Carol Malnor

Create a Seedy Center

Learning Centers are a staple of many classrooms. Teachers like them because they promote independence, responsibility, and allow opportunities for self-discovery. Students like them because Center activities often feel like a “game” and they get to work alongside their peers.


Use the book Pass the Energy, Please! as the basis for a variety of Centers about food chains.  An ebook Teacher’s Guide, Nature’s Food Chains, describes seven easy-to-create Centers, each one focusing on a different “intelligence.”


The focus of this center is on the “Naturalist Intelligence.” Each student sorts seeds into categories using his/her own specifications. Then the student looks at another student’s sorted seeds and determines the specifications that they used to make their categories. With dried grasses and plants readily available outside and in the garden, you can local seeds you collect as well as seeds from packets to set up the Center.

Suggested Grade Level: 3rd — 5th


  1. Read aloud the book Pass the Energy, Please! or make it available for your students to read at the Center. Have students refer to the text and illustrations to notice that a plant is at the beginning of every food chain. You may want to review a plant’s life cycle, beginning with a seed.
  2. Follow the directions in “A Seedy Activity” to set up a Center. This pdf download includes complete set-up directions, materials list, and a Center handout of student directions (page 2).
  3. Debrief the activity with your students using the “Reflection Questions.”


Common Core Standards (ELA 3-5)

Reading Informational Text

  • Integration of Knowledge and ideas: 3.7, 4.7, 5.8

Next Generation Science Standards (DCI 3-5)

Life Science

  • LS 1 — From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
  • LS2 – Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Physical Science

  • PS 1 — Energy




The Mystery of Migration

It’s Fall and animals are on the move—migrating long distances and facing extreme challenges along the way.

Migration is a powerful compulsion, but it’s also very dangerous. Why do animals do it? Where do they go? How do they succeed? Find out the answers to these questions and so much more in the book Going Home: The Mystery of Animal Migration.



LESSON PLAN: The Mystery of Migration
This lesson will capture your students interest in the phenomena of migration as they learn about the ten species featured in the book, as well as species in your local area.

Suggested Grade Level: K-4



Download a detailed migration lesson, Going Home Lesson Plan, published by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and created by Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry. This plan will take your students through the five stages of a science inquiry lesson. A brief synopsis of each stage of the lesson is below:

  1. Engage—Guess the animal being described in the read aloud using the bookmarks.
  2. Explore—Draw migration routes. Then compare distances.
  3. Explain—Sort the bookmarks in several ways: their reason for migrating, how they travel, and a category of their own choosing.
  4. Elaborate—Research the animals in your area that migrate and those that don’t migrate.
  5. Evaluate—Discuss the reason the author calls migration a mystery. Discuss the migration mysteries that scientists are still learning about.

Extension: Additional lessons for Going Home are available under “Activities” at,

Common Core Standards (ELA K-4)

  • ELA Writing: Research to Build and Support Knowledge K.7, 1.7, 2.7 3.7, 4.7
  • ELA Reading Information Text: Key Ideas and Details (K.1, K.2, K.3, 1.1,1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2,2.3, 3.1, 3.2 3.3, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3); Integration and Knowledge of Ideas (K.7, 1.7, 2.7, 3.7, 4.7)

Next Generation Science Standards (K-3)

  • LS1.A: Structure and Function
  • LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms
  • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems.

Climate Change: What’s a Teacher to Do?


thWith so much recent media coverage about climate change, young children are bound to have heard stories of gloom and doom about the future.

But what happens when we give children too much “bad news” about the environment?


Research shows that they may become fearful and anxious.* Even if our best intentions are to instill environmentally helpful behaviors, such as recycling or turning off the lights, we may be inadvertently giving kids the dauntinng message: “The ice caps are melting and it’s your job to fix the problem.”

So what’s a teacher to do?

“Without an abiding sense of comfort in and love for the natural world,  no amount of chastising about turning off the lights is going to make a bit of difference,” states David Sobel.**

What will make a difference? The answer is simple: connect children and the curriculum to the near-by natural world.

boy-with-magnifying-glass-29eyjolHow? A first step can be simple, too: Take your class go outside and have each child find a natural object. Then ask them to complete these 3 statements:

  • I  notice . . .
  • I wonder . . .
  • It reminds me of . . .

Here’s a sample response from a 4th-grader standing under a fig tree:

  • I notice that the fig leaves are different colors–some are green and others yellow.
  • I wonder why one side f the leaf is sticky.
  • It reminds me of a hand because of it’s shape.

The Next Generation Science Standards encourage children to think like a scientist, and that’s exactly what they’re doing in this activity.

