Bugs – Science for Kids

We studied Insects, Arachnids, and Myriapods. (Note, the word bug has a scientific meaning (below) but we used it like kids use it – to mean any little creepy crawly things.)

The Bug Factory

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On our biggest table we set out samples of multiple different kinds of bugs kids could make, and all the materials to make those bugs or any other bug they wanted to create. It included a poster that showed anatomy of an ant and a spider and examples of a few other kinds of bugs. Our samples included:

Model Magic bugs: Using Model Magic clay (learn more here), kids could roll three balls, squish them together till they stick, and then push in 6 pipe cleaner legs for the insect of their choice, or two balls with 8 legs for a spider or lots of balls and some antenna for a caterpillar. They could use sharpies to draw in details, or could add googly eyes. The air drying clay shrinks just a tiny bit as it dries, and I found the legs stayed attached to the ladybug with no problem, but as you can see a few of the spider legs got loose enough to fall out. So parents might need to glue some legs back in at home after the bug dries.

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Pom Pom caterpillars: Glue pompoms to a craft stick (or a clothespin). Add on googly eyes, or draw eyes, then twist on pipe cleaner antennas. (Instead of pompoms, you can also use glittery “jewels” or foam shapes.)

Fold Out Butterfly: This craft starts with a pom pom caterpillar. Then you tape on craft sticks so they can fold up against the caterpillars sides. So your caterpillar can grow, then spread its wings.

For the one of the left, this idea came from Danielle’s Place, where she has a great description of the steps for making it. We only suggested this one to our oldest kids (age 6 and 7) because it was over the head of our littlest ones (age 3 and 4). The wings accordion fold into a stack you can hide under the caterpillar. My co-teacher made this sample at home, where she only had blue masking tape. She used oil pastels to cover that with the drawing. Beige or white tape would work better.

The one on the right is a simplified version. To get the accordion fold to work, you have to be pretty precise… this other is a little easier, and you just roll the wings up around the butterfly as shown in the small pictures, which let you tuck the butterfly into a “cocoon” toilet paper roll.

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Paper Plate Roly Poly. Another idea from Danielle’s Place – check there for full directions. She recommends making it with triangles of cardboard, but we just cut a paper plate into triangles. Then you fasten with a brad, add antenna and a smile, and tape on pipe cleaner legs. This rolls up into a full circle like a roly poly bug does when you poke at it. Tip for the antenna… I’d been gluing them on, which wasn’t working great, but one of my six year old students figured out it worked better to punch holes, and twist the antenna through them. I love getting ideas from my kids!

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These bugs (which are not insects – they’re crustaceans) are very easy to find in many regions – just flip over an old piece of wood or a log and you may find some. You can learn more about them at Preschool Powol Packets. (Trivia: They’re also an interesting study in language variations in the US. Depending on where you’re from, you might call them a roly poly, a potato bug, wood louse, pill bug, or something else – see language map here: www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_74.html)

Next year, I want to at least bring pictures of one in with me, or I may capture some live ones to bring in for the bug zoo.

Magnetic Ants: Cut an ant shape from black paper. Add three brads, and fold them out to make 6 legs. These are to use with our picnic plate project below.

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Water strider: These are the bugs that “walk” on water. I really wanted to make a water strider that would float / stand on the surface of the water to play with in the water table. (This also ties into next week’s theme, which is Sink/Float, and where we may walk around a pond with water striders on it.) I made one with Styrofoam (from a takeout container) – I didn’t get a picture of it, but it was a bug body of Styrofoam, with pipe cleaner legs taped on the bottom, then 6 little Styrofoam feet glued on to the pipe cleaners (having big feet is not scientifically accurate…. water striders have little hairs on their legs that help them stay on the surface – the hairs capture air bubbles and repel the water). It floated fine… until a kid played with it and dunked it under the water… once the pipe cleaners got wet, they were heavy and it no longer floated. We tried making one with wine corks and toothpicks. We had hoped to cut up the cork to make feet, but that didn’t work – it might work with corkboard feet. Getting all the feet to line up on the same plane would also be important for making it float. This is our next challenge.

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Egg Carton Bugs: If you have egg cartons saved up… Kids can use one segment of the carton and pipe cleaners to make a daddy long legs, or two to make a spider, three to make an ant, 4 – 6 to make a caterpillar. You can paint them if desired. Just search Pinterest for “egg carton bugs” for lots of examples.

Butterfly Ideas: You could easily make the coffee filter butterflies that we did in rainbow week. If you’ve got kids for multiple days, you could also make clothespin and pompom caterpillars early in the week, and add the coffee filter wings a few days later. Another option for wings would be to use an iron to melt crayon shavings between layers of waxed paper for a stained glass look. There are more butterfly crafts here: www.the-preschool-professor.com/butterfly-crafts.html and here http://www.preschooleducation.com/abug.shtml

Arts and Crafts

A Rorschach Butterfly: cut out paper butterfly shapes. Fold them in half. Have kids paint on one half, then fold it in half, press together to transfer paint and open it up again to reveal the symmetry of the two sides.

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For children age 5 and older, a great symmetry-learning project is to design a coloring sheet where on one side you have shapes that the child colors in. On the other side, they have to figure out where to draw the shapes so they’re symmetrical and then color them in to match. Here’s a printable coloring page for you.

 

Butterfly Life Cycle: We often do more process oriented art, but I like to occasionally put out a product oriented project. There were four stages: cut out a green leaf. Add glue and some rice to be the eggs. Then cut out more green leaves, punch holes in them to be a chewed up leaf, then go to the bug factory and make a pompom caterpillar. Set the caterpillar on the leaf, but don’t glue him down. Then tape on a toilet paper tube to be the cocoon. (Or if you’re ambitious, make a paper mache or decoupage cocoon.) Then, go to the easel, and make a Rorschach butterfly. Bring it back and glue it on, just gluing the center so the wings can “flap”. (My five year old liked playing with this project interactively – he’d make the caterpillar nibble the leaves, then climb into the cocoon, then the caterpillar would come out and be the center of the butterfly, flapping its wings.)

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Bug antenna: We got Plastic Headbands – 36 for $7! Kids used pipe cleaners and beads to make antenna. (If you do a bug themed birthday party, this is a nice take home favor.)

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Paper Plate Picnics: Decorate a paper plate by drawing your favorite food. Then put on a magnetic ant from the bug factory. Hold a Magnetic Wand under the plate and make the ant run around on the food.

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Bugs at a Picnic: Print a picnic blanket design on a piece of paper. Put it out with a stamp pad and markers. Kids make fingerprint bugs all over the paper, using the markers to add features.

