Tag Archive: urban nature

Sound and smell

We are a sight dependent species. Although there are other species, and eagle for example, who could make our quality of vision seem paltry, we rely heavily on site. Further, in this technologically miraculous age, we often have gadgets in front of our faces and or covering our ears. We forget to connect with the world around us.

One of the fundamental skills of an astute person is the ability to observe and the ability to connect seemingly random observations. Here is a simple lesson that will help kids look past seeing and practice observing the world using two other senses. The activities help students make connections between themselves and the observation and between the observations themselves.

Objective: Make and use observations using the senses hearing and smell. Practice verbal or written communication about these observations.


  • Cloth or a bandana for a blindfold
  • A journal.
  • Plain paper and crayons or colored pencils for drawing if you want.


  1. Find a comfortable place to sit. Place the blindfold over the child’s eyes. Have the child sit, quietly and without talking, and listen. Time them for two minutes. At the end of the two minutes have the child journal for two minutes about what they heard. Encourage the child to be specific, instead of writing “I heard birds” encourage the child to write I heard a bird that sounded like a squeaky door and a bird that sounded like a trilling flute.
  2. NOTE: The time and level of complexity should be adapted to meet the age of the child. Very small children may need  a shorter time. They can say or draw what they heard rather than write about it. For them, you could ask what the bird song sounded like. Did it remind them of a sound? Did it remind them of a color? Maybe a certain bird song sounded blue and another sounded yellow. Encourage whimsy and fun.
  3. Have the children share what they have heard with each other and with you.
  4. Have the child repeat the exercise and this time try to have them identify where, on a circle, that the sound may be coming from. Have them listen for two minutes and write or draw for two minutes.
  5. Have the students sit and attend to the things that they are smelling. Perhaps they smell the dampness on the air. Perhaps they smell the grass that someone is mowing somewhere down the block. Perhaps they smell the earth they are sitting on or the warmth of the sun or the faint fragrance of a flower. Perhaps they smell your perfume mixed with the bug repellent and the blanket they are sitting on. Perhaps they smell nothing. Again, give them two minutes to search the smells out and then two minutes to write or draw them.
  6. If you wish, repeat this exercise by having the child try to locate the direction the smell is coming from.


  • Have the children write or tell a story about what they heard and smelled and what it might be like to live in a world where your were more dependent on these two senses than on site.
  • Have them  find out if there are things that have to live that way.

This lesson is adapted from an activity in: Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell. More information is found here.


So you live in the City

Nothing wild lives in the city. Or at least nothing bigger or more exciting than the occasional rat. This is the common perception among most people I talk to. On the surface it appears to be true. Many neighborhoods appear, at first glance, to be asphalt and brick. What green there is are small patches of ill tended yard. Cities are blighted places.

The truth of the matter is more complex. There are many areas so blighted but most parts of most cities have a diverse and hidden wildlife populations. There is more green than you would think. Wild things can make a fine living in the canyons and green patches of large cities. It is just not seen.

Wildlife makes its living by not being seen. It is of evolutionary advantage if you are able to travel on the down low. This is why so little wildlife is seen. Common urban critters include foxes, squirrels, a greater assortment of birds than most people would credit. There are of course the ever-present pigeons, house sparrows and starlings but if you look beyond those you will find a variety of tiny birds who specialize in a diet of insects. Along water courses there will be waterfowl from mallards to gadwalls and geese. There will be tiny waders like killdeer and large waders like herons. Living here will also be muskrats and, in some cases beaver.

The key to urban wildlife is knowing when and where to look. The best time for seeking these critters is at the transition times between dusk and full light on either end of the day. This is the changing of the shifts from night to-day and day to-night and the busiest time of the day.

Rise early and take a walk. Leave the iPod at home. Watch for movement out of the corner of your eyes. Walk quietly but not sneakily. A smooth, silent walk looks like an animal going about its business. A sneaky walk looks like a predator on the hunt. Keep your ears open. Listen for the sounds of the chitter of the birds. Listen for animals talking back and forth to each other. Yes, you will hear the caterwauling of the alley cats challenging each other and the dogs barking. But, if you listen closely you may also hear the yip of the foxes talking to each other or the coyotes calling out position for the hunt or the end of the night and time for home.

Cities are more alive with wild things than they appear at first glance. Take the time to walk around where you live and if you keep your eyes open you will see your hidden neighbors.