  • I notice: Scientists make observations.
  • I wonder: Scientists ask questions–a lot of questions!
  • It reminds me of: Scientists make connections.


Can’t get outside. No problem!



*Finger, 1993

**David T. Sobel is an internationally-known researcher, practitioner, and promoter of developmentally appropriate environmental education for children. He’s an advocate of Place-Based Education.

Talking About Good Vibrations

BUG_COVER2Animals, including humans, feel sound as well as hear it, and good vibrations are a key to insect communication.

The NPR (National Public Radio) series “Close Listening Series: Decoding Nature through Sound,” explores ways biologists are using sound to understand animal behavior.

Noisy Bug Sing-Along introduces children to interesting insects (life science) and the sound vibrations they create (physical science).

Children are treated to scientifically accurate, up-close depictions of some very cool bugs. It explains why the bugs make the sounds they do, and how they do it—and it’s not with their voices!

New technologies have revealed this hidden vibrational world to scientists, and your students can see what sound waves look like with these audio files.

Click here for a complete lesson plan that engages children by having them feel the vibrations they make when they hum. Then, through a demonstration, they learn the four ways that bugs make sound vibrations. The lesson ends with a fun, creative activity—designing an imaginary bug and creating the sound it makes.


ACTIVITY: Safety in Numbers
Play a game that demonstrates the survival technique  of being a member of a group. True Katydids, like the one in this book, will often call together to create a chorus. This can make it difficult for bats to pick out an individual to eat. Here’s a game to demonstrate how this works. One blindfolded child (the bat) stands in the middle of a circle of children (the katydids). One katydid claps his or her hands. The bat has to locate this calling katydid by sound, and can usually do so easily! Now, the bat returns to the center. Then ALL the katydids clap together  in a pattern. Can the bat find the original katydid?
More books in the “Noisy Sing-Along” series are:


Noisy Bird Sing-Along with a  “Dawn Chorus” lesson plan. Every kind of bird has their very own kind of sound–cheerful, mournful, sweet, and even weird. You can tell who they are without even opening your eyes.


Noisy Frog Sing-Along and a list of fun and informative activities.FROG_COVER2 When frogs get together, they love to sing! It’s a chorus that happens near almost every pond and stream.

Reading, Writing, and ANIMALS!



Bees dancing, ladybugs munching, worms pooping, butterflies pollinating–wow!

A meadow ecosystem is a dynamic place, as animals find food and water, shelter and safety.

Using the book If You Love Honey spark your students’ creativity with the lesson “In My Meadow.”

Lesson Plan: In this activity, children write a story about one animal’s experience as it moves around in meadow.

1. Read aloud If You Love Honey. Show children the meadow illustration under “Sweet Connections” on the “Explore
for Kids” page. Review the plants and animals mentioned in the story. Look at the other illustrations to
notice any additional animals.
2. Explain that animals move throughout their meadow ecosystem to find food, water, shelter, and safety.
For example, bees fly from flower to flower gathering nectar (food) and deliver it to the hive (shelter and safety). Monarch butter
fly caterpillars eat the leaves of a milkweed plant (food) and then roam around the meadow looking for a suitable place to make their chrysalis (shelter and safety).
3. Have children choose one of the meadow animals and ask them to write and illustrate a short story
about the places their animal visited in the meadow. What was it doing at each place? How was it moving? What body parts allow it to move this way? What was it eating?
4. Have children share their stories with the class or in small groups. How was their animal’s experience of
the meadow the same or different from other animals’ experiences?

Common Core Standards (ELA K-3)

Reading: Literature
  • Key Ideas and Details K.1, 1.1, 2.1
  • Craft and Structure K.7, 1.7, 2.7
  • Text Types and Purposes K.3, 1.3, 2.3, 3.3
Next Generation Science Standards (DCI K-3)
Life Science
  • LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structure and Function
  • LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
  • LS4 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity


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


subscribe     Blog by Carol Malnor I love making connections: kids and nature, science and reading, fun and learning. I discovered the joy of connecting Dawn Publications' books with kids when I was a classroom teacher. Dawn's books were easy to incorporate into my lessons and the kids loved them. I used picture books with students of all ages, from primary school all the way up through 9th grade. Over the years, my relationship with Dawn changed and developed, and I authored Dawn’s Teacher’s Guides as well as writing books for children 4-14 years old. ARTICLE How to Use Creative Nonfiction Picture Books in Support of Common Core and Science ACTIVITIES Dawn Publications STANDARDS Common Core State Standards Next Generation Science Standards National Science Teachers Association Picture Perfect Science   OTHER FAVORITES Dawn Publications Children and Nature Network
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Roots and Shoots
Audubon Adventures
Journey North: Citizen Science
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