Seeds and Plants

As part of our Biology and Life Sciences theme, we studied seeds, plants, and flowers.

Question of the Week: What 4 things does a plant need in order to grow?

Hands-On Science Activities:

Terrarium: Our Engineering project of the week was to build a small environment/terrarium for growing plants. We used clear plastic bottles such as 2 liter soda bottles or large juice jugs. We cut them in half. You turn the top half upside down and nest it in the bottom half as shown below. Then put in layers of rocks, horticultural charcoal (to prevent mold), soil, then small plants. We gave instructions about taking it home and putting it in a sunny spot and then watering it every few days so we could talk to kids about the fact that plants need soil, air, water, and sun to grow.

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Seed Bombs.

Prep: Take construction paper – shred it with your hands (if you cut it with scissors, it won’t work as well at absorbing water and later bonding back together). Pour hot water over it and soak for 15 – 20 minutes, then whir it in a blender or food processor till it’s pulp. Squeeze out some of the water (you want it about as wet as applesauce.)

In class: Have the child take a small handful of pulp – push some seeds deep inside it. (Note: medium sized seeds work best. Itty bitty seeds like chamomile are hard to see and easy to drop. Big seeds like squash and pumpkin are hard to fit inside the bombs.) Squeeze out most of the extra water, making a ball. (If you squeeze out too little, it’s too wet and will fall apart – if you squeeze out too much, it’s too dry and will fall apart – just add a little water back in…)  Optional: press it into a mold to make the desired shape. Then put in a plastic baggie to take home. At home, you can plant right away, or take it out of the plastic baggie to dry, and then use it later. Can plant in your yard, or a planter, or chuck it over a fence into a vacant lot to add some pretty flowers to the weeds growing there. (Note, if you don’t like the connotation of “bombs”, you could just call these paper seed pods.)  Learn more about a similar project at Twig & Toadstool.

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Bean Seeds: The night before class, we wrapped our dry lima beans in a wet paper towel to soften up the surface before planting.

Plant a Bean: Children filled a dixie cup with soil, poked a finger in to make a hole, pushed a seed into the hole, covered it up with dirt, and sprayed on a little water. (Next year, we may use eggshells left over from Eggs class instead of dixie cups… if we do, we’ll read How a Seed Grows (see below))

Germinate a Bean: Children folded a paper towel, sprayed it till it was wet, put it inside a ziplock, and added one bean seed.

Take Home Instructions: We told them that plants need soil, air, sun and water to grow. We told them that they should take their bean seeds home, and tape the baggie up in a window and put the cup on the window sill so they both get plenty of sun. Every few days they should water the seed in the cup, and if the paper towel has dried out, they should add water to the bag.

We showed kids a picture of how beans seed develop, pointing out that they develop under the ground, and at first it’s hard to see them growing. We said they would be able to see the seed in the plastic bag sprout and start to grow, and they will know that the other seed is growing under the soil. We let them know that once the bean seed in the cup pokes up a seedling above the ground, the seed in the bag will likely have roots. They will need to transfer the seed from the plastic bag to dirt. It can start to grow in the bag with just water and sun. But to get bigger it needs soil and fresh air.

Sequencing – How does a Plant Grow: We printed the sequencing cards from http://homeschoolcreations.com/files/Garden_Preschool_Pack_Part_1.pdf  so the kids could put in order the steps from a bean beginning to sprout and getting bigger and growing roots. We also printed a few examples from online of diagrams that show how a plant grows from seed to mature plant.

Observation: Display of Plant Growth.

Last year, we planted a variety of seeds in an egg carton five days before class so kids could see the sprouts. They just barely sprouted – none were big enough to be able to see what type of plant they were. The sprouts were on a table to look at with magnifying glasses, plus during circle time, they were used to illustrate places in the book where it talked about plant sprouts starting to emerge from the ground.

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Our plan for this year was to pick one type of seed, planting some 14 days before class, some 10 days before class, some 6 days and some 2 or 3 days, so kids can see how they have grown over a period of time. However, we forgot this was the plan until 2 days before class – much too late to start this project! So, I went online and found pictures of a plant at one day, two days, and so on up to day 20, and compiled a poster of how plants grow day by day. Upside: it’s a great depiction of plant growth over time. Downside: the only plant I was able to find these type of photos of was cannabis. It’s illegal for an individual to grow marijuana in Washington state, unless they need it for medicinal purposes, so it’s not the ideal plant to show pictures of! (Kids won’t know or care, but I did put a little disclaimer on the poster for parents, to explain why I had pictures of pot plants.)

We did have a demo of growing plants. We share our classroom with another program, Creative Development Lab, which one month ago had a project where they had a bin full of soil, grass seeds, and “rakes” so kids could plant the seed. It’s been growing for the past month, so we put that out for kids to see.

Science observation – Wicking: IMG_20160507_104319251We wanted to show wicking / capillary action – how plants pull water up through a stem. We’ve tried in the past with celery and carnations and cabbage leaves, but never get enough wicking action in the two hour class to be a good demo… with cabbage, at the end of the full day, the bottom edge was bright red, with hints of red in the bottom inch. This year, we bought white carnations and celery, and the day before class, we placed these in colored water. By five hours later they had good color (first photo). Even better by class time, 15 hours later (second photo) and at 25 hours. (Click on photo for bigger image)

I also made a poster to show the progress over time. Read more about these types of experiments at TinkerLab, Outlaw Mom, and PBS.

Plant Parts Puzzle: Make a puzzle with a picture of a flower with leaves, stem, and roots – cut into four puzzle pieces for kids to assemble. There’s one at L is for Learning. Here’s the PDF we designed last year, and a photo of it (on the left) – this one is better for preschool age kids. And, here’s the free printable PDF for this year’s version, and a photo of it. (on the right) This one is better for kids kindergarten through second grade or so.

IMG_20160507_104410860      plant parts worksheet

How Seeds Travel. The book Flip, Float, Fly has great illustrations of all the ways that plant seeds travel. We took photos and printed posters of these pages to put on the wall. We used these for a display and a large motor game. (See circle time.)

Art Process and Craft Projects

Celery Rose Prints: Cut the base off a stalk of celery. Use it and paint to make prints. You can also use cut bell peppers and other fruits and veggies for interesting prints.

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Paint with Flowers: at the easel, instead of brushes, children used carnation flowers and stems to paint with.

Cupcake Paper Flower: On a piece of paper, we glued strips of green paper to be stems, and paper leaves. At the top of the stems, we glued flattened out cupcake papers, then glued seeds into the center of the papers. (Option: could have kids plant this artwork in the ground when they’re ready to dispose of it.)  Results were similar to this photo from pre-kpages.com. (Hannah’s Art Club has photos of prettier results of a similar project.)

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Flower Bookmark: Take a popsicle stick. Color it. Tape yarn fringe on one end to be roots and tape paper flower on the other end.

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Other Activities

Math / Science Skills: Bean Sort: Put a bowl of beans and/or seeds out with several empty containers. Kids sort beans/seeds by type, then can count how many of each, compare which they have the most of / least of and so on. They can also learn vocabulary by learning the names of each bean. I got a 15 bean soup mix, and really a 6 or 7 bean combination might be more appropriate at this age.

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Sensory Table: Last year, we used cloud dough (flour, oil and cocoa powder) and this year, we used real dirt. Add gardening tools (trowels, rakes) and plastic plants or bugs.

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Water Table: Watering cans to pour with plus spray bottles. We also threw in some clear glass stones, which look like odd bubbles in the water till you touch them and discover they’re solid. We also put in silk flowers.

Imaginary Play: We had big mats covered in brown fabric to be a gardening plot. (Or, this year we had a brown rug.) We put out gardening gloves, hats, gardening tools, plant pots, fake flowers, and bug puppets.

We also marked out a tic tac toe board on the mats, and had crocheted fruits and veggies plus the bug puppets so they could play plants vs. bugs tic tac toe.

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Motor Play: The other class we share our space with happened to have a fishing pond activity where kids could use fishing poles (dowels with magnets tied on) to fish for paper flowers with paper clips attached.

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Other projects to consider:

  • You could make tissue paper flowers with pipe cleaner stems. Just search Pinterest for a hundred examples.
  • Make a collage with seeds.
  • Make a musical shaker by filling a small container with beans or seeds.
  • Dissect a flower. Learn more at Gift of Curiosity or Montessori in Bloom.
  • Dissect fruits. You could work together to dissect a variety of fruits so they can see the range of seeds – cut open an avocado, peach, or cherry to show the one big pit. Cut open an apple or citrus fruit to see a few seeds distributed in a fruit. Cut open bell peppers or pomegranates for LOTS of seeds, and display how a strawberry keeps its seeds on the outside. This is a fun snack-time activity. You could also practice prediction (a key science skill): First guess how many seeds will be inside, then cut it open and count seeds.
  • For snack, make dirt cups: chocolate pudding, oreo crumbs, gummy worms…

Opening Circle:

Intro: We asked them to name some plants they can think of. Write them on the board, sorting into several columns. Then label the categories like vegetable, fruit, tree, flower…

Rhythm Game: We often begin circle with a clapping game – it helps get all the kids sitting down, paying attention and in the rhythm. (Rhythm is also great for brain development and future math skills.)

Play 1-2-3-plant. Ask a child to suggest a plant (e.g. tulip), and then you clap a rhythm, where you say 1-2-3-tulip, then point at the next kid for an idea, then clap 1-2-3-daffodil. And so on. (You can give the hint that they could say any of the plants we just talked about.)  OR

4-3 rhythm. Have them say watermelon. Clap the syllables. Count the syllables as you clap. Then do the same with dandelion. Then huckleberry. Then do black-eyed pea… huh… that’s only three syllables. Then try pumpkin seed. Then blackberry. Then do a 4-3 pattern, saying/clapping watermelon, black eyed pea. Then clap a 4-3 pattern without saying those words out loud.

The Big Idea: We drew a picture of a flower growing (with roots) on the board. We asked kids what plants need to grow, and wrote the answers on the board as they came up with them: Sun, Water / Rain, Dirt / Soil, and Air. We talked about what animals and humans need (a review of idea from our Habitats and Adaptations classes) and how that’s similar and different.