Other Activities

Sensory Table: Bug Sort: We buried plastic bugs in the sand (could also use other sensory materials). Kids would unbury, then sort them into three dishes: insect – 6 legs, arachnid – 8 legs, or myriapod – lots of legs.

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Spider Web: This is a simple big motor activity. Take a hula hoop or smaller plastic ring. Use tape to make a spider web. The spokes of the spider web should use the not sticky side of the tape facing out, the rings should have the sticky side facing out. (You can point this out to the kids… the spokes of a web and the center are generally made of a non-adhesive spider silk so the spider can walk on the web without getting stuck.)

Then throw cotton balls at it, pretending they’re flies who are flying around and get caught in the web. If a child throws and misses you say “hurray, the fly got away.” We’ve tried this in the past with pompoms, and they would often hit and not stick which was discouraging. (If you’re working with 5 – 7 year olds, you might get a good ratio of hits and misses, but with our little ones who don’t have great aim, we needed to make this easier.) Cotton balls stuck much better, although over time, they left fluff all over the tape which would eventually make it less sticky.

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Bug puppet show: We set up the puppet theatre and a variety of bug puppets. We have found that if we set up imaginary play stations but don’t provide any guidance, often they are ignored. But if one of the adults gets something started, the kids will then join in and then run with it and have a great time putting on their own plays and watching other kids’ performances. (Also, if you put a rug or pillows out in front of the stage, kids are more likely to sit and be an audience.)

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Bug Zoo: We brought in crickets and meal worms. (My daughter has a pet gecko that we care for while she’s at college – sigh, the long life expectancy of childhood pets…. so we always have these bugs at home.) You can also easily gather worms, snails, and maybe slugs (if it’s rained recently), or ants, or water bugs. Put them out with magnifying glasses, questions to guide observations, and books that let the kids learn more. You can also ask kids to gather and bring in specimens, but remind them to handle them humanely, put them in a container with air holes and a food source, and release them back into their habitat after class. (This year I didn’t have the time or energy to catch real bugs, so I downloaded a bunch of good up-close insect videos from YouTube, and played them on a laptop on loop. I worried the kids would turn into screen zombies… but they’d all check it out for a little while and move on.)

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Other theme related activities: We’re blessed to share a classroom with a preschool art program that’s had about 20 years to accumulate fun puzzles, games, and building toys, so we put some out each week. This time, we had the bug eye lenses Bug Eye lenses, Cooties, Butterfly Puzzle and Bug Dominoes  You could also bring in the Elefun game we used in Wind week, or combine the Elefun butterflies with the wind tube.

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Snack: You could do a dirt cup (chocolate pudding, crushed oreos, and gummy worms) or bugs on a log (use pretzels or celery as the log, spread on cream cheese or peanut butter or sunflower butter, then sprinkle on chocolate chips or raisins or dried cranberries to be the bugs.) Or pasta – see notes under more ideas below.

Outdoors:

We hid plastic butterflies and dragonflies out in the playground and went on a bug hunt. If you had butterfly nets, it would be even better.

You can do a real bug hunt by flipping over rocks and pieces of wood, looking in trees and so on. Try a tree shake – lay out a white sheet under a tree, then shake the branch for a few minutes and see what all falls out of the tree and onto the sheet.

More Ideas: As always, I have more ideas than we use….  Check out:

  • Marble painting spider webs: Take a cake pan. Cut black paper to put in the bottom. Dip a marble in white paint. Roll it to make a spider web.
  • Alphabet caterpillar: Cut out 26 circles of rainbow colors of paper. Write one letter on each. Cut out one more to be the caterpillar’s head with a face and antenna. Kids assemble the caterpillar pieces in alphabetical order.
  • Cricket noises. Put on a recording of cricket noises. Then explain how crickets make that noise and have kids try to replicate. The two methods I’ve see recommended are to rasp a nail file over the edge of a piece of cardstock, or rasp a comb over a stick.
  • A really simple butterfly life cycle is to use pasta for the stages: orzo or acine di pepe for the egg, rotini or penne for the caterpillar, conchiglie (shell pasta) for the chrysalis, and bowtie for the butterfly. You could also use these shapes to make a fun lunch.
  • Make beeswax candles.

Opening Circle

Demo: As kids slowly come in to circle room, we demonstrate some of the activities that they’ll find in the classroom. If you find there’s an activity which hasn’t quite caught kids’ attention during discovery time, this is a great time to show it to them and talk about it to encourage them to check it out after circle.

Gathering: We always have a song, book, or rhythm activity to get kids’ attention focused and help them settle down. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (see below), which many of them were familiar with and loved seeing at class.

Discussion: We talked about the life cycle of a butterfly. I explained that butterflies don’t actually spin cocoons, even though many things (like today’s book and today’s song) say that they do. Moths spin silk cocoons. Butterfly caterpillars shed their skins / exoskeletons as they grow like many (all?) insects. When they are ready to become butterflies, they spin some silk to help them hang from a branch, split their skin, and then some gelatinous stuff forms, then hardens into a jewel like chrysalis. (For a good illustration and discussion of this, see Rockwell’s Becoming Butterflies (details below). Some butterflies make a pouch of leaves and form their chrysalis inside there.

Big motor game: We pretended to be butterflies… first, curled up in little balls on the floor to be eggs, then popped out of our eggs, then crawled around on the floor, eating apples, strawberries, chocolate cake, and watermelon (like the Very Hungry Caterpillar). Then we curled up again as a chrysalis. Then broke free, spreading our wings slowly, fluttering them till they dried, then flying around the room. (Search on YouTube for “butterfly emerging” and you’ll find lots of videos of this process.)

Song: I found this song on https://kcls.org/content/caterpillar-caterpillar-crawl-crawl-crawl/  but I added the first verse and revised some of the words a little so they scanned better to the music. Done to the tune of Frere Jacques / Are You Sleeping. Optional: you could combine this with the movement game, and have the kids pretend to be each of these stages of the life cycle.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl up in your egg, curl up in your egg, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawling on a green leaf, crawling on a green leaf crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl.
Caterpillar, caterpillar eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eating leaves all day, eating leaves all night, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.
Caterpillar, caterpillar, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin a silk cocoon, spin a silk cocoon, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin.
[the scientifically accurate one would be something like: shed shed shed… shed your skin the chrysalis…]
Caterpillar, caterpillar, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep in your cocoon, sleep until you bloom, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.
Caterpillar, caterpillar, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm from your cocoon, squirm from your cocoon squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm,
Caterpillar, caterpillar, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, you are not a caterpillar, you’re a big butterfly,  fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly

Closing Circle

Discussion: We talked about (and drew on the board) how many body parts and legs insects, arachnids, and myriapods have.

