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Da Vinci Summer V: How to Observe a Caterpillar


“Let us dig our furrow in the fields of the commonplace.” Jean-Henri Fabre

Children become science-minded by exploring their observations of the world around them. Science is much more than facts in a textbook. Facts are only a fraction of the picture. Science is a process that allows us to discover how the world works.

I remember one summer my brother being fascinated with caterpillars. One, in particular stands out in my mind. His name was Ralph. Yes, Ralph the caterpillar. My brother kept the fuzzy creature in a Stride Rite shoebox nested with a handful of twigs and torn leaves. What I remember most about the brief time that Ralph spent in my brother’s observation box before being set free, was my brother’s focused attention, magnifying glass in hand. While he did not keep a record of his observations, I know that my brother was honing his curiosity. But, I must admit, I’ve often wondered what his Observation Journals would have contained. How fun it would be to look back on an archive of his curiosity.

All four of my children have numerous journals of this sort and it is wonderful to look back and recognize the diversity and specificity of their unique observations.

Here is how to begin an Observation Journal:


  • A binder to collect completed observations
  • Cardstock for drawing
  • Lined paper for writing
  • Pencil
  • Colored Pencils
  • Chalk Pastel
  • Thick and thin waterproof markers
  • Watercolor Pencils
  • Watercolor
  • Magnifying Glass

1. Look at the subject for a while.
  Look at what you are observing. Pick the object up, turn it around, use a magnifying glass to see texture and detail. Take your time and try to throw out any preconceived notions about the subject.

2. Talk about what is seen.
 Join the fun by engaging children in conversation about the details of the object being observed.

3. Draw the object with realistic detail.
 Encourage children to look at the lines, textures, and shapes. Have them think about proportions as they translate the three dimensional object to a 2-dimensional object on paper. When the drawing is complete, have them think about the color of the object and try to match the colors as close to the real thing as possible.

4. Read about the object.
 Find a book or internet article to find facts about the object being observed. Suggest that notes on a topic wheel might help to organize ideas.

5. Explore the object’s potential.
 What did you learn? What importance does the object hold in our world?

6. Write about the object. 
Combine and convey information gained through direct observation and research.

When children observe they utilize diverse reasoning modes that will, in turn, cultivate their ability to engage in the art of learning.

Why not begin the Observation Journaling with a caterpillar? Taking Fabre’s advice to heart, no need to travel to observe nature! Step out into your own backyard in search of a caterpillar or two. And, if need be,  transplant a caterpillar from the World Wide Web via your printer!

Provide your child with some colored pencils, a pitcher of ice water, and a cozy backyard perch. Curiosity will do the rest.

Here’s to Da Vinci Summer V, eyes open!

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