Song: We taught a simple song, to the tune of Row Your Boat:

Grow, grow, grow your plants
Grow them tall and green
Soil and water, sun and air
All seeds depend on these

An alternative would be this, inspired by Preschool Education.

Dig, dig, dig the earth
Then you plant your seeds
A gentle rain and bright sunshine
Is all that they will need

Book: Last year, we read Two Old Potatoes and Me by Coy. A boy finds two old potatoes with sprouting eyes at his dad’s house. He is about to throw them away, but his dad suggests they plant them. They cut them into pieces, plant them, water them, and wait… eventually ending up with over 60 potatoes. Great story about growing process and patience. This year, our library no longer had the book, so we chose other options (see below).

Closing Circle

Song: the Garden Song. (Here’s a video with John Denver and the Muppets. You can also find versions by Pete Seeger; Arlo Guthrie; Peter, Paul and Mary; and my favorite recording by Priscilla Herdman – which accompanies lots of other lovely songs on her album Daydreamer“>Daydreamer. There are also books featuring the words of the song and illustrations, such as Inch by Inch: The Garden Song with illustrations by Eitan.)

Inch by inch, row by row
I’m gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and hoe and piece of fertile ground.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna help these seeds I sow
Soil will warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumbling down

Book: We read If You Hold a Seed by MacKay. This is a beautiful quiet story where a boy makes a wish, plants a seed, and then we see the seasons and years pass by until the tree and the boy are fully grown. And then the man takes his son to the tree and they plant a new seed. Just a gentle way to examine life’s seasons.

Another nice option for closing circle would be the Garden from Frog and Toad Are Friends by Lobel. Frog gives Toad a few seeds to plant. Toad wants them to grow RIGHT NOW!! A nice story for kids to empathize with, and laugh at, about the frustration of waiting for something. (See videos below, and check out this post about using this story to Teach Children Philosophy.)

Big Motor Activity – How Seeds Travel. We read the last page of Flip, Float, Fly book. Then I pointed out the pages I had printed, read them, and ask kids to act out each seed. Maple seeds twirl. Tumble weeds tumble. Coconuts float on the ocean. Touch me nots explode and fling their seeds. Bats eat figs and fly away. Squirrels hide acorns and forget about them.  Locust tree pods skitter along the ice. This was a really fun ending to class, especially if you end with “Burdock seeds cling to people…. so cling to your parent as they leave the room!”

More recommended Books (contain affiliate links or check your local library)

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  • One Bean by Rockwell. This would be a FABULOUS book to accompany a class project where you plant lima beans and take them home because it’s the story of a boy doing just that, and each of the steps in its development, from planting the seed to harvesting the beans. I might not read it if I wasn’t planting beans because kids might be disappointed they didn’t get to try it. Ages 3 – 6.
  • The Surprise Garden by Hall and Halpern. Tells the story of children planting a garden. Their mother has given them a variety of seeds that they look at, then dig the dirt, plant the seeds, water, and wait for them to grow. They’re excited to see peas, beans, squash, and more start to reveal themselves. All summer long, they pick and eat their produce. At the end, there’s a summary of the seeds they planted and what grew from them. Fun illustrations. Nice simple read-aloud. Age 3 – 6. (Note, if you read this book, you could also do a project of planting a variety of “surprise seeds” in a bin, then watching them grow over the next several weeks to see what all comes up. I personally am not up to moving this out doors and seeing it through to plants you can harvest, but at least we could start the process.)
  • The Carrot Seed by Krauss and Johnson. This 60 year old classic tells a story of a boy who plants a seed and has high hopes (that others don’t share) that it will grow to something wonderful.
  • Jack’s Garden by Cole. This is a cumulative story. The first page says “This is the garden that Jack planted.” Then on each page, it adds a new sentence and repeats what has come before, so by the end it’s “These are the birds that chased the insects that sipped nectar fro the flowers that blossomed from the buds that formed on the plants that grew from the seedlings that sprouted with the rain that wet the seeds that fell on the soil that made up the garden that Jack planted.” Full of detailed naturalistic drawings of birds, eggs, insects, plants, and gardening tools. If you prefer a more serious, less silly book, this is a nice one.
  • Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Fleming and Karas. On the other hand, if you prefer silly – this is a good one. It’s the story of Mr. McGreely who finally plants the vegetable garden he has long dreamed of, but the bunnies keep appearing and “muncha muncha” – there go the plants. Mr. McGreely builds a small fence, then a big fence, then a moat, then stone fortifications… and still… muncha muncha…
  • A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds by Richards. Nicely illustrated book for kids age 4 – 7, which talks about a really nice metaphor: “many seeds travel inside fruits. The fruit is like a suitcase for seeds. It protects them on their trip. Fruits look beautiful and taste good, so animals and people eat them and drop the seeds in different places.” It illustrates fruits with pits, some small seeds, many tiny seeds inside, and seeds on the outside. This would be a great companion to the fruit dissection project.
  • From Seed to Plant by Gibbons. I can’t count how many Gail Gibbons books we’ve checked out for class this year! And they’re always good non-fiction books – nice illustrations, good writing, clear explanations of scientific ideas. I can’t say I ever fall in loved with one, and we don’t read them aloud at circle, but absolutely worth having on the bookshelf for kids who want to learn more! Best for 5 – 7 year olds.
  • The Curious Garden by Brown. A nice story of urban transformation… what if in a dreary city with no greenery of any kind, a curious boy went walking on an abandoned elevated railroad track and found wildflowers and plants? What if he tended a garden there? What if new gardeners popped up all over town? Nice read-aloud for 4 – 7, but may be a little wordy for 3 – 4 year olds.
  • What’s in the Garden? by Berkes and Arbo. A page offers a rhyming riddle: “The part that you eat is way in the ground, so how can this fabulous food be found? Look for the feathery leaves on its top. It’s long and it’s orange – a real healthy crop.” The illustration shows the plant and an insect or bird. Kids guess what the plant is, and on the next page, there’s a recipe for something using that plant: blueberry pie, tomato sauce, French onion soup… At the back of the book, there’s adult-level info on each of the fruits and veggies, a discussion of what plants need to grow, plant anatomy, a glossary of cooking terms, and useful websites. Best for kids age 6 – 8. Best if used in conjunction with a gardening project or a trip to a farm.
  • A Seed Is Sleepy by Aston and Long – the author and illustrator of The Egg is Quiet we had for our Eggs theme. A book that can be read aloud at different depths… you could just read the big words on each page (A seed is secretive). Or you can add the note that ties to that (It does not reveal itself too quickly). Or, there’s the full details (Most seeds sleep through a season of two, waiting for the warmer temperatures of spring. But some take their time. Ten years might pass before the bright red-orange seed of the Texas mountain laurel shows its purple blooms.) Each page has very detailed, beautiful, naturalistic paintings. I honestly don’t read these aloud – I put them out at an observation station… next to eggs and magnifying glasses, or next to some growing plants to encourage the child to look deeply at both the book and the items.
  • The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream by Anthony and Arbo. Nice illustrations, nice story of a dandelion seed’s journey. My 5 year old liked it for the story and got engaged by the challenges the seed had on its way to finding a home. My co-teacher wasn’t a fan of the anthropomorphized seed: “still it held onto its dream of becoming a flower like its parents and their parents before.”
  • Growing Vegetable Soup by Ehlert. If you want a good basic book for 3 – 4 year olds about the process of growing a seed, and what it needs to grow, this is great. Too simple for older kids.
  • The Tiny Seed by Carle. About seeds being blown across the world. The tiny seed is lucky not to land on the icy mountain, or in the ocean, or the desert or get eaten by a bird or a mouse or get picked before it produces seeds of its own. Nice story, but this is one where I wonder how one seed traveled so very far through so many climates… kids won’t wonder that, but I do.
    Pick, Pull, Snap!: Where Once a Flower Bloomed by Schaefer and George. I love the illustrations. Love the fold out flaps. The words are not as engaging for young children as I wish they were. “In the field, wind waves golden tassels high above heads, and pollen floats through the air to the silks of a flower.” It’s good to have on the shelf, but I don’t read aloud at circle.
  • Flip, Float, Fly!: Seeds on the Move by Macken and Paparone. Nice illustrations and nice text talking about all the ways seeds move through the world: maple seeds fly like shiny green helicopters, tumbleweeds scatter their seeds as they roll, roll, roll; locust tree pods skitter and skate on slippery ice. If we had more time in circle or discussed seeds in more detail, this would be a great read-aloud.
  • How a Seed Grows by Jordan and Krupinski. Ages 5 – 7. Offers a basic introduction to seeds and how they grow, then the majority of the book is a detailed description of project where you plant bean seeds in eggshells,  care for them over the weeks, then transfer them to the garden and care for them till they yield beans. If you want to do the project described in this book, it’s a great book! If you don’t want to do it, I wouldn’t get the book – I find that if I get a project-based book and then don’t do the project, it just makes my kid cranky at me.
  • Another good book is Planting a Rainbow by Ehlert. We read it during Rainbow week.

Videos

  • I LOVE the story of the garden from the book Frog and Toad are Friends. Check out this video – sure to please any five year old: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-4FxBAbKd8
  • If you can find Watermelon Magic, it’s great!
  • There’s lots of great videos on YouTube of timelapse photography of plants growing. But if you watch them, you’ll need to explain timelapse to your child and explain plants don’t really grow that fast.
  • I’m sure there are plenty more great stories of characters planting seeds and having a hard time being patient waiting for them to grow, then enjoying the harvest. If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments!

Egg Science for Kids

On this Saturday in spring, our theme was eggs. (We do egg science around Easter time, because that’s when you can get plastic eggs in stores, and real eggs are on sale cheap. Plus, of course, it’s a natural spring time topic.)
Question of the Week: What kind of creatures lay eggs? (We want kids to really get that it’s not just birds!)
Challenge: Can you drop a hard-boiled egg from a height without cracking the shell?

Hands-On STEM Activities for Kids

Egg drop challenge. The ultimate goal is for kids to create a container that they can put a raw egg in and drop it from several feet and not have the egg break.