Game: How Many Legs? I would write a number on the board, then ask them for examples of what has that many legs. 6 – insects (their examples included ladybugs, ants, grasshoppers, etc.). 8 – spiders. 4 – their examples were all mammals – dogs, cats, cows, and so on. I added some reptiles and amphibians (lizards, frogs, etc.)  2 – they said humans (I pointed out we have four limbs like mammals) and birds. 0 – snakes, fish and various aquatic creatures, worms; 14 – roly poly, more than 20 – myriapods, and the stumper… 1 – clams and geoducks (from the family Pelecypoda) and snails. And, as my students all pointed out – Teacher Janelle. (That’s me. I’m an amputee and do in fact have one foot.)

Discussion: We labelled the body parts of the bugs we’d drawn. Insects have a head, thorax, and abdomen. Arachnids (spiders) have a cephalothorax (use this word with the kids, then explain that cephalo means head, and thorax means chest, so this is their head to chest part of the body) and an abdomen (belly). A very common misconception is that the legs are attached to the abdomen (which humans tend to think of as “the body” of the spider.) The legs are actually attached to the cephalothorax (what looks like the head to a human.) You will notice that MOST drawings of spiders and most plastic spiders get this wrong. Many drawings and plastic spiders actually only have one body part with all the legs coming out of it, daddy long legs style. (FYI, daddy long legs are not spiders, but they are arachnids – their cephalothorax and abdomen are fused together.)

Song: From Growing Up Wild book. to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

Head, Thorax, Abdomen; [touch head, chest, belly]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
Six legs, some wings, and an exoskeleton. [Touch legs, back, and then sweep your hands around your body]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen

Head, Thorax, Abdomen; Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
Big eyes, small size and two antennae too. [Point to eyes, then use fingers to show a small something, then wiggle fingers over your head as antenna]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen

Book: We read (with feeling!) Argh Spider!

Recommended Books (contain affiliate links)

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Carle. An egg hatches, a caterpillar eats and eats, then spins a cocoon, then emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Just one of my favorite children’s books ever. The illustrations are nice, it’s fun and engaging, and somehow the pacing of it is absolutely perfect for a read-aloud children’s book. Aimed at ages 3 – 5, but the 6 and 7 year olds will have some nostalgia for it. Note, if your child loves this book, you may also want to check out Carle’s whole collection of “Very” bug books. Here’s how a book cover describes a few of them: “Caterpillar teaches the days of the week, counting and metamorphosis…  The Very Busy Spider is about barnyard animals and sounds, how a spider builds a web,… and about useful work and its reward. Very Quiet Cricket is about a cricket finding its voice, and about love and survival.”
  • Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Monks. A lonely spider wants to be a pet, and does its best job to win over a family, who keep saying “argh! spider!” then “Out you Go!” Then the spider wins them over – there’s a lovely page with sparkly webs the spider has woven – and is a happy pet – until s/he brings over too many friends to play! It’s a really fun read-aloud. Also, at my parent education session that day, I had talked about emotional intelligence, and one suggestion I’d made to the parents is that when reading books, talk about the emotions of the characters – ask kids to notice expressions in the illustrations – ask “how do you think this character feels now?” And Argh Spider is a great book for illustrating just how this emotional literacy can be pulled into reading almost any great kids book. Good for ages 3 – 7.
  • Waiting for Wings by Ehlert. Big book with big bold illustrations makes it great for circle time reading. Nice engaging words, with a good rhyme and rhythm. Tells the story of caterpillars hatching, eating, making a case (chrysalis), and becoming butterflies. On the final pages, we see pictures of several different species, where it shows what food they eat, what the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly look like. Good for ages 3 – 6.
  • Bug Safari by Barner. A child goes on a safari through a “bug-infested jungle”. He follows a trail of ants, and they pass by many other insects like dung beetles, green mantis, and spiders. The ants lead him back to his own base camp, where they’ve discovered the family picnic! Engaging story, fun illustrations, and good info. At the back of the book, there’s more details about each of the bugs seen. Recommended read-aloud for ages 5 – 7.
  • Ten Little Caterpillars by Martin and Ehlert. Another book featuring Lois Ehlert’s fabulous, vibrant illustrations – while not detailed naturalistic drawings, they definitely capture the essence of natural objects. I have to confess that when I read this, my first impression was that many of the caterpillars met a bad ending, and that maybe only number ten survived. I re-read it, and one through five were fine. Number 6 was carried off to school, number 7 met a hungry wren, the eighth was frightened by a hen, the ninth falls into the sea, right in front of a big hungry looking fish. I’m not sure whether or not these caterpillars survive those encounters – a kid might not have this question, but I notice it as an adult. Number 10 turns into a butterfly. And again at the back, there’s pictures of various caterpillars, butterflies and moths. Ages 3 – 5.
  • Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Barton.  Very bright, cheery illustrations. This could be a good book to put on the table at the bug factory, because if shows simplified versions of ladybugs, grasshoppers, bees and more. Fun circle time read-aloud for three year olds. The bonus  is the “bug-o-meter” chart in the back, which has 8 columns for 8 types of bugs, then 4 rows for “can it fly, where does it live, how man legs, and does it sting.” This was a great introduction to charts for my five year old, who figured them out quickly as I asked: “Can you tell me all the bugs that sting” and other questions.
  • Inch by Inch by Lionni. A story about an inchworm who saves himself from being eaten by a robin by saying “I am useful. I measure things.” And he goes on to measure the robin’s tail, flamingo’s neck, toucan’s beak, and onward, until the nightingale demands he measure her song. He inches away. Nice illustrations, nice engaging story. Would also be fun to include in a class on measuring. Ages 3 – 6, nice read-aloud.
  • Becoming Butterflies by Rockwell and Halsey. If you’re planning to get a Live Butterfly Kit, then I would absolutely get this book. It tells the story of a preschool teacher bringing caterpillars into the classroom and the children watching them through the process of hungry caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly and then releasing them. Ages 5- 7, unless you’ve got your own live caterpillars, in which case I think 3 – 4 year olds would engage in this book even though it’s longer than their typical attention span.
  • Life Story of a Ladybug by Guillain. A non-fiction book – the words are best for ages 5 – 7. But the photos are great for any age. Great colorful up close photos. I like that this shows the life cycle of a ladybug from egg to larva to pupa to adult . I think almost all preschool kids learn about the life cycle of the butterfly (and sometimes moths) but we rarely teach them that other insects go through a similar series of changes.
  • Those Amazing Ants by Demuth and Schindler. Ages 6 – 7. A non-fiction book about ants, which summarizes lots of good information in an engaging, story-telling way. Great “up close” illustrations of ants. Shows life cycle of ant, from egg to worm to adult.
  • Bugs Are Insects by Rockwell. A detailed non-fiction, for ages 6 – 7. Discusses anatomy of insects and how to tell insects from arachnids. It defines bug, saying “we sometimes call insects bugs.. a bug is an insect with a mouth like a beak and a head that forms a triangle” like stinkbugs, bedbugs and water striders.
  • Chirping Crickets by Berger and Lloyd. A non-fiction book which tells the science of crickets in an engaging way. Ages 6 – 7.

