Authentic Inquiry Questions based on Observations: The Wonder of the Wooly Bear

Fenix holding a wooly bear caterpillar in his hand earlier in the fall.

We have been finding wooly bear caterpillars all over the yard for months. My boys love picking them up and carefully holding them in their hands. My youngest described their long, thick bristles (setae) as “scratchy.” This week he brought the banded wooly bear caterpillar to his eye and asked, “why are these caterpillars so sleepy?” 

There it is: an authentic question generated in context by a learner themselves. Authentic questions reflect what learners genuinely wonder and worry about. Authentic questions reflect what genuinely piques learners interest and holds their attention.  In a lot of ways, authentic questions are the best pathway to science education and nature exploration.

I asked, “well, what do you think? Why might the caterpillar be tired or moving around less?” He thought for awhile and said, “Maybe he is tired. Maybe he is cold and tired.”

When we went back inside, I pulled up the resources on Exploring Nature. I also pulled up an article or two online. I read the description of the wooly bear on the site and articles and asked the question back to my boys, “So, why do YOU think Wooly Bear caterpillars are so sleepy? What might be the reason?” 

Getting the correct answer was not the point. The point was treating their inquiry seriously, and providing them with potential sources that they could synthesize and draw conclusions from and discuss. Then, the next day we discussed the wooly bear life cycleand put the life cycle diagram in their nature journals. 

Eventually, we did talk about the cold weather, the decrease in food sources, and the slowing down and sleep of animals that hibernate. They think it is all very cool. I do too.

Exploring Nature with Kids

Hello and welcome back to Exploring Nature. Our incredible founder and lead creative, Sheri Amsel, has invited me to share my experience with Exploring Nature resources in the hopes of inspiring and creating value for this wonderful community.

As a mother of two and former school principal (aka I’m obsessed with growing children’s skillset and curiosities), I am grateful for the depth and breadth of resources on the Exploring Nature website. Though I have been a subscriber for nearly a decade, I have become more reliant on the resources since the pandemic hit New York last March.

Like a lot of other parents, the pandemic has presented a paradox.

On one hand, it has been scary, sad, and just plain stressful to deal with so much loss of life and uncertainty. But on the other hand, the pandemic has given me an opportunity to reimagine how I spend time with my children and what role I play in their education.

Access to Exploring Nature’s resources have become essential, and have provided my family a lifeline during these challenging times.

Through activities that I have downloaded and accessed on Exploring Nature, my children are growing their academic skillset and science muscle, and also their love and sense of responsibility for taking care of the people, animals, and environment in which they live. It is truly magical and makes me feel, dare I say, lucky.

Moving forward, it is my intention to share some of our favorites in the hopes that by doing so we will inspire new adventures and discussions among this special community. Thank you for supporting Exploring Nature and for the work that you do building the world’s capacity to understand and enjoy science, nature, and so much more.

With love & nature,


Stacy & her two junior explorers on a lovely morning hike