Do we start by giving the kids a raw egg? Of course not! We go through three stages of testing. First, they use a tester egg. (I’ve discovered that if you put a bouncy ball inside of a plastic egg, it has about the same degree of toughness / fragility as a raw egg. If you drop it from a few inches, it does fine. If you drop it from a few feet with no padding, it’s guaranteed to break open. But then it’s easily re-assembled for more tests.) Once they’ve successfully tested that several times, they can graduate up to a hard boiled egg – if it fails, it cracks and can’t be re-used, but at least it doesn’t make a big mess of their container. Once that’s proven, they can get a raw egg. They start each level of testing very cautiously… drop from a few inches up, then a couple feet, then more feet… in the end, you might be dropping off a balcony or throwing against a wall. (Or adult teams have been known to drop from a 6th story window…) The ending is pretty much always a container full of squashed egg goo.

We put out tester eggs (plastic eggs with a bouncy ball inside), quart size Ziplocs and gallon size and a variety of packing materials – Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, cloth, air, water, and so on. The kids would pack the bag with soft materials, nest the egg inside them, then drop the egg, then check it – is it still intact? If not, they put it back together (that’s why we’re using tester eggs!), re-engineer their container and try again. If it is still intact, they can re-seal it and drop it from a greater height. We also had a worksheet to encourage our older kids to make a prediction about what would happen, and track what they’ve tested. (www.iheartcraftythings.com/2012/08/humpty-dumpty-science.html)

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This is a GREAT activity for teaching the Tinkering mindset. Come up with an idea. Build it. Test it. Refine it to make it better. Once you have a success, challenge yourself to take it to the next level.

This activity scales to a lot of different age groups. The preschool kids – three and four year olds – enjoy doing it for a while. They’ll do tester eggs and a few engineering revisions… maybe three or four tests, then they move on. Older kids (early elementary) will try more iterations, and want to earn the right to graduate up to a hard-boiled egg. A really committed kid could spend hours on this project, testing lots of different container options. It’s even fun for middle schoolers, high schoolers, or adults.

If you want LOTS more ideas for this, just do a search for “egg drop challenge.” I like this video, by a former NASA engineer http://gizmodo.com/how-to-win-your-physics-class-egg-drop-competition-1707125282. He talks about these major design ideas, and explains the science of them:

  • “Popcorn ball” – container filled with soft packing materials – egg in the middle.
  • Parachute. Tie on a plastic grocery bag or other item to slow the fall. This isn’t going to do much good when testing from a few feet up, but may work well at a height.
  • A crash cage from straws.
  • Martian airbags (balloons surrounding the egg).
  • Helium balloons to float the egg slowly to the ground.

Science Display / Imaginative Play: We had a no-touch display of real eggs and real nests for kids to explore with magnifying glasses. Next to that, we had baskets shaped like nests, hardboiled eggs (chicken and quail) and bird toys. We set the book An Egg Is Quiet with them, and hung a poster comparing how big the eggs are for various species. We encouraged kids to make up a story or “puppet show” with the toy birds.

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Science Learning: We made a collection of photos (all taken from the ZooBorns website) and printed them so on the back of each picture, there was either an egg, or an egg with a circle/slash through it. Then we made two signs – “Hatched from an Egg” and “Live Born (did not hatch from an egg)”. I’ve attached the file PDF so you can get a better look at it – but I don’t have copyright on these images, so I encourage you to make your own set of cards rather than printing this one.

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Science Exploration: We made naked eggs in advance (see links at bottom of the post). The first year, we did it as a display: we had one out in a bowl for kids to *carefully* explore. Next to that, we had a jar with an egg in vinegar so they could see the process that led to the naked egg. This year we did it as a closing circle demo, and that was better.

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Discovery Activity: We filled plastic eggs with plastic animals – a wide variety of animals that hatch from eggs, including insects, amphibians, fish, and reptiles.

Animal Observation: Observe animals that come from eggs – we had a display area with a leopard gecko and crickets. This is a NO TOUCH display. (We had these hidden at the beginning of class and brought them out during opening circle.)

Arts and Crafts

Make a Hatching Animal. Here is a free printable activity. Kids choose an animal, cut it out and color it. Then they cut out a paper egg, cut it in half, join the halves together with a brad (paper fastener). They glue down the edge of the bottom half of the egg onto card stock, making a “pocket” to tuck the animal into. The top half opens and closes to reveal or hide the animal. (Idea sources: 1, 2, 3)

 

Egg shaker instruments. Put out plastic eggs. Dried beans to fill with, Sharpies to decorate with, and tape to seal them closed. (Or a hot glue gun to seal them closed.)

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Plastic egg animals. Put out plastic eggs, felt, glue, feathers, and googly eyes. They make whatever animal they want, ideally one that hatches from an egg, for science learning, but really, we let them do whatever they want. Option 1: they could make an egg shaker first, then turn it into an egg animal. Option 2: make a nest for the egg animal by taking a paper lunch bag, tearing off the top of the bag, and rolling it down. Fill it with “easter grass” or with shredded paper to nest the egg into.

Art Process: Gelatin eggs. Make clear gelatin in egg-shaped molds. Put out with pipettes, liquid water color.  Kids insert the pipette to make a hole, pull it out a little, then squirt in color. Ideas from: www.two-daloo.com/sensory-art-play-colorful-gelatin-castles/ and http://myiearlychildhoodreflections.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-is-there-gelatin-in-sensory-table.html

Last year, we did this in the sensory tub on a white tray. This year, we did it in a clear pie pan on the light table. Note: this year our eggs stuck to the molds… next time, I’ll try spraying molds with non-stick spray before pouring in the gelatin mix.

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Coloring Eggs – We don’t do this in class, because we’re a secular class with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and this activity is very closely associated with Easter. However, there’s LOTS of great ways to color eggs: marble them with shaving cream, melted crayon Easter eggs, tissue paper dyed eggs, wax resist eggs, and many more. At home this year, we used pipettes to drip liquid watercolor onto eggs. Put the eggs on a metal drying rack so the paint will drip through and not pool underneath (and set the drying rack on a cookie sheet or tray to catch the excess paint!) Mix 3 parts watercolor with one part vinegar (to increase the color-fastness of the paint). Use pipettes to drip it on. Note: liquid watercolor isn’t designed for food. If the egg shell is intact and no color reaches the egg, I think it’s fine, but if the egg was cracked and the egg was stained with color, I’m not sure I would eat it. These take 15 – 30 minutes to dry.

Other Activities

Big motor play: Egg Roll Race. http://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/plastic-easter-egg-races-exploring-ramps-gravity-motion-saturday-science/ Using cardboard “gutters”, roll a ball down the gutter, or roll an egg down, roll “wobbly eggs” down. Which rolls furthest? Which rolls smoothest? We only had three foot long gutters… I wished we’d had longer.

We made wobbly eggs for this: open a plastic Easter egg, glue one small rock inside, glue closed. Older kids and adults found these interesting, because they rolled in unexpected ways. For example, with one, no matter what position you set it down in, it would pop up on one end. Little kids didn’t find this intriguing at all – they don’t have any sense of how eggs “should” roll, so didn’t notice that they were behaving oddly. We also learned that when people see Easter eggs, the first thing they do is open them up to look inside – not just the kids but the adults would too, and then realize they’d broken the glue seal. Last year, by the end of class, kids had removed all the rocks from all the eggs. This year, we wrote on the eggs “Don’t open me!”

This was a great “busy boy” activity. Every class has some kids (boys or girls) who just love the big motor do it over and over activity. This group had four boys who played there together for easily 15 minutes saying “OK, let’s test this big one now”, “hey, what happens if we…” and so on, testing out all the ideas, and jumping up and down with excitement.

In the big motor area, we also put out spoons for a “carry the egg in a spoon” game, and a wooden egg for “toss the egg” practice.

Math Foundations: Pattern matching: Put out 6 plastic eggs, broken into their halves. Put up this printable poster of mix and match eggs (or make your own to match the eggs that you have!) – they need to match the patterns (blue on top, pink on bottom, etc.)

Literacy skills: We made word family plastic eggs – http://mamateaches.com/word-family-eggs/. We put out a tray of salt or flour for writing letters in so they could practice copying the words that they saw (www.playdoughtoplato.com/word-family-eggs/).

IMG_20160319_102154168 

Emotional Intelligence – Sorting activity: Pair up halves of toy eggs so that their facial expressions match. (It’s not a terribly exciting activity for this age group, but if you happen to have a set of these eggs, it’s easy to set them out for kids to explore.)

Water table: You could put red water beads in the tub to simulate fish eggs floating in water. Or, put in water and detergent, and let them use egg beaters and whisks to stir up some bubbles. (We use a wide variety of tools in this class, to teach tool skills and build fine motor development.)

Snack idea: Speaking of egg beaters, I think meringue cookies would be a great snack project. Learn more: www.livescience.com/44419-egg-science-experiments.html

Opening Circle:

Gathering the Students. We used this idea from: Storytime Planners. Say: Make a noise like a rooster. (Crow) Make a noise like a hen. (Cluck) Make a noise like a chick. (Peep) Make a noise like an unhatched egg. (Silence) Good!     And now you’re ready to listen!

Song: I’m a little chick – tune of I’m a Little Teapot.
Inspired by 3 songs on http://jeninthelibrary.com/tag/eggs/

I’m a little chickie, (crouch down inside your egg) Ready to hatch,
Pecking at my shell, (Pecking motion) Peck, peck, scratch! (scratching motion)
When I crack it open, Out I’ll leap. (Pop Up)
I’ll spread my wings (hands in armpits and flap) And cheep, cheep, cheep.

Intro to Theme: Ask them what kinds of creatures hatch out of eggs. Point to animal classification signs to remind them.

 

BookChoose one about all the different animals that lay eggs. Some to choose from, in order from my favorite to less preferred. (The first three are “guessing games” which is always fun in circle time. They cover several creatures with two page-spreads each: there’s a “teaser” page that shows a nice illustration and gives some clues, then it asks listeners to guess what is growing inside the egg. The next page reveals the answer.)

    • Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg  – “Their mother crawled from sea to land to bury these soft eggs in the sand. Can you guess what is growing inside these eggs? Sea turtles!” The reveal pages also have a paragraph of detailed info about that creature which 5 – 7 year olds might enjoy reading after circle. Age 4 – 7.
    • Eggs, 1, 2, 3: Who Will The Babies Be? This is a beautiful book with unique illustrations. It’s a counting book, which is always nice, and the lift the flap guessing game aspect of “who will the babies be” is great. I’d only give it 4 out of 5 stars because the rhythm of the text just doesn’t flow as nicely as I would wish. “Four eggs, of sky blue, in a nest of grass and mud on a branch in a backyard. Who will the babies be? 4 robin chicks, with beaks open wide.” Age 3 – 6
    • What Will Hatch? “Jelly, jiggly. What will hatch? Wiggly, squiggly tadpole.”
    • A teacher in my class recommended a lift-the-flap book called Something is Coming. Our library doesn’t have a copy but it sounds great.
    • An Egg Is Quiet. Gorgeous naturalistic illustrations! (The Amazon listing has a “look inside” that lets you look at a few of them.) Illustrates at least 100 different eggs, mostly at actual size, including birds, fish, insects and amphibians. Ends with illustrations of many of the creatures that hatch from eggs. “An egg is quiet. It sits there, under its mother’s feathers… on top of its fathers feet… buried beneath the sand. Warm. Cozy. An egg is colorful…” Beautiful and informative. Great to put out on a table to enjoy, but not as engaging an option for circle time as the others. Pictures great for any age – text is best for age 5 – 8.
    • Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones.  “Chickens aren’t the only ones. Most snakes lay eggs, and lizards too, and crocodiles and turtles do and dinosaurs who are extinct, but they were reptiles too.”

Lift the Flap or Felt Board: I printed out a poster with ten pictures on it, and covered each picture with a post it note, then shared this rhyme, which is adapted from one that Jen in the Library says came from Preschool Favorites by Diane Briggs. I changed a few verses, because I wanted to include more non-bird oviparous animals.

There are ten little eggs / And what do we see / They’re about to crack open / “My goodness me,” said Mother Hen.
The first egg cracks open. And what do we see? It’s a fuzzy, little duckling, looking at me.
The second egg cracks open. And what do we see? It’s a pretty little robin, looking at me.
The third egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a long-necked ostrich Looking at me.
The fourth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a hungry caterpillar Looking at me.
The fifth egg cracks open And what do we see An orange &white clownfish Looking at me.
The sixth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a snappy alligator Looking at me.
The seventh egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a wiggly tadpole Looking at me.
The eighth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a duck-billed platypus Looking at me.
The ninth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a little green dinosaur Looking at me.
The tenth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a little yellow chicken Looking at me.
“My baby!” said the mother hen, as happy as can be.
“Mommy!” said the chick. “Did you meet all my sisters and brothers?” “What!” shrieked Mother Hen, “My goodness me.”

(My poster is here… some of these images are copyrighted, so you should consider making your own poster. This poster is 11 x 17, which is best, because the pictures are very easily covered by a standard size post-it, without them overlapping. This poster is 8.5 x 11, in case that’s all you can print, but you’ll probably have to lay the post-its on in reverse order, from the 10th first, down to #1 so that you uncover them in order.)

20 questions game: I did two brief games where I thought of an animal, and they had to guess what I was thinking of. (Read this post to learn all about what kids learn by playing guessing games, and how to start teaching them to little ones.) We used our animal classification posters to suggest the best questions to ask first: does it hatch from an egg, or is it born live? How many legs does it have? What kind of skin does it have? Can it live in the water? Can it fly?

The first animal was a cricket, and when they guessed what it was, I went in the back room and brought out the container of crickets and we talked about those for a while. The second animal was a leopard gecko, and after they guessed lizard, I brought one out. I told them they could not touch it, but I held the gecko in my hand so they could all get a good look at it. Then I put it back in its cage, and we fed it some crickets.

Outdoor Time:

Hike through the woods to observe spring time changes – buds, blossoms, flowers, new leaves…

You could easily do an egg hunt. Kids LOVE to do egg hunts. They’re usually happy to do them over and over and over, as many times as you want to hide the eggs. Learn more about the joys of egg hunts and all the things kids learn by doing them

End with egg toss game. First, the teachers demo’ed it. Take an egg, carefully pass from one to the other. Take a step back, gently toss and catch. Take another step back, toss and catch, and so on. Then have all the kids pair up and give them each an egg. We played on thick grass, and our eggs were VERY sturdy. Some teams probably dropped their egg 10 times before it broke. We picked up all the shells to compost, but left egg goo there – animals will eat it. If it was summer and there were lots of barefoot kids running in the park, clean up as much goo as you can.

Note: if you have to play on a harder surface, you may want to use hard-boiled eggs. Or, you can start with hard-boiled and once they build up their skills and confidence, switch them to raw eggs.

Optional songs to sing:

I Love Eggs (Tune: Frere Jacques) – (from: Storytime Source Page) I love eggs, I love eggs. Yum, yum, yum ; Yum, yum, yum. Scrambled, boiled or fried, any way I’ve tried. Yum, yum, yum ; Yum, yum, yum

If You Like Your Eggs Scrambled (Tune: Happy & You Know It) (Storytime Source Page) If you like your eggs scrambled, clap your hands If you like your eggs scrambled, clap your hands Yes, they’re yummy and they’re yellow So you’ll be a happy fellow If you like your eggs scrambled, clap your hands

If you like your eggs fried, jump up high… If you want bacon with your eggs, wiggle your legs… If you want toast instead, nod your head (Mmm-hmm)…

Group Activity: Chicken Dance – Play the music and have the children do the classic dance: Make your hands like talking four times, flap arms like wings four times, wiggle bottom four times, clap Four times, do it again faster!!

You can find lots more book recommendations, songs, and story-time felt board activities at https://jeninthelibrary.com/tag/eggs/

Closing Circle

Book: One of many great books about someone finding an egg with a mysterious occupant and the process of waiting for it to hatch or other silly stories about eggs – there’s a lot of them! Some options:

    • The Odd Egg. All the other birds have laid an egg except Duck. (The observant reader will notice it’s a male duck by its coloring.) Duck finds a very large egg he claims for his own, and waits for it to hatch. This is a very fun read-aloud, and the graphic design is really interesting… see my review on Amazon for a picture.
    • The Chick That Wouldn’t Hatch. There are 6 eggs in a nest. 5 chicks hatch. The other egg goes for a long roll through the barnyard, past the pond, over the ditch, with lots of animals chasing it. Then it finally hatches. A silly book that kids age 3 – 6 enjoy. Includes an idea for a craft at the end.
    • The Cow That Laid an Egg. Marjorie the cow doesn’t feel special because she can’t ride bicycles and do handstands like all the other cows. The chickens hide a cow-spotted egg near her and say she’s laid an egg. Everyone is astonished. Eventually the egg hatches into a chick…. that says MOO!!
    • An Extraordinary Egg. Too long for circle if you have kids under age 5, but it’s a fun story of an adventurous and curious frog who finds an egg. The other frogs declare it to be a chicken egg, and they continue to call it a chicken even after the animal hatches and has four legs and swims very well. They continue to think it’s a chicken even when its real mother refers to it as her “sweet little alligator.” Kids four and under will be confused by this book when they see pictures of an alligator and everyone calls it a chicken. A five or six year old understands the absurdity.
    • Egg Drop. This book delights me. Truly. I chuckled while reading it. But I didn’t read it at class. “The egg was young. It didn’t know much. We tried to tell it, but of course if didn’t listen. If only it had waited.” It wants to fly before hatching, and in the end jumps from a great height which doesn’t end well. In the end, our protagonist is a smiling sunny-side up egg next to some bacon waiting to be eaten. Again, I liked it. Many kids (including mine) would like it…. but some might find it disturbing.

Egg drop. We had the kids who had made the best egg drop container demonstrate it to the class.

Naked Egg Demo: I peeled one of the cracked hard-boiled eggs left over from the egg toss and showed that to them – the white and the yolk. Then I held up a raw egg that had survived the egg toss and we talked about how even those these eggs seem pretty fragile, they’re sturdier than you’d think. But then I cracked the egg open on the edge of the bowl to show how if you hit it just right, it’s easy to break. I broke it open and showed them the raw egg white and yolk. Then we brought out our naked egg, still soaking in vinegar. I explained that I had put a raw egg in the vinegar three days ago and that it bubbled and bubbled, and that the vinegar had dissolved away the shell, leaving the raw egg in a rubbery membrane. I poured the egg out in my hand (letting the vinegar pour into a bowl). Then I rinsed the egg in a bowl of water and rubbed off the last of the shell residue. Then I carefully bounced the egg in a bowl a few times. Then I held it up higher and dropped it. It broke, and you could see the membrane, the white and the yolk. We examined them all.

More recommended books for the classroom bookshelf

  • A Nest Full of Eggs. For kids age 6 – 7 (or younger if they have a long attention span), this is a nice engaging story of robins building a nest, laying eggs, hatching and flying away. It’s also a great non-fiction book about birds, that covers everything from diagrams showing how the chick develops inside the egg, to illustrations of the feathers of 23 different birds from hummingbird to pheasant, from where in the world birds are found, and the variety of habitats in which they live.
  • Where Do Chicks Come From? Even though this is supposedly the same reading level as the previous book, I find the scientific concepts are much more advanced, and more details than most of my kids would want. But if you have a scientifically minded kid who wants to know it all, check it out.
  • From Egg to Chicken. A non-fiction review of the chicken’s maturation. A fine reference for a 6-7 year old who wants to learn more of the details.
  • Egg: Nature’s Perfect Package by Jenkins and Page. Although the Amazon listing says it’s for preschool to age 7, I agree with the Library Journal review which rates it as second to fourth grade (i.e. 7 – 9 or so). Lots of great details, shown in an engaging, easy to understand way. Covers sizes of eggs, where they are laid, animals that eat eggs, how eggs are packaged, carried, incubated, and how they develop. An excellent book for older kids, I have it in my class for the pictures, but the words are beyond my 3 – 7 year olds.
  • Eggs. You might want this for Stevenson’s illustrations – beautiful naturalistic drawings. The words are over the head of this age group. (I teach kids 3 – 7.)
  • Hank Finds an Egg by Dudley. Sweet wordless story book about a teddy bear that finds an egg in the woods and tries several different ways to return it to its nest – jumping, standing on a tall stump. building a ladder, and finally wrapping it up in a bundle with a ribbon so the mama bird can pick it up with her beak. Very cute photographs in a fun tale of problem solving a difficult challenge. And the sweetness of the bear’s commitment to getting the bird home. The younger children in our class loved this story.
  • How to Make a Bouncing Egg (Hands-On Science Fun). A book that walks you through the process of making a naked egg (see below.) You don’t really learn anything you won’t learn by doing it. But, if you want a book about it, it’s available.