 

Videos and Apps

  • Caterpillar Shoes: Ok, the caterpillar is sharing its shoes with all the other bugs, so that part is completely scientifically inaccurate. But this is a terribly cute video and does introduce lots of different kinds of bugs.
  • What is an Insect is a nice 2 minute video about the basic science of insects explained at a preschool level.
  • Crickets, Insects and Reptiles. Good if you can stand the perky host…
  • All About Bugs is another nice video, though the speaking style is a little slow and overly enunciated. But the nice thing is that it has captions. If you have a child who reads, I like captions they can read along with as literacy practice.

Most bug apps are about smashing bugs, killing bugs, and wars on bugs. There’s a Very Hungry Caterpillar app – a free version and a $3.99 version. I’ve only spent a few minutes with it, but it’s a nice educational game with a quiet peaceful tone – appears good for a 3 or 4 year old. I’m testing out Bug Village, which is about building bug villages.

What Sticks?

In the days since class, my 5 year old has been very aware of the insects in our life… last night he spent 15 minutes watching the anthills outside our garage, and this morning, he wanted to walk to the “bee bush”, a flowering bush near our house that bees are always surrounding this time of year. When a flying ant landed on our picnic table, he could name the body parts, counted the legs to verify there were six, and said “look, it has wings… remember how you said in class that most ants don’t have wings, but some do?”

Skeletons

We have done this topic as a stand-alone unit near Halloween, and also combined it with Bugs (and Exoskeletons).

Key concepts: The skeleton creates a structure for our body.
1) Having long, strong bones helps us to stand up and to carry things.
2) Our skull and ribcage help to protect our fragile organs.
3) Our joints allow us flexibility.

We don’t present these concepts to the children at the start of class. We first present them with activities to explore hands-on so they can discover ideas and make connections on their own. (See my post on class structure.)

So, in this post, I’ll first share our activities with you, then at the end, I’ll talk about how we discuss these concepts during opening circle and closing circle.

Engineering Projects

Build a Cardboard (Or Straws) Finger or Hand. Here’s a post describing this in a detailed tutorial.

  

Build an elbow joint. You can also make a paper or cardboard arm to show the lever action of the elbow joint, as seen in our Levers class.

Art Projects:

Pasta skeletons: We had drawings of simple stick figures, glue, and pasta (penne, elbow macaroni and bow ties). You can see some of the results on the right. We discovered it would have been better to do these on cardboard, or at least cardstock, as the pasta is very heavy, and it’s hard to carry a piece of floppy paper with pasta glued all over it. Instead of doing the stick figures, another option would be to have pictures of various skeletons or x-rays (snakes, dogs, people) and let children design whichever skeleton they want. (We do a similar project in our Dinosaurs class.)

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Hand x-rays: We had black paper hands, Q-tips we’d cut into halves (or straws cut short), and glue. Children glued on bones. Make a sample for kids to copy, but also have an x-ray of a hand so children really see what they are creating.

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Almost Unschoolers has a fun idea of helping the children feel where the bones are on their hands, then painting their hands where they can feel the bones, then pressing their hand onto the black paper, making a handprint of their bones that looks a lot like an x-ray.

Build skeletons to support a salt dough body: The idea was: Using salt dough and toothpicks (you could also use wooden coffee stirrers cut short), build a skeleton, then build the body on top of it. Children used the materials in a wide variety of ways, none were quite what we’d expected / planned. Would be worth trying again with a sturdier building material for the skeletal structure and a lighter weight substance to coat it with.

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Puzzles and Sorting Games:

Skeleton puzzle: We printed the skeleton found here: www.gamescraftscoloring.com/crafts/halloween_skeleton.htm then laminated it and cut it apart. Children could assemble it on the floor.

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Sorting: We put out two dishes labeled skeleton and exoskeleton, and a collection of plastic animals and insects and had the children sort them.

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Science experiment: We considered trying to dissolve chicken bones in Coca-Cola (search online for more discussion of this, or just look at one kids’ experiment: http://schools.dcsd.k12.nv.us/zces/kixmiller/class/dkixmiller/%602012/www/a/Gabriela/ScienceFair.htm. But, we were concerned about health issues of raw chicken bones.

There’s also the naked egg experiment we did for eggs week of dissolving an egg shell in vinegar (http://www.science-sparks.com/2012/12/24/how-to-get-an-egg-yolk-without-cracking-the-egg/). The idea behind both of these experiments is that acidic things (coke, vinegar) dissolve calcium. There’s a great description of how to do a week-long experiment with this with your kids at home: http://littlewondersdays.blogspot.com/2012/03/disappearing-egg.html

In class, we knew we wouldn’t see the full effects in a couple hours of class, but wanted to introduce the idea, so we had egg shells, vinegar, and pipettes and eye droppers. The kids placed eggshells in a cup and dripped vinegar on them. In the morning class, the vinegar fizzed all around the eggshells, so you could see a reaction happening. For some strange reason, in the afternoon class, we got no reaction at all… But the kids still enjoyed playing with pipettes and eye droppers.

Free Play:

ZOOB: We had a construction toy out, called ZOOB.  The connections are basically balls that pop into sockets – somewhat like a ball joint – like our shoulders and hips. We put them on a table with Wood Artist Manikins which kids could use to explore how joints work, then build joints with the Zoob. (I’d love to have a Manikin Hand too)

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A note about Zoob: I have to say that if I was buying construction toys for home and had limited space and budget, Zoob would not be my first choice construction toy, as I find they’ve got some big limitations on what you can do with them. But, if your child already has lots of experience with other building toys, these offer an intriguing new set of challenges.

Sensory tub: we buried plastic insects under lentils: “find the exoskeleton.”

