Have you seen this sign posted at some parks and beaches: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints"? With camera in hand, your child can enjoy protected natural resources and gather specimen photos for leaf and insect collections.

In this article I walk you, the parent, through the steps of preparing for this event by creating one page templates on which the child records leaf or insect information, and attaches a photo.

A completed photo insect collection page, featuring the tarantula.

A completed photo insect collection page, featuring the tarantula.

Why a Photo Collection?

Collecting the actual specimen has a unique appeal to kids because they get to hold, feel, and smell each leaf. They feel the spiny legs of insects tugging against the skin. So, then, why create a photo collection instead? I came up with the following benefits:

  • Photo retains original specimen color
  • Less bulky
  • No dead insect odors
  • Less fragile, easier to carry and show
  • Child learns about photography at the same time
  • Photos offer more presentation options
  • To obey the rules where collection is prohibited

The Goal

The goal is to create a template page and print a copy for each leaf or insect. Each specimen will have one page to be filled out by the child with relevant information and a photo.

There are many ways to structure this project. Here is my suggestion for a smooth workflow:

  1. Parent: If you are not home schooling, check with your child's teacher to make sure that a photo collection is acceptable.
  2. Parent: Create a specimen page template with a word processor, or start with ours.
  3. Parent: Print one template page for each specimen and give to child.
  4. Parent: Give an inexpensive camera to the child for photographing the collection. A digital camera is ideal, but a Polaroid of film camera will also work.
  5. Child: Take photos of specimen and record data on the printed sheets.
  6. Parent: Print or develop photos.

    Tip: Conserve supplies by printing two smaller photos on a single 4x6" paper using your favorite digital photo editing software.

  7. Parent & Child: Trim photos to fit the template page.
  8. Child: Afix photos to the correct specimen pages.
  9. Child: Collect all pages into a binder, write a report, and turn in for a grade.

In the above workflow, I assume that the printing will be done by the parent and the child will fill in the information by hand. For older kids who are skilled at using a word processor, consider letting them type in the information for a crisp printed page. Advanced computer users may wish to take it another step further and insert the digital photo into the document and print the entire page on a color printer.

Creating the Specimen Template Page

To create the specimen template page, you need a word processor program and basic page layout skills. If you'd rather not create the layout from scratch, see the Free Template Offer section below to request a ready made Microsoft Word template.

To create a template similar to the example on this page, do the following in your word processor software:

  • Create a new document and set it up to print on 8.5 x 11" paper, vertically.
  • Set the margins to 0.5" all around except 1.25" on the left, leaving space for punching holes.
  • On the first line type the project title in large, bold letters, such as Photo Leaf Collection or Photo Insect Collection. I used Arial Black font, 24 point size.
  • On the second line type the student's name and align it against the right margin. I used Times New Roman font, 18 point size, Italic.
  • On the third line create a table with 2 columns and 3 rows, allowing the table width to extend to the page margins.
  • Merge the two cells in the first row to create a single cell. Enter "Common Name:" in this cell, leaving plenty of space for handwriting the specimen name.
  • In the first cell of the second row, enter labels for each piece of data you want the child to record. Example labels:
    • Latin Name
    • Date & Time
    • Location
    • Size
    • Color
    • Gender (for insects)

    In my template I have placed dashed lines under each paragraph (line) to make it easier to write in. Note that these lines are not table cells—I applied them with the following command in Microsoft Word: Format > Borders and Shading.
  • Size the second cell of the second row large enough to hold the photo. I sized this cell to approximately 3 x 3". This is smaller than the typical 4x6" photo, but it will fit better without taking too much space on the page.
  • Merge the two cells in the third row to create a single large cell. Type "Notes" in this cell and press the Enter key enough times to stretch the cell to fill the rest of the page. I have formatted the blank lines with dashed underlines to make it easier to write in, using the same technique as earlier.
  • Save the file with a unique name, making note of the location so you can find it the next time you need to print more copies.
  • When you are happy with the finished template, print a supply of pages for each specimen to be collected.

Having printed an ample supply of specimen template pages, your job for now is done. It is the kid's turn to enjoy learning about leaves, insects, and photography, as she gathers and documents the specimen.

Free Template Offer

For those of you who would rather not start from scratch, we developed a Microsoft Word template for creating the specimen page.

To use the template, you will need the following:

  • Knowledge of how to download, save, and open ZIP files.
  • A recent version of Microsoft Word installed on your machine.
  • Basic knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word.
  • Digital photo editing software and knowledge on how to use it, for cropping the photo.

* Go to the Template Downloads page »