K)
~Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems (K, 2)
~Structures and Processes (1)

Wild Wonderful Words

Nature’s Patchwork Quilt introduces vocabulary words, such as interdependence and biodiversity. Read the book aloud, or have students read it, and then follow the directions in the lesson “Wild Wonderful Words.” A complete list of words and definitions is included.

After identifying the new vocabulary, walk around your school grounds to find concrete examples of the terms, such as camouflage, adaptation, or survival mechanism. Back in the classroom, identify the vocabulary terms that you couldn’t find around the school, such as zooplankton or phytoplankton.

Common Core Connection
~ Informational Text:Craft and Structure (3.4, 4.4, 5.4)
~Speaking and Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration(3.1, 4.1, 5.1)

Science Framework Connection
~Earth and Human Activity (3)
~Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems (4)
~Nature and Matter in Ecosystems (5)

Earth Heroes in Action

One of the quilt designs in Nature’s Patchwork Quilt illustrates 18 environmentalists, including Rachel Carson examining ocean vegetation, John Muir exploring the forest, and Jane Goodall observing a chimpanzee. All of the environmentalists are chosen from the Earth Heroes series of biographies.

Have your students work in groups to research one of the Earth Heroes and prepare a presentation for the class. Presentations should include the following: (1) one childhood incident, (2) several key turning points in the person’s life, (3) major accomplishments, and (4) lasting contribution of the hero to the environment. Direct students to noticing the organization of the Earth Heroe’s books, including the sections titled Timeline, Ripples of Influence, and Accomplishments.

Common Core Connection
~ Informational Text: Key Ideas and Details (5.3, 6.3, 7.3, 8.3); Craft and Structure (5.6, 6.6, 7.6 8.6)
~Writing: Text Types and Purposes (5.2, 6.2, 7.2, 8.2); Production and Distribution (5.6, 6.6, 7.6, 8.6); Research to Build and Present knowledge (5.8, 6.8, 7.8, 8.8)

Science Framework Connection
~Earth and Human Activity (5-8)
~Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics (5-8)

Poetry Month with Picture Books

It’s Poetry Month! A great time to address the Common Core poetry standards in a fun and engaging way.

A suggested “Text Exemplar” for this standard is Over in the Meadow, a traditional song that’s been sung since the 1880s.

OMTN_COVERThe song’s timeless charm has new appeal for children today in the form of a picture book series by Marianne Berkes.* Each of the books in the “Over” series follows the same pattern as Over in the Meadow while introducing various animals in specific habitats. 

Over on a Mountain: Somewhere in the World is her newest book in the series.

Here’s a complete listing of all seven titles with links to tips from the author and lesson plans; just scroll down the page alphabetically. Address CCSS and NGSS by reading one of these picture books with your children!

Over on a Mountain: Somewhere in the World
Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme
Over in the Ocean, On a Coral Reef
Over in the Arctic Where the Cold Wind Blows
Over in the River: Flowing Out to the Sea

Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under
Over in a Forest: Come and Take a Peek

Common Core Standards (ELA K-3)

~Standard 10: Text Complexity, Quality, and Range
Next Generation Science Standards (DCI K-3)
~LS1: From Molecules to Organisms:

~LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
~LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
~LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

*Be sure to check out Marianne’s blog with a great poetry idea: Put a Poem in Your Pocket.



April Showers

We all know that April showers bring May flowers. But did you know that April’s showers are a crucial part of the earth’s water cycle? Let Pitter and Patter, two drops of rain, teach you all about it!

Pitter and Patter fall from a gray cloud. They tumble from the sky, careen off a leaf, plunge into a stream, flow through an underground cave, and travel through the entire water cycle.

LESSON PLAN: Nature Detective
Pitter and Patter meet many different “characters” in a variety of habitats as they journey through a watershed—squirrels, herons, seals, and foxes, just to name a few. In this activity, students learn more about each character, are introduced to new vocabulary terms, and become “nature detectives” drawing and/or writing about other critters in the habitat.
*NOTE: A pdf of this lesson is available here from Dawn Publications.

Suggested Grade Level: K-3

~ A copy of the book Pitter and Patter
~ Handout “Nature Detectives,” 1 copy for each student. Available here from Dawn Publications.
This handout is 20 pages long. It’s very complete with information about 9 habitats (oak tree, stream, valley, wetland, meadow, soil, cave, river, ocean) and three animals that live in each habitat.

1. Read aloud the story about Pitter and Patter.
2. Referring to the two pages in the back of the book titled “Explore More—For Kids,” follow Pitter and Patter through the water cycle beginning and ending with the gray cloud. Pay specific attention to the characters they meet along the way.
3. Using the handout, introduce habitats presented in the story  and have students take turns reading about the characters.
4. Review the vocabulary terms, adding more explanation as needed.
5. Have students complete the “Nature Detective” section for each habitat. There are several options for how you can have them do this: students may work individually or in small groups, with each person/group doing one habitat. Or, you may cover one or two habitats a day. For older students, you may want to assign “Nature Detective” for homework.
6. No matter which format you choose, have students share their completed writing/illustrations with the class or in small groups.

Common Core Standards (ELA K-3)
Reading: Informational Text
Key Ideas and Details (K.1, 1.1, 2.1, 3.1)
Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (K.7, 1.7, 2.7, 3.7)
Text Types and Purposes (K.3, 1.3, 2.3, 3.3)

Next Generation Science Standards (DCI K-3)
PS1: Matter and Interactions
A: Structure and Properties of Matter
B: Chemical Reactions
ESS2: Earth’s Systems
C: The Roles of Water in the Earth’s Surface Processes
LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
A: Structure and Function
C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
D: Information Processing
LS2: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems



Carol I believe in making all kinds of connections: kids and nature, science and reading, fun and learning. I’ve been an elementary, middle school, and high school teacher, and founder of two alternative high schools. For eight years I was instructional designer for Performance Learning Systems. I’ve authored all of Dawn’s Teacher’s Guides and written books for children 4-14 years old.

How to Use Creative Nonfiction Picture Books in Support of Common Core and Science

Dawn Publications

Common Core State Standards
Next Generation Science Standards
National Science Teachers Association
Picture Perfect Science

Dawn Publications
Children and Nature Network
Sharing Nature Worldwide
Roots and Shoots
Audubon Adventures
Journey North: Citizen Science