Book Recommendations:

As always, we get several books from the library to put on the shelf, but only read a few of them in class. Here are some of this week’s books:

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  • Dem Bones by Barner has great illustrations, and the words of the song (a spiritual from about 100 years ago that’s very fun to sing) , but it also has information about each of the bones, like it talks about how the ankle bone helps us bend, flex, and climb stairs. When we read it in class, while I sing out the verse (“the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone”), I point to that bone or joint on me and encourage them to examine their own bone or joint (like flexing and swiveling the ankle joint) as I read the additional facts about that bone. After we read all the way through, we sing the song as I flip through the book. It’s a fun and memorable way to learn about skeletons. Note, the lyrics in the book end with the traditional “Hear the Word of the Lord”. If that’s not appropriate for your setting, you can adapt to “Doing the Skeleton Dance.”bones
  • Bend and Stretch: Learning About Your Bones and Muscles by Nettleton is a nice non-fiction book, that would be a great educational book about how the body works for kids age 5 – 7 or so. Sample text: “Inside of your body, you have a skeleton made of bones. Bones are strong and hard. Bones help hold your body upright.” “Muscles attach to bones on each side of a joint. The muscles stretch and shrink as the joint is straightened and bent.”
  • Skelly the Skeleton Girl by Jimmy Pickering. Fiction, age 4 – 6. If you like the art style / humor of Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, you would like this book. Some might find it a little creepy. Tells the story of a girl who finds a bone and asks all her monsters if it’s theirs, then discovers it belongs to a skeleton dog.
  • My Spine by Rena. Non-fiction. Helps kids age 5 – 7 clearly understand what the spine is and what it does for us. Example text: “Why can my spine move so easily? It’s like beads on a string… the whole string of beads can move around a lot….. My spine is made of five parts. Each has its own job… the part by my chest keeps my ribs in place. The ribs in your rib cage protect your heart.”
  • The Skeletal System by Kay Manolis and Your Skeletal System Works! by Flora Brett are both good non-fiction with good images – for ages 7 – 9 Skeletal System by Sarah Tieck would be better for 6 year olds.
  • Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones by Judy Schachner. Here’s the Amazon review. “Holy guacamole! Skippyjon Jones is crazy-loco for dinosaurs! The kitty boy enters (via his closet) the land of dinosaurs in search of the fabled Skipposaurus. Instead he runs into his old amigos, the Chimichango gang. When a T-Mex threatens the pack, it’s El Skippito, the great sword fighter, to the rescue. With yips and yowls, he drives the big baddie away, so all the dino-dudes can rattle their bones another day.” Kids like it because it’s kind of wild and crazy. I don’t like it. My co-teacher feels like there are racial stereotypes some people may find offensive.

Opening Circle:

Reminder… our key concepts are:

1) Having long, strong bones helps us to stand up and to carry things.
2) Our skull and rib cage help to protect our fragile organs.
3) Our joints allow us flexibility.

What are bones? Especially for our little ones (age 2.5 – 4) we needed to ground them in what bones are and what a skeleton is. (I asked during little kids’ circle: “who here has a skeleton?” and one child raised her hand.) You can have them touch their cheek and feel how soft it is, then touch their jawbone or cheekbone and ask them to notice how hard it is. (If you have a skull model or picture of a skull, point out these bones.) Then have them feel their arms or hands and notice more bones.

Why are bones helpful – they help us stand and carry things. Talk about it, but also show it. One way to demo concept # 1 is to fill one glove with water or flour, and another glove with a “bony” hand made of popsicle sticks, and with water or flour. (As shown in this post on Pink and Green Mama.) I made our bony hand with a jar lid and five short colored pencils taped on, then tucked in a glove filled with kinetic sand. They can explore how floppy and useless the boneless hand is, then feel how sturdy the hand with “bones” is. Have them try holding a small book (or a wooden block) with the floppy fingers – the book falls to the ground. Then hold it with the firm fingers.

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How do bones protect us? You can talk about how the rib cage protects the heart and lungs, and the skull protects the brain (concept #2). We didn’t cover this specifically, but I bet you could do something with inflated balloons as the lungs. Have them blow air into a balloon (like the balloon is taking a deep breath). Easy, right? But what if you were out working, and something heavy fell on your chest? (Now lay a hand on the empty balloon, squishing it flat, and ask them to blow it up again. (Have the balloon take a breath.) It can’t inflate. Then protect the balloon inside a box or something to represent the rib cage. Now put the hand on the box… the box stays firm, the balloon isn’t squished… you can blow it up.

Note: After I wrote that, I noticed that in the Pink and Green Mama post I linked to above, she gives this intriguing, but low in detail description of how she explained this concept: “We saw how our lungs fill up with air and are protected by a ribcage. We saw how helmets protect our brains and heads. And we smashed stuff. Lots of balloons and also a giant ice alien brain.”

Exoskeletons You could also cover exoskeletons, and how insects and crabs have their hard skeletons on the outside to protect their soft squishy insides. (It would be great to have a crab shell or lobster claw or something for this discussion.) Talk about how exoskeletons inspired some human inventions. we showed pictures of armor from a variety of historical cultures, and we also showed modern invented “exoskeletons” that help people do hard labor or help people with physical disabilities walk or lift things. Learn more: www.infoniac.com/hi-tech/top-10-robotic-exoskeletons.html

Conclusions Circle

We first talked about all the things we had discovered and explored about bones and skeletons during discovery time, opening circle, and tinkering time. Then we added a new concept: joints.

How do joints help us? Go back to your hand made of pencils and sand/flour. It can hold up a book or a block. But, can it pick up a small object (like a cheerio)? No, because it has no joints. To help them further understand why joints matter, take long poster tubes or wrapping paper tubes, and slide them over the child’s arm (as shown in this post on Growing Little Scientists, which also has LOTS of other great ideas about teaching bones and joints). This locks their elbow joint straight. Now have them try to scratch their head.

If you’ve already talked about simple machines, and did the activity showing how the arm is a lever, you might remind them of that.

We had several wooden artists’ manikins, so we passed them around for kids to explore. I encouraged them to notice: how does the manikin’s elbow bend? Is this like your elbow? How does its shoulder move? Is this like your shoulder? Is it like the Zoob toys we played with? Then I posed a manikin and asked them to do the same thing with their body that the manikin was doing (lift one arm up, put both hands forward). Then we did it the other way… I did a motion and asked them to copy it with the manikin.

