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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

A PBJ a day will keep the animals coming to say Hey!

As someone who makes their living by scrambling over rocks, slipping, and face planting in the creek on the search for animals, I can say with certainty that learning to observe the natural world and document it right there in the field with pen and paper is a required skill. Without learning and practicing this ability as a child and through my teens, I never would be able to have the success I do as a scientist.

Student checks over his excellent drawing of a bird.


Not only has it trained me to really look closely, it’s allowed me to see even more than I ever had before. To document something accurately, through illustration or writing, requires that you really observe the creature, habitat, or plant. You can only describe what you see, so it teaches you to look closer and closer to fill in the details. It doesn’t just help you look closer and see more on a smaller detail scale, but it opens your eyes and senses to the vast wonderland that is the outdoors.

This student's closeup diagram of an ant is a great example of how much detail exists the harder and closer you look!


If you don’t believe me, let’s practice it now. Find a tree in your yard or on your block that you’ve passed a million times. In your head you can imagine that tree, you can almost place every leaf. However, I guarantee you haven’t discovered its whole mystery. Go out and look at it now, but look for something new.

This student provided a perfect example of how the closer you look the more you see!


That tree is filled with life, insects cocooning in the leaves and bark, spiders and birds out to get them. Ever expanding is the web of the ecosystem. That microscopic organism crawling its way through on the tiny hairlike structures on the surface of that leaf, is the start of a food chain that leads right up to you and me.

Here we learn that the bird has a family! If you look closely you can see the bird is feeding its babies with a small worm.


It is widely accepted that although there have been over one million insect species discovered, that’s probably only a 10th of the world's actual species. Which means that thing you just squished against your neck may have been an undiscovered species!

Kaylee Sosa's 3rd grade classroom after a hard day of journaling


The point I’m making here is that the things you can learn by sitting quietly and observing nature are endless. In fact the more you think you know everything, the sooner you will find you are wrong! I’d go through a list of times it’s happened to me, but I’m a genius and I know it all!

This page of the PBJ workbook offers an excellent trick to get your mind working and your brain observing. I notice... I wonder... It reminds me of...


Jokes aside, I keep my eyes peeled and everyday I learn something new. Whether it’s a new animal I’ve never seen before, or a new behavior from an animal I’ve seen a thousand times, all it takes is an extra second to let yourself see. This is why we are so happy to share Aspen Elementary students working hard and training their observation skills.



Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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