Objectives: Kids will learn the definition of a species and ecosystem. They will observe and count plant and animal species in their own back yard in order to see that every place on earth is part of an intricate ecosystem.
Materials: Poster with pictures of easily recognizable animals and plants common in backyards and urban settings, paper and marker to keep a tally of species
Does anyone know what an ecosystem is? An ecosystem is a community of animals and plants that live in the same place and interact. An ecosystem includes all of the animals, insects, plants, and environment of that community. (show examples of ecosystems – rainforest, desert, etc.)
So, do you see a rainforest or a desert around here? No – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ecosystems right here in Carrboro! In fact, there are ecosystems EVERYWHERE! Sometimes you just have to look for them.
Have you ever thought about how many plants and animals live right here in your neighborhood? For instance, how many of you have ever seen this? [point to some common animal in the poster, for instance a squirrel] and this? [point to something somewhat less common, like a cardinal], and this? [something a little rarer, like a raccoon or possum. If they don’t’ know what it, explain it]. But remember, even things that we often don’t see, or don’t want to see are also important in an ecosystem [point to the cockroach].
Well now that you’re thinking about it, what kinds of plants and animals do you think you would find right outside? (allow them to give examples, and if they don’t know, talk about all the different trees and grasses, insects, squirrels, etc.)
Today we’re going to prove that we live in and are surrounded by a special ecosystem. To do that, let’s go find as many plants and animals as we can!
- Lead the group walking around the neighborhood or anywhere locally outdoors, looking at plants and looking closely for insects and other animals. Have the group keep a tally of how many different organisms they find.
- At a chosen spot, make them focus on a delimited surface and try to make them aware of how many different living things they can see.
- Maybe all they see are plants. Even so, stress how many different kinds they can find in such a limited and accessible spot. Then make the connection “a lot of different plants will be eaten by many different animals”.
Post-activity discussion questions:
- How many species did we find right here in your own back yard?
- Do you think that all of those living things are important to this ecosystem? (prompt them to say yes if they say no)
Why are they important? (briefly explain niches and trophic chain, and that an ecosystem relies on interactions among all of its components)