Observing the Seasonal Timing
of Life Cycle Events

About Phenology and Journey North

Humans have long been aware of seasonal changes in the natural world. Phenology is the study of the seasonal timing of life cycle events such as when certain animals migrate or hatch and when different plants flower and leaf out. This timing is directly affected by day length, temperature, and rainfall.

When Journey North students closely observe the natural world and record data, they notice and better understand patterns of seasonal change. As they do this over many years, they can join scientists and other citizens who look for clues about our changing climate and its impact on living things.

How to Collect Phenology Observations

Once each month, go outside as a class and record the changes you see. Use the Phenology Checklists below. Begin on the Fall Equinox in September (or as close as you can). Go outside one month later and see how things have changed. Journey North will send a monthly e-mail reminder.

Each Phenology Checklist begins with sunlight and progresses up the food chain — from sunlight to plants to animals.

FALL: Watch what happens as sunlight decreases and temperatures drop in the fall. Plants die or go dormant, so food is less available to animals. Some migrate, some hibernate, and others rely on physical adaptations.

SPRING: Watch how the food chain rebuilds in the spring as the season progresses. Energy from the sun increases, temperatures rise, ice melts, and plant growth begins. The animals that eat plants appear first, followed by their predators — and so on up the food chain.
Fall Checklists
Spring Checklists
What to Do with Your Data
  • Report some of your observations in our Fall Nature Notes and see what others have shared. How do seasonal changes vary from place to place? >>

  • Find a partner classroom and compare your phenology data! >>

  • Create a seasonal timeline or display. Encourage other classrooms to help track various seasonal events, and provide a complete picture of spring or fall's journey through your hometown — and across the hemisphere. >>

  • Ask Questions

    Before looking at Phenology Checklists:

    • What signs tell us that fall (or spring) is approaching? (You may want to add these to the Journey North list, or create your own.)
    • What sounds, smells, colors, and feelings accompany these changes?

    Throughout the season — and from year to year (as you compare phenology checklists):

    • How does ______ (event or change) seem to relate to _______ (event or change)?
    • What changes can we predict with accuracy (e.g., length of sun's shadow at different times, spring equinox, last day of school)?
    • What factors vary from year to year based on weather (bulbs blooming, ice out, first robin)?
    • How do climate factors — such as long-term temperatures and moisture averages — seem to relate to phenology events?
Other Lesson Links: Exploring the Seasons