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We then sang Dry Bones as a fun wrap-up to the day.

photo credit: artist manikin Exuberance_6491 via photopin (license)  Zoob: http://www.myfreeproductsamples.com/free-kids-samples/building-modeling-with-zoob-event-at-barnes-noble/

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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Water bottle flower prints. In my son’s kindergarten, they did a project where they used plastic water bottles, soda bottles, and juice bottles (use a variety of brands) to make flower prints. Just paint a thin layer of paint on the bottom of the bottle, and print. The yellow one was a 16 ounce Pepsi bottle. Red was Dasani water. Orange and pink were Kirkland water bottles. Later, after the paint has dried, you could add paint or paper stems or leaves.

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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 class 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 rubber bouncy ball inside of a plastic Easter 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. (Unless, of course, you pack your egg inside a plastic baggy.)

You can use a very wide variety of materials to make your container. (See below for more tips). In our class, for 3 – 7 year olds, 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. (here’s an even simpler worksheet: 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 google search or YouTube 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” – really, any container filled with any type of soft packing materials – egg nestled 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, cardboard, or other materials.
  • Martian airbags (balloons surrounding the egg).
  • Helium balloons to float the egg slowly to the ground. (Note: some egg drop competitions don’t allow helium balloons, so be sure to check your rules!)

What have you tried? Was it successful?

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/).

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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.

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.

Animal Habitats

Last week at Family Inventors’ Lab, we covered Animal Classification, learning about all the different types of animals. This week, we studied the different types of habitats that animals live in, and next week will focus on how animals adapt to each of those habitats. (And how humans invent things that help them adapt to various circumstances.)

Science Activities

Habitat Sorting game: We laid out 5 pieces of fabric, each representing a habitat. On each one, we placed a photo of a human home in that habitat. (See below.) Then we put out lots of animal puppets and children were encouraged to sort them into the right habitat.

I Spy Camouflage Game. I did a Bing Image search for camouflage, (then filtered the license down to “free to share and use”) and then picked and chose several images from there… trying to find animals that were hard to spot, but not too hard. (It turned out that these were just right for our 5 and 6 year olds, but a little too challenging for our 3 to 4 year olds, so I’ll add some easier options next year.) I made up two sheets for a sort of “I-Spy” game. You can download the free printable here.

Camouflage Sort. We put out 12 plastic animals, and three bowls of sensory materials (aquarium gravel, ground cork, and plastic pellets) and encouraged children to place the animals in the bowl where they could best hide.Two other ways to explore camouflage: a stuffed animal hunt/plastic animal hunt where you hide many animals in the classroom or outside, taking advantage of camouflage where they can blend in, and have kids search for them. An indoor game where children are encouraged to look at what clothes they are wearing, then find the place in the room where they would best blend in.

Habitat Match. I wanted a game where the kids took pictures of animals and sorted them into their habitats. The Wise Owl Factory has two really nice options, one with cute animal drawings and one with photographs. Preschool activities also has a good alternative.

Quiz on Habitats and Adaptations. Next week, we will study Adaptations. This quiz was a preview of that… it asks questions like: “A polar bear has thick fur and fat to keep it warm in the Arctic. How would you stay warm there?” Here’s a free printable of this quiz.

I think this is a great idea… but it didn’t quite engage – the kids mostly walked past this table…. I may convert it into a lift the flap game – the simplest way to do this is just to format it so I can place post it notes over the answers so they have to flip them up to see them. Seeing something kinesthetic to do often attracts the kids more than a piece of paper does.

Art Projects

Make a clothespin creature: Last year, we made egg carton creatures. This year, we did clothespin creatures. We offered clothespins, pipe cleaners, cardstock, googly eyes, pompoms and more, plus we had a sheet with lots of ideas for different types of clothespin creatures to make. (You can find sources for all these ideas on my Pinterest page at www.pinterest.com/bcparented/clothespin-creatures/)

Here’s some of our final products – check out the turtle who pokes his head out of his shell when you open the clothespin!

Build a Habitat: Then kids went to the collage station and used cardboard bases and recycled materials to build a habitat for their creatures. They were encouraged to think about shelter, bedding, and food in their habitats.

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Make a fish habitat: We had paper “fish bowls,” aquarium rocks, blue paper squares and foil for water, some plants, and fish from shiny origami paper.

Group art: Last year, we created a spider web with tape. Kids glued onto it bits of plants, and paper spiders.

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Math Play: Bear Count. We put out Baby Bear Counters and two dice. Plus rules (PDF) for four different levels of play. That way our older kids (who read) could decide what level to play, or for our younger non-reading kids, their parents could choose.

Rules are:

  • Level 1 (youngest kids): Put one bear on #1 card, 2 bears on #2 and so on.
  • Level 2: roll one die, and place that many bears on the matching card. If the card is full, roll again.
  • Level 3: Roll 2 dice, add those numbers together. Place that many bears on the matching card. If the card is already full, roll again.
  • Level 4: Roll 2 dice. You can add, subtract, multiply or divide to pick what number of bears to use. If all possible cards are full, you roll again. Your goal: to fill the numbers with as little re-rolling as possible.

Imaginary play: We had a tent and camping equipment set up – it’s a human habitat that can be taken out into the woods.

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Free Play

Water table: Filled with water, ice, plastic trays to be ice floes. Then we put out plastic marine mammals, penguins, seals, and arctic people with sleds and igloos.

Sensory Table: Last year, we filled with popcorn kernels, assorted animals and wood bits. This year, it was a Build a Zoo activity, with brown rice, plastic animals, and fences.

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Build a habitat: Plastic animals and trees to play with. Or Tree Blocks and plastic animals.

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Building Toy: We put out our Lincoln logs with a picture of a log house in the woods to tie into the idea of how humans build homes in various habitats.

Teaching the Concepts – Opening Circle

The Big Idea: During opening circle, we explained to kids that habitat meant home. We talked about the things we need for a comfortable home. Since it was a cold winter day, the kids said that houses keep us warm and dry. We agreed that’s one purpose – but if you’re in a really hot place, we might need a shelter to keep us cool and shaded. We agreed it was important to have food in your home, and a comfy place to sleep. It’s also a handy place to stash your stuff that you don’t need right now, but will need in the future. We showed pictures of homes from several habitats around the world.

Then we talked about what different animals need in their home. We held up puppets and asked what would be a comfy home for that kind of animal. We wrote key things on the board: water, food, a place to sleep, a way to protect themselves from the weather and a way to hide (from their predators or from their prey.) One idea we shared was that certain animals can only live in certain places. Polar bears do great in the arctic, but not in the desert. A camel couldn’t live in the Arctic. Whales have skin and blubber that protect them from cold ocean water, and many animals have camouflage that protects them.