Additional Activities We Didn’t / Couldn’t Do in Class

Egg Trivia – Mostly for Grown-Ups: I just learned some fascinating new things about how birds hatch. A common story is that chicks hatch because they run out of food and they run out of room in the egg. Here’s what actually happens (written by Joy Berry): “A chick near to hatching is not starving. It is fuller than it’s ever been. The chick has just absorbed the yolk fully into its abdomen, and that yolk is all the food it needs for 2 – 3 days after it is fully hatched. That fullness increases the chick’s total body mass, but it isn’t ever too big for the egg. In fact, it only develops in about 75 – 80% of the egg’s capacity, because the egg itself has a built in extra portion, a room that doesn’t get opened till the end of incubation. It is the air sac, and the chick’s body gets big enough as it absorbs yolk to piece that membrane with its perfectly evolved egg tooth (a sharp little point on its beak that disappears after hatching) and then it starts breathing the air the egg has absorbed through the shell into that space. This puffs it up even more. As it’s getting “inspired” by breathing air and filling its lungs, it is getting bigger and also having room to kick down, against the bottom of the shell. And that air it is breathing means it can do something else for the first time…. PEEP. The headroom in the air sac means it can begin to peck at the inside of the shell, pipping a tiny air hole (more fresh air!) and then zipping all the way round. When that process happens, mama and it and the other chicks are talking to each other all during the hatch, from inside and outside the shell. Its hard work is often assisted by the mother hens and sometimes hatch mates, pecking at the openings to make it bigger and “talking” to one another and encouraging them.” After I learned that, I also found this great article on how animals breathe inside eggs, and how their chorioallantoic membrane and allantois relates to a mammal umbilical cord and placenta…. check it out: www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/29/how-does-chick-breathe-in-egg-allantois

A video… just for the goofiness of it: Check out this trifle.

Build a Cardboard Finger

Today we were in the Tinker Tank area of Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and they had an engineering project where kids could build a finger joint.

Here’s a tutorial for the simplest possible method:

Cut a piece of cardboard. Make sure the corrugated ribs are going across the strip, not up and down the length of the strip. Fold the strip every inch or so.

Cut short segments of plastic straw. Tape them lengthwise, one per section of the cardboard.

Thread a string through all the the straw segments. Tape it down at one end, and leave a loose end hanging out the other end. Pull on the loose string to bend the “finger joints.” Optional – add a handle to make it easier to hold on and pull the string.

 

Variations: Put straw segments on the front AND back of the cardboard. Run string in a loop – tape on the back, then run it through all the straws on the back, over the end, then through all the straws on the front, and leave the string hanging on the front. This led to a better / tighter curl when the string was pulled. (See photo of curled finger at top of post.)

Pincer grasp: take a flat square of cardboard (whoever made this one reinforced it with a couple popsicle sticks to make sure it couldn’t fold.) Then add a couple “spacer” pieces of cardboard. Then tape on your “finger” with the straw side DOWN toward the other cardboard. (First picture.) When you pull the string, the finger curves up against the lower cardboard, forming sort of a pincer grasp. (Second picture.) It can pick up small objects like this red Lego piece.

  

This is a fun, easy, hands-on project for kids that we may use in either our “Skeletons” class or our “Robots” class. And it fits both our tinkering aesthetic and our pulling materials from the recycling bin approach.

When we got home, I searched for other examples of similar projects online.

Kiwi Crate has a Straw Fingers project, where they just use straws and string – they cut notches in the straws to allow them to bend. You can choose to make five and tape them to cardboard for a hand.

On Carolina, to model a human hand, they take the notched straw idea, but then tape them onto a hand-shaped piece of cardboard, then score the cardboard so it will fold everywhere there is a joint.

RIT has a full lesson plan on bio-engineering, which includes a how-to on how to make a finger with wood, rubber bands, tape, string, straws, and cardboard.

Science Buddies has a fully detailed tutorial on how to make a robot hand from straws. Their directions include an evaluation of ways to improve the process. They use straws, string, polymer clay and plastic rings. Each finger has three rings, one for each joint so you can bend the joins separately. On Prezi, there’s a vaguer description (with no pictures) of something that sounds like a similar process… might be some tip you could glean from there.

Weird Science Kids uses a hand-shaped cardboard, bendy straws and string, and “glues” the straws down to the cardboard with clear silicone caulk (like you use to seal seams in a shower.) It looks complicated to me… and takes a couple days as you have to wait for the caulk to dry / cure.

PBS Kids has a “design a robotic arm” challenge.

All these examples inspire a lot of ideas for projects we could do. If working with younger children (preschool age – 3 – 4 or so), I would likely have them build just a single finger, either using the PacSci method I describe, or the straw from Kiwi Crate. For early elementary school age children (age 5 – 8), I would teach them a simple method for building a finger, then encourage them to figure out how to build a hand. For older children, I’d just show them this post, and let them decide how they wanted to build a hand.

20 Questions Game

There are many games we remember playing in childhood which were fabulous tools for teaching us how to think and we had no idea they were teaching us – we just thought they were fun to play. A great example is 20 questions, a.k.a. Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral.

How it’s played:

The basic rules: Player One thinks of an item (“the solution”) that the others will attempt to guess. Other players ask a yes / no question. Player One must answer truthfully. Then others players ask another question. They keep asking questions to narrow down the realm of possibilities until they can figure out the solution. If you were to draw out a game, it might look like this. Player One has said they are thinking of a person…

This is a really efficient game, taking only 6 questions to get to the solution. But, they were smart questions… asking gender as the first question cuts the pool of possible solutions in half. Asking whether they’re alive cuts out a huge list of historical figures. This game also assumes that player one and the guessers have a lot of common experiences, where as soon as the guesser  learns they’ve seen the person on YouTube, they know it’s either one of the science videos they watch together or one of the Minecraft / Shopkins / cute cats videos the guesser watches by himself. That makes it much easier for him to narrow it down than it might be for a random stranger who doesn’t know Player One’s YouTube patterns.

Now, when playing with a child for the first many times, it will NOT be this efficient. It could look more like this:

It helps if you play with multiple people… some of whom actually understand the game and can help guide things along. For example, we often play at meal times, where there’s one six-year-old, one or more 20-something people, and two 50-year-olds.

It also helps if you actively teach the child some of the best questions to ask (see strategy below). Then the game might go more like this:

You’ll notice a few things in our example… sometimes we come up with solutions that will entertain the adults, which the child couldn’t have guessed on their own. That’s OK… the child is still getting practice at the game. You’ll also notice we’re not always strict with asking only yes/no questions (We’re OK with a question like “Is it a bird, reptile, or mammal?”) or with only saying “yes” or “no” in our answers (We might say “Actually, it’s an amphibian”). It’s not unusual for us to give a clue in the answer to help guide things along if they’re dragging (“Have I ever seen one of these?” “Yes, in fact,  you can see one right now from where you’re sitting.”)

The “rule” of twenty questions is that you’re supposed to guess the solution in less than 20 questions or you lose. We never keep track of how many questions we’ve gone through. We just play till we’re bored, which is sometimes in five or six questions… then we start giving really obvious hints.

Strategy for Player One

Know your audience!! When you’re choosing a solution, try to think about what will be a little hard for your guessers… 5 – 12 questions to answer, but not something devastatingly difficult. The sweet spot for any puzzle or game is not too easy, not too hard. Too easy is boring, too hard is discouraging. I think with any puzzle, you want the person to have a period when it seems hard, but then they push through and succeed.

Also, make sure the answer is within their realm of knowledge. When I’m playing with my kindergartener, I don’t do historical figures that he doesn’t know, and I ask him not to do obscure Pokemon characters that I don’t know.

Strategy for Guessers

Over time, you can guide your child to understanding effective strategies for the game. In a game where you’re thinking of a person, there are potentially millions of people you could be thinking of… anyone you’ve ever met, read about, seen on TV, etc. If your child starts guessing: Is it Lady Gaga? Is it Barack Obama? Is it my friend from school? Napoleon Bonaparte?…. that could take forever! This is called “linear searching” and rarely makes sense, if you’ve got more than a handful of items to search through.

So, your initial questions are not about trying to guess the exact solution. Instead, you want to ask questions that make the pool of possible solutions smaller. For example, if someone said “I’m thinking of a number between one and 100”, you could say “Is it bigger than 50?” That one question cuts the possible number of answers in half. So would “Is it an odd number?” You could ask “is it a prime number” – if they said yes, that knocks you down to 25 possible answers. (No, I don’t know that there are 25 prime numbers under 100 without looking up a chart of prime numbers… but my husband likely does…)

For experienced players, there are a lot of standard questions you tend to start a game with to quickly narrow the pool. For example, in a game where you were guessing movie titles, you might ask: “kids’ movie or grown-up movie”, “animated or live action”, “was it made in the last 20 years” and so on. Then as you get past all those obvious categories, you have to start getting more specific “Disney or Pixar?” “was main character human” and so on… You could start a game by teaching your child these key questions for that topic. So, for example, if the category was types of toys, some key questions might be: “Is it made of plastic?” “Does it have lots of pieces or is it all in one piece?” “Do parts of the toy move?” “Do I have a toy like this at home?” “What age of kid likes this toy best?” Once you’ve taught the questions, you start the game.

If your child reads, you could even give them a written list of “starter questions” to work from. For example, if the category was animals, this dichotomous key from Mammals: A Compare and Contrast Book by Hall would be a great set of starter questions to help them figure out what category of animal… then they’d ask more specific questions from there.

What are kids learning?

