A field study plot is an area set aside for making observations over time. By observing a particular plot of ground, scientists can learn about how the plants in the plot grow, what animals use those plants, and other valuable information about the area. In a small field study plot the most common animals you will observe will be invertebrates (animals without backbones) such as insects, spiders, and slugs.
Choose a plot or several plots in your schoolyard or outdoor classroom. You can rope off your plot(s) if you choose. Explain to the children that they are going to look closely and carefully at a plot of ground over the next few months. Take them to the field study plot. Have them make observations about what they see. Record their observations. Encourage them to look for animals, small plants, and other signs of life at the ground level. Encourage them to use their senses. What do they see? What do they hear? What do they smell? Is there anything that the children are hoping to learn about the plot of ground over the next few months?
Take the children to the study plot on a regular basis and record their observations. Try taking pictures every week and making a poster board showing how the plot has changed. How has the plot changed? What animals do you see? Have plants in the study plot grown or changed? How are the animals using the plants in the study plot? What have you learned from your study plot? What would you like to find out next time?
Make field journals for children to draw or make observations at your study plot. You can use spiral bound notebooks and create covers for them or you can make your own journals with paper. One way to make journals is to cut 8×11 sheets of paper in half, make a stack of paper as thick as you would like them, hole-punch two holes at the top, thread a rubber band through and then around a small stick that is the width of your paper. The stick will be at the top and front of your journal and hold it together. You can have the children collect the sticks themselves on a walk around the schoolyard or local park. Allow children to decorate the front of their journals. Try bringing in leaves or other natural items for them to glue to the front.
Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills (from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) is a great resources to download to get you started on using science notebooks (also called a field journal) to build your children’s observation skills!