Book: Where do animals live – a non-fiction overview of habitats

Song: Sing to the tune of Mulberry Bush / This is the Way we Wash Our Hands. I found this at http://perpetualpreschool.com/animal-habitat-songs/#more-1922 but I adjusted the wording a bit… Hold up a puppet, ask where it lives, then sing a version of this song:

  • Forests are where the deer live, the deer live, the deer live… the forest is where the deer live, It’s their habitat.
  • Deserts are where camels live…
  • Oceans are where octopi live…

Reviewing the Ideas in Closing Circle

Book: Whose House by Seuling. A mildly silly book about all the houses that are not right for a boy

Reprise Song with New Puppets: After we sang each verse and placed the puppet in its habitat, we asked them what helps that animal live well in that habitat.

We tied this into last week’s discussion of Animal Classification and talked about how fish are only found in watery habitats like oceans, rivers, and ponds. Birds are found in lots of habitats, but they’re different depending on where they live: birds in the jungle are brightly colored and eat fruit and nuts, penguins are birds in Antarctica and have dense, thick feathers and a layer of fat to keep them warm, and eat fish. This also previews next week’s Adaptations class.

Book Recommendations

Where Do Animals Live? by Kalman. Ages 5 – 7. Good photos, a nice non-fiction overview of the basic ideas about habitats, and an introduction to 7 habitats (forest, desert, mountain, grassland, very cold, wetland, and ocean) and one animal in each habitat.

The ABCs of Habitats also by Kalman. Age 7 – 10. This is more of a resource book for a classroom library, rather than something you would read aloud in one sitting. For example, grasslands is a two page spread which covers content like: “In North America, grasslands are called plains or prairies. In South America, they are called pampas. Animals called guanacos live on the pampas.” Photos and illustrations.

Whose House? by Seuling and Chorao. One page shows naturalistic illustrations of animals in their homes and describes that home. Then the next page shows a child trying to fit into that same home and says it’s “not for me!” Sample: “Brown bats dwell in a pine hotel, feet over head, no need for a bed. It’s fine for bats… but not for me!” Nice information about a variety of animal homes, kids love to shout out “not for me” on each of the pages. The “not for me” illustrations anthropomorphize the animals – showing a frog reading a newspaper, or a queen bee in robes and a crown, so if you prefer your illustrations to be realistic, this book is not for you.

I See a Kookaburra!: Discovering Animal Habitats Around the World by Jenkins and Page. For 5 – 7 year olds (or 4 year olds with patience to look for details.) One page spread shows a detailed collage of a habitat with lots of animals hidden in and amongst the plants and other features. The next page spread “lifts off” all the cover, showing the full bodies of all the animals, in the same location / position as on the previous page, so it’s easy to line them up with each other. It also offers information about each animal. So, for example, on the jungle page, we see a toucan’s beak poking out from behind leaves, a jaguar on a branch, covered up by leaves, an iguana shaded by a fern, etc. Click on the link for the Amazon listing, where I included photos with my review of the book.

Whose House Is This? by Gregoire. Age 4 – 7. Nice colorful nature-based illustrations. It’s a fun guessing book, where it asks something like “whose house is this, dangling on a tree” and we see a branch and some green frog legs. Then you turn the page and it tells you more about the red-eyed tree frog and its home. “This is a red-eyed tree frog’s leaf. During the day, the frog may sleep under a leaf of a rain forest tree…” The non-fiction text is a little dry, but the guessing game aspect makes it a good read-aloud.

What Am I? Where Am I? by Lewin. Introduces 5 animals. It shows a circle with an isolated picture of some part of the animal (the otter’s nose, the tiger’s whiskers) on one page and asks “what am I?” On the next two pages, we see a picture of more of the animal, and it says “I am a _____. Where am I?” On the fourth page, we see that animal in its habitat – “I am in a forest.” It’s a fine book to get from the library to have as one of the books on the shelf – it’s interesting, but a little limited in content. You could take this idea and easily assemble your own book featuring other animals using images from google image search – it could be a fun project to do with a child. Age 4 – 5.

Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs by Ashman & Stringer. “Many places make a home: a heap of twigs, a honeycomb, an aerie with a bird’s eye view… a warren in a grassy glen… a home’s a house, a den, a nest. A place to play, a place to rest, a place to hug. A home is someplace safe and snug.” A nice read-aloud with lovely illustrations, that shows several animal homes and ties them in nicely to the child’s own experience of home. Good for class, but sweetness of it would also make for a good bedtime story. Age 3 – 6.

What Can Live in a Desert? by Anderson. Age 4 – 7. (The series also includes books on Ocean, Grassland, Mountain, Lake, and Forest habitats.) A nice overview of habitats and the adaptations seen in animals that live there. Each page contains a photograph and one sentence, such as: “Desert geckos have webbed feet. They can walk on top of the sand without sinking.” The word webbed is bold face, and is defined in the glossary. At the end of the book, there’s a couple pages of “fun facts”. A simple non-fiction overview. It would be nice to have the full set so kids could compare side by side what the differences are between the animals in each habitat.

Weird But True Animal Homes by Bredeson. Ages 5 – 7. Covers antarctic shrimp, cave salamanders, Eastern wood frogs, naked mole rats and more. Includes photos. Each page has a couple factoids about a creature, then the catchphrase. “It’s weird but it’s true.” Sample “Black smoker tube worms. What a big hot tub! Jets of hot water shoot out of cracks at the bottom of the deep sea. Giant tube worms grow near the jets. They do not have mouths or stomachs or any way to poop. The worms soak up everything they need to live from the hot water… It’s weird….”

Home Sweet Nest and Home Sweet Web by Salzmann. (Series also includes: Burrow, Cave, Den, and Tree.) Book description on Amazon says ages 4 – 7. I think best for 5 or 6 to 7. Excellent macro photography. Sample text: “Grass spiders make funnel webs. The spider waits for the prey to land on the web. Then it runs out of the funnel and grabs the prey.” They’re nice non-fiction books about that type of home. But the title implies it might compare these other homes to human “home sweet homes” and it does not.

The Wonderful House by Margaret Wise Brown. This Little Golden book was written in 1950, and you can tell by its style. It is a charming book that shows a home and says “but who lives here?” For example, after a picture of a bird house, it says “two little birds that fly in the air live here.” After a picture of a cave, where we see animal bones, it says “a big old lion and his lion family. They live here.” I don’t love the end where something is flying through the air, and you’re supposed to guess what it is, and it’s a house “with wings to fly with and wheels to roll on and pontoons to float on and balloons to hand on… and a boy and a girl live in this house… and they all go flying through the air to where they want to go.” I like kids’ non-fiction, and I like whimsy and fantasy…. its just odd when one veers off into the other one.