This teaches a way of thinking that provides an approach to problem solving, or to working toward a solution to something by doing “divide and conquer”. Narrowing the range of possibilities till you find a solution. It’s useful not just in the game, but any time we’re trying to guess anything. Where are the Starbucks in Redmond? Well, Starbucks are usually not in small strip malls – they’re usually in bigger shopping centers. Well, what shopping centers are there in Redmond? OK, I’ve thought of several… which ones have Starbucks? Well, Starbucks are often in the same parking lot as a grocery store. So, I would guess these 3 shopping centers with grocery stores all would have one, and I bet the mall would… Solution: Turns out that there are five Starbucks in downtown Redmond… one each at three of those grocery store shopping centers, and two at the mall.

It also teaches us to notice relationships: what things have in common that places them into a category, and what makes them different from each other, which allows us to sort them into two piles to help us find the specific item we’re looking for. This classification / sorting skill is helpful any time we need to clean up a room – the laundry goes here, the books go on the bookshelf – the library books go on the top left corner of the bookshelf… Noticing similarities and differences is also a key skill for scientific thinking.

Game Variants

Guess which picture. This is the most basic level of this kind of guessing game. I’ve played it with toddlers under age 3. Choose a picture (a page from a book, or a doodle you’ve sketched, or whatever) that has multiple items on it, and say “I’ve picked out one of these items as the solution. Can you guess which one?”

A sample game would be: “I’ve picked an animal. Can you guess which one?” “Is it yellow?” “No.” Is it brown?” “Yes.” “Is it the monkey?” “Yes.” You can start with a picture with just 3 or 4 items, then choose pictures with more and more possible solutions as your child gains in skill. You can also do this with physical objects. You can set four toys on the table, and ask them to guess which one you’ve picked.

  

I’m thinking of….  This is harder than the pictures, because the child has to be able to imagine things they can’t see. It works for age 3 and up. The trick is to have small groups of items, with only a few possible solutions. For example: “I’m thinking about one of the people in our family.” Or “I’m thinking of one of the Paw Patrol characters.” If they don’t understand the strategy of the game, the worst that happens is they have to make 5 or 6 guesses at the most to get the right answer. But you can also teach the first questions to ask… like for Paw Patrol: “Is the character human or a dog?” “Is it a boy dog or a girl dog?” “What color does the dog wear?”

When my son was three, we often played “I’m thinking of a dinosaur”, which got more challenging as he learned the names of more and more dinosaurs. At age 4, a frequent game we played was “I’m thinking of a Star Wars character that starts with the letter L.” When he was being fussy and whiny for no real reason, it was a great way to distract him out of that mood.

Animal Vegetable or Mineral: It’s basically the same game as 20 questions, you just always start with the question animal, vegetable or mineral. Animal means any living (or once living) creature, from tapeworm to dinosaur. Vegetable means any plant. Mineral means things that are not and never have been alive. Each of these categories then has a few obvious starter questions. For example, if the answer was animal, you might first start with figuring out what class of animal. If you learned it was a bug of some sort, you would then try to figure out: arachnid, myriapod, or insect. If the answer was mineral, the first question might be: natural or man-made? Then determining what material it’s made of. Then asking the canonical: Is it bigger than a breadbox?

This variant of the game is obviously really good for teaching taxonomy. But, it sometimes gets a little tricky. For example, if Player One thought of Milk, and then the first question is Animal, Vegetable or Mineral, what’s the answer?? If Player One thought of a wood table… well, it’s made from vegetable, but it’s more of a “mineral” now in that it is not alive now….

Dichotomous Keys: These offer a series of questions. Like a “choose your own adventure”, if you answer yes to #1, it tells you to go to #2. If you answered no to #1, you’d skip ahead to #3. You keep going down the list of questions till you find your answer.

Here is a quick description of a dichotomous key with two examples that elementary age children could follow: http://igbiologyy.blogspot.ca/2012/11/12-using-simple-keys.html. You could use this to teach the idea in a class or home school setting. (Here’s an example for middle or high school age kids: www.biologyjunction.com/dichotomous_keying.htm.)

These science tools can be used as a “game.” You could:

Who Am I? This is a game where you tape a sign on someone’s back, and they have to go around asking people questions till they figure out what’s on their back. You may have done this as an icebreaker or party game at some point, such as where you had to guess which famous person you were. This post describes using it in a fourth grade math class to review math vocabulary.

Group Twenty Questions: The “Guesser” leaves the room. Everyone else agrees on a single object in the room as the solution. Then the guesser comes back in and can ask anyone questions till they get the answer.

Negative Twenty Questions: As described here: There is one “Guesser.” Everyone else chooses an object in the room. I choose the printer, and you choose an empty Coke can, and your buddy Joe chooses their sandwich. The guesser asks me “Is it edible?” I say no, because a printer is not edible. Joe now has to choose a different object that’s not edible. So he chooses his glasses. The guesser asks Joe “is it man-made.” He says yes, and all our objects are, so none of us need to choose a new one. Then he asks you “have you touched it today” and you say yes. Uh-oh, now I have to think of something new, that is not edible, is man-made, and that I’ve touched today, unlike the printer. In theory, at the end of the game, we might all be thinking of the same thing that meets all the criteria.

Wikipedia describes this in a way that gives me a different impression of how the game is played. Nobody chooses an object in advance. They choose a pattern of answers in advance… say no then yes then no…. The guesser asks “is it edible”. The predetermined answer for the first question… whatever it is… was no. So, we all look around and choose an inedible object in the room – there’s a lot to choose from. The guesser asks “is it man-made.” The predetermined answer is yes… and so on.

Negative Twenty Questions was invented by quantum physicist John Wheeler, not really as a game, but more as a thought experiment. This would be a fun variant to try with teens who’d grown bored of the basic game.

Board Game Versions: There are many manufactured games which use these basic rules, but they’ve come up with Solutions for you to use.

  • Guess Who? (Retro Series) Each player has a board with 32 characters flipped up. One draws a character card from a deck, and the other has to guess who it is. “Do they have blue eyes?” If no, then they flip down all the characters with blue eyes, and keep going till they know which character it is. There are other versions of Guess Who? with fewer characters, such as 15 per board, which would be easier for a younger child. I’ve not played this game.
  • HedBanz games involve a player putting a card in a headband so the other people can see it, but they can’t. They then ask the others questions… like in the Disney game, you might ask “am I human?” “Am I a princess?” We played this game when my son was five, and he enjoyed it and could be successful at it IF we were careful about what characters to give him… if we pulled a card from the deck and it was a character he knew well (like Mickey) we’d give it to him… if it was a character he didn’t know (the firefly from Princess and the Frog), we’d draw again.
  • HABA Games Who am I works like HedBanz.
  • Who’s Behind the Door Monster’s University Edition. Each child has pictures of 16 monsters. They ask opponent yes / no questions like: “Is it purple” or “does it have two or more eyes” that allows them to eliminate options till they figure out answer.

Apps: There are a bunch of apps, called things like “Guess Who” and “Who am I” that play off of similar ideas. One we’ve seen played in lines a lot at Disneyland involves one person holding a smartphone up by their forehead so their friends can see the solution, and trying to guess who they are. If you know the name of that one, feel free to add it in the comments.

Miscellaneous Resources

Here’s an interesting lesson plan for teaching middle school to adults about computational search methods using 20 questions.

Have fun playing!

Adaptations – Biology for Kids

We’ve just studied Animal Classification and Habitats. Now it was time to examine all the different ways animals adapt to different habitats.

Big Idea: In order to survive over time, animal species have to be well adapted to the environment in which they live. They need to be able to eat the food they find in their habitat, drink water, protect themselves from weather and environmental hazards, avoid being eaten, have and care for babies. They adapt to the habitat in two ways: structural adaptations (thick fur, long eyelashes to protect from sand, etc.) and behavioral adaptations (instinctual behaviors such as migration, hibernation, and travelling in herds.) These evolve over many generations of animals. Human beings can invent things (often based on ideas we got from observing animals) that help us to quickly adapt to different circumstances.

Hands-On Science

Bird Beak Adaptations. We had six stations on a table, and I made posters to accompany the activity to illustrate the idea. (Print your own posters from this PDF.) We had:

  • nectar eaters: water and a pipette to represent how hummingbirds use their beaks to gather nectar
  • nut crackers: large pliers and plastic eggs to illustrate how a toucan or parrot uses a big, strong beak to crack a nutshell (we used the plastic eggs because we’re a nut-free classroom – you could easily use a nutcracker and walnuts)
  • grub eaters: a pinecone with macaroni sprinkled into it and tweezers to show how a woodpecker could use its long thin beak to catch bugs deep in tree bark
  • worm eaters: rubber bands in a dish of split peas with curved pliers, and bits of pipe cleaners in a dish of rice and black beans to grab with needle nose pliers to represent a robin catching a worm
  • fishing birds: a fish tank net and plastic fish in a bowl of water to show a pelican’s fish catching ability
  • sharp, tearing beaks: styrofoam “fish” and scissors… showed pictures of how an eagle catches a large fish, then needs to use its beak to tear the pieces up smaller (an alternative would be to use beef jerky or fish jerky to cut with the scissors)

         

Kids were encouraged to try all the “right tools” with the right foods. (Great small motor and tool use practice!) And then try using them with the wrong things. Can a hummingbird crack open a nut? Never. Can a pelican catch bugs hiding in the bark? Never. An animal has to have the right features to eat the foods in their habitat in order to survive.

Note: original idea came from a workshop based on the book Growing Up Wild. There are similar activities on several websites. We put the book Unbeatable Beaks on the table for more information about beaks. If you have a child who is a fan of birds, they might like this video about bird beaks.

Math extension: If you’re working primarily with kids age 6 and up, there’s a lot of math activities we could try related to this. For example, a great lesson plan called Unique Beak Physique has a “battle of the beaks” where kids scatter seeds (or other items) and use various tools to see how many they can pick up in one minute. They then count them up and discuss which tool would make a better beak. Then switch the kind of “seed” they’re trying to get – predict how many they’ll be able to pick up, then test it out. You could also do the M&M Survival Challenge.

