By Kris McDowell
Summer may be winding down and school may be starting, but there’s still plenty of time to take advantage of the beautiful Pacific Northwest to get kids outdoors and using their powers of observation to learn more about the environment around them.
Adults guiding them might even learn a few things, too, as they explore with the Backyard Science & Discovery Workbook: Pacific Northwest.
Author Dr. Robert Niese is a naturalist with expertise in Pacific Northwest flora and fauna and the author of Adventure Publications’ most recent workbook in their seven-part, region-specific series.
Since the age of 10, he dreamed of becoming an ornithologist (a person who studies birds) and has incorporated that early dream into his life as an educator and researcher.
Dr. Niese was hired by the Slater Museum of Natural History to write and implement science curricula for hundreds of elementary school classrooms throughout western Washington during his undergraduate studies.
As he worked towards his Ph.D. in comparative vertebrate anatomy, he began his blog, Northwest Naturalist (northwestnaturalist.org), where he posts images and quick facts or identification tips about common Pacific Northwest plants, bugs, birds, fungi and other wildlife.
The blog has become a scientific archive of over 600 photos and it ultimately led to him writing this book, his first.
The goal of this book, says Dr. Niese, is “to help young learners connect with the natural world and to practice being naturalists.”
To that end, the book features 25 hands-on science projects that span the whole year; 10 simple introductions to the region’s habitats and more than 12 independent inquiries to help in creating hypotheses, observing nature and practicing naturalist skills.
Having taught a wide range of students, Dr. Niese says, “Some of the best naturalists I know are just curious kids with a passion for nature. You’d be amazed at how detailed and insightful the natural history observations of a fourth grader can be.”
“In my experience,” he continued. “4th and 5th graders are at that age where they’re starting to make observations and think like scientists, but haven’t lost their drive to discover, be curious and ask questions. It makes them insatiable learners and a joy to teach.”
The book’s 8.5” x 11” format allows pictures to accompany the large-font text on nearly every page and space for uncommon words to be explained in everyday terms.
There is plenty of room for learners to write answers to the questions and quizzes and create lists of items like the birds spotted in one’s backyard and the details surrounding the discovery of a neat feather, leaf, rock or other natural object.
Observations can start at home and can be expanded to one’s neighborhood and beyond as the learner’s interest directs and the ability to do so allows.
Dr. Niese is passionate about sharing his knowledge with others and engaging curious minds about the Pacific Northwest’s plants, animals and fungi.
He says, “My greatest hope for readers is that they learn something new about nature, get outside and experience it firsthand, then share those experiences with others.”
He encourages fellow naturalists to “stay curious.”
To buy the Backyard Science & Discovery Workbook, visit northwestnaturalist.org or visit your favorite local bookstore.