When you look out your window, do you see any plants growing outside? Yes? Then this is for YOU! In this activity for your nature journal, Sylas shows us how to track a plant’s growth over time, watching it grow and wondering what will happen. He’s been tracking the growth of a Clintonia lily living in his neighborhood redwood forest, but any plant in your yard or neighborhood will be great for tracking its development.
“Phenology” is nature’s calendar. This is the study of tracking plant (or animal) growth and development alongside seasonal factors like amount of daylight and climate conditions. This activity asks kids to look into one simple (yet fascinating!) piece of a phenology study: tracking the growth of one particular plant!
Anywhere outdoors with access to a plant: Wild or planted. Tree, shrub, or herb. Flowering annual, perennial, or vegetable in your garden. Weeds in your lawn or emerging from a sidewalk crack. All of these will work, but for the most exciting experience pick a plant that think will be going through some seasonal changes (unfurling new leaves, opening flowers, developing fruits, dropping leaves, etc.).
– Nature Journal: A notebook (preferably with blank pages) or clipboard and stapled together blank paper
– measuring tape or ruler
– pencil/pen and other drawing supplies if desired
– “Watch It Grow!” data collection sheet linked to below (paste it into your nature journal). This sheet is optional — but helpful — as you can also sketch the plant and record measurements directly into journal pages as you like.
15 minutes once or twice per week for several weeks or even months
1. Download data collection sheet and paste into your nature journal.
2. Choose a plant to track the growth of. Herbaceous annual plants that grow and flower relatively quickly throughout the spring and summer will be the most exciting to watch. Mark your plant with a flag or tag to be sure you are tracking the same individual with each visit!
3. Collect measurements of your plant once or twice weekly for several weeks or months. Measure stem length, length of longest leaf, number of leaves, number of flowers, number of fruits, number of leaves dropped, and/or whatever makes the most sense for your particular plant. Be sure to include the date with each set of measurements!
4. After several weeks, take a good look at the data you collected and get curious…
– What surprised you about your plant?
– What factors may have influenced the growth of this plant versus the one over there?
– What growth patterns do you see?
– What changes do you think you’ll find if you check in on
your plant in 1 month? 6 months? 1 year? 10 years?
– Make a weekly sketch of your plant in your nature journal. Label plant parts as they develop.
– Look around at other plants of the same type. Can you find the biggest? Smallest? Longest leaf? One with the most flowers/cones/fruits/etc.?
– Have a family member track their own plant of the same type and have a friendly Growth Competition! (Sylas resoundingly beat his Dad in our Clintonia lily Growth Competition!)
– Dive deeper into this exploration by checking out the full Phenology Curriculum at the STEM Humboldt blog. Here you’ll find a weather data collection sheet to pair with your Watch It Grow data collection sheet and much more.
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