Snack: You could extend this activity into snack/lunch time by offering a variety of foods (soup, rice, noodles) and a variety of implements (spoon, chopsticks, fork) for them to try eating with. Can they eat their soup with a fork? Can they drink their juice with chopsticks? Talk about how humans can eat a very wide variety of foods, and that we are able to invent tools based on what we see in nature that make it easier for us to eat those foods.

Matching Game: Adaptations and Inventions: Best for ages 5 and up. I made sets of cards where one shows an animal adaptation, and another shows a related invention, and words give clues to what the match is – for example, the picture of the leopard in the grass and the man in camouflage clothing and paint are both captioned “you can’t see me.” Free printable PDF.

Sorting Game – How Animals Adapt to the Weather: Best for ages 5 and up. I made several cards where each shows multiple examples of an adaptation. For example, the “shed their coats in summer” shows 5 different animals molting. Kids sort the adaptations into two piles depending on whether it’s an adaptation to hot weather or cold. Free printable PDF.

Echolocation StationI got this idea from Bright Hub. You tape down two paper towel tubes so they are aimed at an aluminum pie plate. One child talks into one tube while another listens at another tube. The sound is supposed to bounce off the pie plate.

Adaptations Station: We put out our “whose ears and whose nose” games from a previous week, plus the books Mouths and Eye to Eye so kids could look at a wide variety of animal adaptations in each of these categories.

Art / Craft Activities

Animal Headbands: We used felt, fake fur, pipe cleaners and a hot glue gun to make animal headbands. I had a poster filled with photos of lots of examples of types of headbands they could make. (See them on Pinterest.) This was not an independent kid activity for this age group (3 – 6). They needed a lot of adult support with the project.

   

Note, you can order really cheap Plastic Headbands from Amazon.

You could also make animal noses with egg cartons and elastic bands.

Animal Costumes You could make a wide variety of costumes from items in the recycling bin. Use the book Fraidyzoo for some great inspiration! They build costumes from bubble wrap, cardboard, oven mitts, mops, umbrellas, empty water bottles and more. Here are some of the illustrations from the book – click on any thumbnail to see a bigger image:

   

Face Paint: We provided Face Paint and photos of lots of ideas for animal face paint. The kids could have done their own face painting, but none did, so I painted several faces. Here’s my son, also modeling his kitty ears headband.

Painting: We encouraged kids to paint an animal camouflaged in its habitat.

Free Play

Sensory Table: We put up a poster showing “animals that dig” with photos of several burrowing animals, all of which have clawed feet. Then we filled the bin with sand, some “rakes” to act like claws and a couple styles of shovel, so they could see which was easier to dig with.

Water Table: I made two little paddle boats. One with plastic spoons for paddles (to represent a duck’s webbed feet) and one with plastic fork paddles (“chicken feet”). The idea was to show how much better the webbed feet are at propelling something through the water. The forks were actually almost as good as the spoons… I could have maybe broken out the middle tines. I invented the paddle boats… I don’t have a full tutorial, but here’s the basic how-to: Cut two arch shapes out of corrugated plastic. Use electrical tape to tape two pencils to the arches. Then spread a rubber band out over the middle. Cut the handles off two plastic utensils. Tape them together, one facing up, one down to make the paddle. Then insert this paddle in between the sides of the rubber band. Twist it up tight, then let it go in the water. (Click on picture for bigger image.)

 

Hibernation / torpor cave: This was a great excuse to build a fort with tables, blankets and our 4-way Tunnel. We also threw in a few puppets of animals that hibernate (chipmunks, bats, hedgehogs) or go into torpor (bears, skunks, raccoons). [Learn here about the difference between hibernation and torpor.] Then we just let the kids play there.

Ideas for Demos

Blubber: An easy but messy activity is to show kids how animals like polar bears and whales can survive in very cold arctic water. Either: have your child dip one finger into Crisco – then put a bare finger and the coated finger into ice water… which can they hold in the water longer? Or: fill one big ziplock with Crisco. Put another empty ziplock inside it and tape the edges. Then kids can use this “blubber glove” to test the ice water. More details on Steve Spangler’s site.

Duck Feathers: Ducks produce an oil that coats their feathers so they repel water. That way their feathers don’t get saturated with water, which might make them too heavy to float. Here’s how to demo the idea: Have three plastic cups of water. Hold up a cotton ball, saying that it represents a bird with feathers. Drop it in the water. It sinks. Explain that if the feathers fill with water, they get too heavy. Then tell kids about “duck oil” – dip the cotton ball in some vegetable oil so half is coated. Say that the coated part is the duck’s bottom and the dry part is the head. When you set this in the water, it flips so the oil side is up… uh oh, duck’s head is in the water! Ask the kids what to do. They will [hopefully] suggest dipping a whole cotton ball in oil. Do so, and add it to the water. It floats! The oil repels the water. Source: https://hubpages.com/education/Animal-Adaptations

Opening Circle

Intro to Theme: “Last week, we learned about habitats. We said that every animal needs these things from their habitat – there needs to be food, water, a place to sleep, a way to be protected from the weather, and a way to hide. So, a polar bear does well in the arctic – why? [they answer, or I say, because it can eat the fish, eat ice for water, burrow down in the snow to sleep, and their thick white fur protects them from the weather and helps them hide]. A camel does well in the desert, why? [they may say, or I will, that they eat thorny desert plants, they need very little water, they have thick eyelashes and nostrils that close to protect them from blowing sand, and their brown fur blends with the sand to help them hide.]  But would a camel do well in the arctic? Would a polar bear do well in the desert? No, because they have evolved adaptations [write on board] to their habitat.

Some adaptations are called structural –  something about the animal’s body helps them do well in their environment. Lots of those things we just talked about with camels and polar bears are structural – long eyelashes, brown or thick, white fur. There are also behavioral adaptations – that means the animal does something that helps them survive. Some animals handle cold by the way they act…  a bird’s instincts may tell it to migrate – to fly south to warmer places in the winter, or a chipmunk’s instincts tell it to hibernate, or a penguin’s instincts tell it to huddle up close to all the other penguins to stay warm.

And humans learn from animals – if they have a structural adaptation we like, then we invent something like it – like warm winter coats. If they have a behavioral adaptation we like, we can copy that too, like travelling south in the winter to be warmer. We could start the day in a very cold place wearing our very thick coats, then we could get on an airplane and migrate to somewhere warm where we’d change into our swimsuits and go for swim.

Book: Who Has these Feet – see below.

Game – Predator / Prey Tag: Talk about defense mechanisms, play tag with each for a few minutes (teacher is predator)…

  • camouflage – they need to find a similar color in the room to hide near;
  • crawling into a small place – they were little mice who crawled into the tunnel to get away from the eagle (teacher) who was too big to get in the tunnel;
  • playing dead – when the teacher enters the room, they pretend to be dead – teacher looks and sniffs – says yuck and moves on;
  • skunk smell – show them how to “spray bad smell” using their hands – when teacher approaches, they “spray” – teacher gags and chokes…
  • tail breaking off – give them all a ring with streamers on it, or something similar. Tell them they’re lizards… when you catch their tail, they let it break off and they run away and you “eat their tail” while they “grow a new one.”

Game – echolocation. An alternative tag game. One child is “bat”, the others are insects. Give the bat a squeaky toy, and the insects get shakers. Blindfold the bat. He squeaks, they rattle back, he tries to tag one. (Source)

Closing Circle

Book: A Just So story by Kipling, or What Do You Do with A Tail Like This? (see below)

Discussion points to wrap up day’s topic: Who tried the bird beak activity? Could you pick up “nectar” with tweezers? Could you pick up the rice with a pipette? Each bird’s beak is perfectly adapted to the food that’s available in their habitat. What would happen if a bird went somewhere that wasn’t perfect for them?

About 150 years ago, a scientist named Charles Darwin was studying birds in the Galapagos islands. He and fellow scientists noticed that on each island, there was a slightly different kind of finch. From studying those finches, they developed a theory called natural selection, which is key to the theory of evolution. They believe that one kind of bird flew from Ecuador out to the islands. That bird may have eaten bugs, and nectar. But, on one of the islands, there were plenty of bugs but not a lot of flowers producing nectar. So the birds there got really good at catching bugs. And the ones who had the best beaks for bugs lived a long time and had lots of babies, who had good beaks for bugs. And on this other island, there were lots of flowers, so the birds there ate mostly nectar. On this island, there weren’t a lot of bugs or nectar, but there were a lot of nuts and seeds. The birds with the longest skinniest beaks were better at bugs, but not so good at nuts – so they didn’t live very long or have many babies. The birds with the best beaks for nectar didn’t do very well either – so they didn’t live long or have many babies. But then there were the birds with the short stubby strong beaks. It turned out those worked fine for eating nuts so they lived longer and had more babies with short stubby strong beaks. And those babies did well on the nut filled island, so they had more babies with short stubby strong beaks. And those birds with the long skinny beaks continued to not do well… Over a long period of time, the birds evolved. This island was now full of birds with the best beaks for bugs, and these had the best beaks for nectar, and these for nuts.

[For the discussion above, I used as a visual aid the last page of the “bird beaks” poster document (see above) which has photos of different finch beaks and a picture of the Galapagos islands showing different finches on different islands.] This discussion is best for ages 5 and up… I’m not sure my three year olds followed it.

Group Game: I had a big basket of assorted tongs and tweezers and pliers. I had each child choose a tool. I explained that we would pretend these were beaks. Then I gave each child a pompom and said these were food – maybe nuts, or fruit, or bugs. The kids practiced picking up one pompom with their tool. Then I took a big bag of pompoms of various sizes and small koosh balls and scattered them all over the floor. The kids used their “beaks” to collect as much “food” as they can. They took it back to their parent. Once all the food was gathered, we counted them, then talked about which beaks were best. And how some worked really well the small pompoms but not for the big pompoms or vice versa. We talked about how if you were a bird with a small-food beak and you lived on an island with big food, you’d be in trouble. But if you lived on an island with small food, you’d do great – you’d live a long time and have lots of babies, who would all have small beaks that were good at eating small food. You can repeat this game with each child using a different tool.

