Make a Life List – There’s Life Everywhere (Kids & Nature Part 5)

This is a great nature-based activity to help put the natural world in perspective for your children or students. Many children live in their own world of Minecraft and PokemonGo and are normally not thinking about the living things around them. Many kids simply have no idea about the volume and variety of life that surrounds them at all times. They may think the only critters in the city aside from people (some of us can be critters) are dogs, cats and pigeons.

Making a “Life List” with your kids can be a great way for them to gain a new perspective about the place they live.

How do you make a Life List? It’s quite simple. Have your child grab their nature exploration bag with their magnifying glass, nature journal, etc. and head out to a park, big or small, near where you live.

Now it’s time to settle in for thirty minutes or an hour and closely watch the world around you. Why not start with things that move? It’s time for a critter count. There are the obvious ones like dogs, cats and birds. Look a little closer at the birds. They aren’t all pigeons. There may be crows, sparrows, starlings, jays and cardinals. You may not know the names of the birds you see, but that’s ok. Just count the variety you see.


Cosmos with a small butterfly sucking nectar. I took this picture in the 5X5 meter garden at my school. Myself and one other teacher are responsible for planting flowers and other “nature things2 around the school. 


Small ladybug on a flower in a street-side planter in downtown Kobe, Japan where I live. 

In your nature journal make some columns. You could have categories like “Flowers and Grass”, “Bugs and Crawlies”, “Birds”, “Trees” and “Bigger Things.” Look around the park and when you see something living make a tally mark in the appropriate column. As I mentioned before, if you don’t know the type of bird or insect you observe that’s ok. You can obviously tell that a grey bird is a different variety from a blue bird. Just make a tally for the different ones. The same goes for the trees, plants and flowers you see. Most people don’t know the names of many of the living things they see, but that’s a great learning opportunity for you and your child or students. If you see a striking red bird or interesting looking bug, take a picture or draw a sketch. When you’re back home or at school you can research it. If you have a device connected to the Internet you can do some sleuthing right there.


A rare city site, but this is a Mandarin Duck in a city park in Kobe, Japan not far from my house. 

Don’t just focus on the big things like birds and neighborhood dogs; check out some of the smaller things that may be living in the park. Get close to the ground and search for any insects that may be about. I guarantee you’ll at least see some ants and if the weather is warm, a lot more than that.

Examine the flowers you see. How many kinds are there? Keep a tally in your journal. Look at the flowers closely. If its spring or summer I guarantee there will be other forms of life on those flowers. Maybe you’ll see bees, butterflies or flies. Maybe you can see some small green or black aphids sucking the juice from the flower and some ladybugs eating them!


Some Goldenrod growing near a canal near a very busy highway in Kobe, Japan. 

Get close to a tree and look at the tree bark. Use your magnifying glass. You might see a line of ants heading up and down the trunk. There may be some small spiders camouflaged on the bark or caterpillars munching the leaves.

Within a very short time your child’s life list will be bigger than they could have ever imagined. They may go home after your brief time in the park with dozens if not more tally marks on that list.


Wild sow-thistle growing in the parking lot of a pharmacy in Kobe, Japan. The leaves are actually edible and used in salads in Italy and other countries!

Now you have a great opportunity to generate a conversation about their experience.

You can start with some questions like:


Did you expect to see so many living things (especially in the city)?

What surprised you the most?

Do you think it’s easy for all of these animals and plants to live together?

What do you think an insect like an ant eats? Do you think anything eats the ants?

Did you see any nature connections? Did you see any animals that need plants?

What did you like the most about making your Life List?


I’m sure there are many other questions you can think about. I bet you will have a lot more once you’ve gone outside and helped your child make their life list!




Kevin O’Shea is a passionate IB elementary educator and naturalist. The only thing he loves more than studying ornithology, entomology and about plants is teaching his own children and students about them. He is also the host of the Just Japan Podcast.

 Follow Kevin on Twitter: @jlandkev

Check out his nature photography on the Birds of Kansai Facebook page.