I love a good picture book that mixes a story and science facts. Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard does just that. A family that loves to garden does their spring planting. Throughout the summer, the children begin to notice food chains or relationships between “who is eating who” in the garden. Throughout the story, a pair of clever chickens give little factoids from composting to photosynthesis.
A food chain is literally a chain of living things where each link depends on the next for a source of food. An example of a food chain is: sunflower – sunflower seed – mouse – hawk. A food web is when you combine the food chains in an ecosystem linking them by their interconnections.
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After reading Secrets of the Garden, head outdoors to your own garden, a nearby flower bed or park. Sit still. The longer you look, the more you will notice! What do you see? An insect? A spider web? Evidence that a larger animal has been nearby? How can you use this new information to understand the food chains in this place?
I often find insects I have never noticed before in my garden. When I spot them, the first thing I do is try to identify them. You can identify yours too! You just need to find a field guide for your area. Some guides can even help you identify garden insects specifically, like: Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs.
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Once I know what the insect is, I can begin to understand what it eats, what eats it, and what may depend on it. In the garden, I specifically want to know, how will having this insect in the garden affect my flowers and vegetables? Everything in nature is part of an even bigger food web. As the chickens describe in Secrets of the Garden, food webs can be very complicated, but also fascinating. When you grow a garden, you are part of a much bigger food web!
You can take your observations from your garden, or the examples in the book and create your own food chains and web. Let’s use some examples from the story. The most simple food chain is: “lettuce-rabbit (eats lettuce)”. A more complicated example is: “potato-potato beetle (eats leaves)-spider (eats beetle)-robin (eats spider)”. These plants and animals are all parts of other food chains too!
Once you start to list your food chains, you can begin to make a paper version.
Materials needed to create your Food Paper Chains
How to make your food paper chains
Using some strips of paper, begin to make a paper chain to represent the food chains in your garden or in the story. Once you have a bunch of chains, link the similar plants or animals to form a web.
I saw that in my food chains more than one chain had lettuce, and more than one had caterpillars. So I linked those.
I’ve only just begun to build my web, how big can you make yours? Where else can you find food chains and webs? Have fun exploring!
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Sarah Benton Feitlinger, M.Ed. is a former Preschool-6th science teacher, who now blogs and writes/develops science curriculum. She is passionate about educating children, anything and everything science!
Check out her blog, Share it! Science News for science activities, lessons, science news and other resources for teachers, homeschoolers and parents.