A Guessing Game – How Many Feet: You could do a game where you hold up a number and kids name examples of animals that have that many feet. So, for 0, they could guess fish or snakes or worms, 2 = birds and people (though technically people have four LIMBS). 4 = any mammal,  amphibians, some reptiles. 6 = any insect; 8 = arachnids, 14 = roly-poly / pill bugs (and other isopods); 30 to 350 = centipedes. My favorite one is 1 foot which is snails, clams, geoducks, etc. The number 1 will stump most kids AND parents… unless they’re in my class, in which the bonus answer is “teacher Janelle!” since I have just one leg.

Reviews of Recommended Books

  • Who Has These Feet? by Hulbert and Brooks. A fun read-aloud for my students, age 3 – 6. It’s a guessing game.. it shows an illustration of feet and says “who has these feet?” Kids guess, then you turn the page for a picture of the full animal and info about how their feet help them adapt to their environment. “Who has these feet? A duck has these feet. A duck has webbed feet so it can go fast in the water.” A nice introduction to the idea of adaptations.
  • Mouths (Let’s Look at …) by Sideri and Noble. This is a series of books, with titles including Hands, Eyes, and Feet. These books are aimed at younger children than any of our other adaptations books – great for ages 2 – 5. Illustrations of children’s faces, which are especially appealing to young children. What I love about this series is that as the text gives information about animal adaptations, the pictures show how humans use tools to accomplish similar tasks – exactly our theme of the week! For example, where it says “Butterflies have special mouths, then let butterflies suck up food”, it shows a picture of a butterfly sucking up nectar and children sucking juice through a straw. Where it talks about the pelican’s beak, it shows a child with a fish net.
  • What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Jenkins and Page. Lovely illustrations. Good read-aloud for ages 4 – 7, although for 4 – 5 year olds, you probably wouldn’t read all the details. It has a two page spread showing the nose (or tail, ears, eyes, feet, mouth) of five various animals, and asking “What do you do with a [nose] like this?” On the next two page spread is a picture of the whole bodies of all five animals, with information like “if you’re a mole, you use your nose to find your way underground” and “if you’re an alligator, you breathe through your nose while hiding in the water.” At the back of the book, there are more details on each animal. By lucky coincidence the book tied into some of the activities we had done… the ears page showed jackrabbit ears, and we’d talked in the previous week about how those help keep these desert animals cool and it showed bat ears which tied into our echolocation activity. On the tails page, it showed a skunk tail and a lizard tail, and tied in perfectly to our defense mechanisms game.
  • What Do You Do When Something Wants To Eat You? by Jenkins. Same author as above… this book has a higher vocabulary level though, so best for age 5 – 8. Talks about defense mechanisms. Would be a great follow-up to our defense mechanisms game, as it shows / reinforces some of the things we’ve already talked about, and adds more, like “the pangolin protects itself by rolling into an armor-plated ball. The basilisk lizard is known in South America as the Jesus Christ lizard. It can escape its enemies by running across the surface of ponds and streams, using its large feet and great speed to keep it from sinking in the water.” Engaging book. An Amazon reviewer complains that “it uses a lot of animals that children wouldn’t recognize.” I think one of the roles of non-fiction books in our children’s lives is to broaden their exposure to the world, so I consider this a benefit to the book, not a downside.
  • How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? also by Jenkins and Page. Age 6 – 9. One page spread asks a question / poses a problem and shows several animals. The next page details all their solutions to that problem. For example: “How many ways can you use a leaf? A tailorbird sews a leaf into a pouch that will hold her nest and eggs. Stepping from one lily pad to another, the lily trotter [bird] can walk over the surface of a pond… An orangutan uses a large leaf as an umbrella.” You’ll also learn how animals snare a fish, hatch an egg, dig a hole, and eat a clam. Quite good – if your child enjoyed What do you do with a tail, and what do you do when something wants to eat you, this is a good next step.
  • Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do also by Jenkins and Page. Age 6 – 9. Each page includes a large close-up illustration of an animal’s face, and asks a question, then the animal “answers” that question. “Dear bighorn sheep: don’t those huge horns get in your way? They can be a pain. But I’m a male sheep, and to impress females I have to fight with other guys. We bang our heads together, and my big horns help me win.” “Dear giraffe: why is your tongue purple? …. so it won’t get sunburned.” A fun collection of trivia, but I’d choose another Jenkins and Page as my “starter” book, such as What do you do with a tail.
  • Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World by Jenkins. Yet another book by Jenkins, but this one is best for 8 – 10 year olds… the text might even aim older than that but older kids less likely to enjoy the picture book format of it. This book focuses just on eyes, with great up-close illustrations. Sample text: “At the back of the housecat’s eye is a reflective layer called a tapetum. This layer bounces light back through the cat’s retina, improving its eyesight in dim light. Like most predators, cats have forward facing eyes.”
  • Whose Food Is This?: A Look at What Animals Eat – Leaves, Bugs, and Nuts by Allen, Alderman and Shea. This book has the same illustrators but a different author as one of our habitat books, Whose House Is This? For ages 5 – 7. One page shows a lovely illustration of food, and asks “Whose food is this…” The next page shows an animal eating that food. Example: “Whose food is this, dangling from a tree? This is a fruit bat’s peach. A fruit bat flies from tree to tree, eating peaches and other fruits. The bat chews the whole fruit. It swallows the soft, sweet parts. Then it spits out most of the pulp, seeds, and peel.” The illustrations are appealing, as is the format of asking a repeating question and then offering the answer. But, some of the answers would be inscrutable to a young child… even when I as an adult look at a picture of wheat “scattered about an African field”, I could not begin to guess that it is the ostrich’s food.
  • What Color Is Camouflage? by Otto and Lloyd. Age 5 – 8. An introduction to the idea of camouflage.
  • If You Hopped Like A Frog by Schwartz and Warhola. This is more of a book about math than about adaptations but it can fit in to this week.The book description says “introduces the concept of ratio by comparing what humans would be able to do if they had bodies like different animals.” Two examples: On a single page with an entertaining illustration: “If you swallowed like a snake, you could gulp a hot dog thicker than a telephone pole….”” Or spread over three illustrated pages: “If you grew as fast in the first nine months after you were born as you did in the nine months before you were born, you would have been a towering tot, taller than mountain tops and heavier than 2 1/2 million elephants.” In the back, there’s a detailed description of the math involved in the calculations. This is a book that three to four year olds would giggle over because the pictures and the ideas are so silly. But they wouldn’t be able to grasp the idea of proportions or imagining themselves to be all these different sizes. A 6 to 7 year old might have some grasp of the math. Reviewers on Amazon describe using it with 6th grade math classes and with high school algebra classes to make ratios / proportions more entertaining.
  • One Is a Snail, Ten is a Crab: A Counting by Feet Book by Sayre. Another “math” book, and one of my favorite math books ever. “1 is a snail. 2 is a person. 3 is a person and a snail…. 30 is three crabs or ten people and a crab… 90 is nine crabs or ten spiders and a crab…” This is a great pairing with our “How Many Feet” guessing game.
  • Unbeatable Beaks by Swinburne, Paley. Age 4 – 7. All about the variety of beaks on birds, and their uses. “A beak can pry, a beak can preen, the shape is straight, bent, in between. A beak is a spoon, a beak is a slicer. A beak is a scraper, stabber, and spiker.” Each page shows illustrations of various birds with labels indicating their species. I love this book for supplementary material on our table with the bird beak activity. I personally wouldn’t read it aloud at group time, because it’s just a long litany of ideas that may come at a child too quickly / not get explained enough to understand.
  • Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Raglin. Elephant’s Child illustrated by Rowe. Just So Stories illustrated by Wallace. These are all the full text (I think) of Kipling’s tale, with illustrations. While I have read the full versions to my children at home, they’re way too long for my class setting. I would LOVE to find a shortened version of the story that still kept some of the magic of the original words (“he was full of insatiable curiosity… now, you must know and understand, O Best Beloved… till he trod on what he thought was a log of wood at the very edge of the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo river, all set about with fever-trees.”) but was not so terribly long… An appropriate length version of one of the Just So stories would be a great addition to closing circle for this class… combining classic literature and a little magic/myth into our science class. I would read it for the joy of it, then we’d talk about how it didn’t reflect the actual science…
    • When I was a kid, I had a record… yeah, a 33 rpm LP because I’m that old… that was Captain Kangaroo telling Just So Stories, and that’s the version I want a book of…. I did make a cassette tape of the album for my older kids…. yeah, a cassette tape, because they’re that old. Maybe I need to digitize it for my youngest child…
  • Animalium: Welcome to the Museum by Scott, Broom. This is a big book – 11 by 15 inches, 90 pages. It’s best for an 8 – 10 year old child, and would appeal to the sort of child who just loves big books – who delights in reading the encyclopedias. (And some of those type of bibliophiles start early… so I could see this appealing to some 5 or 6 year olds, even if they can’t read it or understand it yet.) The book’s cover says “Welcome to the Museum” and it is presented somewhat like an illustrated natural history museum. For example, there’s a two page spread on flightless birds, which includes detailed naturalistic illustrations of an ostrich and a cassowary and their eggs, and descriptions of each of them, similar to what you might see on a plaque in a museum. In our class for 3 – 7 year olds, it’s not anything I would read aloud to any of them but it was fun to have on a shelf and have a couple of our kids settle in to flip through and admire all the illustrations. If you’re looking for a similar style of “big book” on animals, also consider: Creaturepedia: Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth.
    • I also notice Amazon has an Animalium Activity Book…. The text description doesn’t say a lot about it, just that “myriad activities in this book challenge readers to discover something new and use their imaginations to draw, decorate, and design on every tear-out page.”

What if you don’t believe in evolution?

On Amazon, I noticed that some books on habitats had negative reviews from people that complained that they taught about adaptations, which relates to evolution, which was against their spiritual beliefs. Personally, I teach from a scientific perspective, and I do talk about natural selection / evolution. But, it is possible to still talk about habitats and adaptations without talking about evolution. Our children can clearly see that desert animals are different than arctic animals, and do well within their native habitats. It doesn’t make sense to deny the existence of bio-diversity. Some parents may choose to present this as signs of God’s hands in creating a vast array of creatures uniquely suited to their unique habitats.