Resources to Learn More

A full unit on animal classifcation and habitats, focused on aquatic birds. I think it’s suitable for upper elementary (ages 8 – 10) classroom or home school, but you could adapt some of the ideas for younger students: www.xtec.cat/monografics/cirel/pla_le/nile/barbara_perolada/worksheets.pdf

Complete lesson plan on animals and habitats. Includes science standards for 1st grade: www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/downloadable-resources/ckla_g1_d8_anth.pdf

  • Explain what a habitat is
  • Explain why living things live in habitats to which they are particularly suited
  • Identify the characteristics of the Arctic tundra habitat
  • Identify the characteristics of the Arctic Ocean habitat
  • Explain how Arctic animals have adapted to the Arctic tundra and Arctic Ocean habitats
  • Identify the characteristics of the desert habitat
  • Explain how desert animals have adapted to the desert habitat
  • Classify animals on the basis of the types of food that they eat (herbivore, carnivore, omnivore)
  • Identify the characteristics of the grassland habitat
  • Explain how grassland animals have adapted to the grassland habitat
  • Match specific plants and animals to their habitats
  • Identify the characteristics of the temperate deciduous forest habitat
  • Explain how temperate deciduous forest animals have adapted to the temperate deciduous forest habitat
  • Identify the characteristics of the tropical rainforest habitat
  • Explain how tropical rainforest animals have adapted to the tropical rainforest habitat
  • Classify water habitats as either freshwater or saltwater habitats

A video on Habitats – good for ages 6 – 9 or so: Home Sweet Habitat.

Animal Classification

In last week’s Five Senses class, we talked about the core science process skills of Observation and Communication. This week, those skills formed the foundation for our work on a third process skill: Classification. We taught this in the context of Taxonomy – sorting animals into category by class, because that is a fun and engaging topic for kids, and it’s an easy way to introduce and focus on this core skill.

Key concepts of sorting:

There are three steps needed to sort objects into categories.

Observe What does it look like?
Smell like?
Feel like?
Sound like?
Taste like?
Compare How are 2 things LIKE each other?
What do they have in common?
Contrast How are 2 things DIFFERENT from each other?

Once you’ve assessed what you’re looking at, then you decide the criteria by which you want to sort…. am I sorting by how many legs an animal has, or am I sorting these objects by color, or by size? Then you decide which category to put the item into.

These are great base skills to teach your child and to practice anytime: putting silverware away in the drawer, sorting laundry, matching socks, deciding which basket to put your Duplos in, and where to put your stuffed animals.

So, as always in our class structure, we started with discovery time, where our kids have a chance to explore all our activities, then we do opening circle to cover the key concepts of animal classification, (see below), then we have tinkering time to play with everything more. Then after outside time, we end with closing circle to share what we learned.

Learning Activities:

Fishing & sorting. Set up a “pond” – we’ve used a kiddie pool with a foot bridge next to it, or a large plastic tub filled with a blue tarp. Make animals to catch: you could glue magnets or washers onto plastic animals. We printed these pictures from Confessions of a Homeschooler, laminated them, and fastened a paperclip to each one. Make fishing poles: poles or dowels with a magnet tied on. Kids then “fish” for animals.

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Once they caught one, they could sort it into one of five buckets: mammal, reptile, fish, bird, or amphibian. We had signs hanging above each bucket that showed four characteristics of that type of animal: type of skin, number of legs, how babies are born, and where they typically live. (Here are the Sorting into Categories posters, if you want to print your own.) Optional: you could add one more bucket labelled ??? so if a child didn’t know an answer, they could just place the animal there and move forward with the game rather than feeling stuck.

This activity was a good example of how one class activity can work for kids of a wide range of ages. For our three-year-olds, it was just fun to fish – good large motor and small motor practice. We encouraged them to sort items into buckets just by asking: is that a fish or a bird? The four to five-year-old kids also enjoyed the fishing, but we encouraged them to think more about not just what category something belongs in, but why. We’d ask questions like: what kind of skin does it have? How are its babies born? We had a few trickier animals in there, such as bats… even though they have wings, they’re not birds. We talked a little about marsupials and how their babies are born live but small and spend time in a pouch. For the six and seven-year-olds, we asked them to put animals in the buckets, but also tell us other examples of each type of animal.

Tool of the week: magnifying glasses. We had several magnifying glasses, plus things for kids to examine: fur, fake fur, feathers, sheep’s wool that had been carded. At circle time, we also had a small piece of lizard skin we showed them. It was from a leopard gecko, so you could see the spots on it, so we shared it with them when we read the page in our book that showed a picture of a leopard gecko.

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Sorting activity: Two containers, labeled “wild animals” and “tame animals” or “animals you’d find on a farm” and “animals you’d find in a zoo.” A collection of plastic animals to sort into the two containers.

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Whose Ears / Whose Nose – this is an activity you could also use in the five senses theme or in the animal adaptations theme. Here’s the free printable PDF. I’ve gathered photos of several kinds of animals where I’ve cropped them to show just the ears or just the nose, and kids have to guess what animal it is.

Animal Mix and Match: There are several puzzles and books which allow you to mix and match the heads of different animals with different bodies and different tails. We used this printable: http://www.itsybitsyfun.com/uploads/9/8/7/6/9876061/animal_puzzles_1014.pdf. There are also online games and apps such as Switch Zoo which do this.

Take Home Art Projects

No-sew “beanbag” animals: Kids could make an animal by filling a sock or glove with rice, tying it off with elastic hair ties or string, and decorating it. To make a snake, use a small child’s size knee-length sock. Fill it some, tie it off, fill some more, tie it off again, etc. To make a bunny, use an adult size ankle-length sock. Fill the bottom half with rice for the body and tie it off. Fill the next quarter with rice for the head and tie it off. Then the top of the sock gets clipped to make bunny ears. Then you can decorate with googly eyes, pompoms, ribbons, and other embellishments. It’s really important to have good glue, like “Tacky” Glue. We only had Elmer’s that day, and it was a struggle!

One of our students loves turtles, so here’s what he and his dad made:

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Here’s a collection of animals – click on it to see a bigger image.

Bird feeders: Option 1: In the microwave, heat vegetable shortening (Crisco), then stir together with bird seed. Tie a string on a pinecone, and slather the pine cone with bird seed goo. Option 2: Tie a string on a pinecone. Spread on peanut butter or sunflower seed butter on. Roll it in birdseed. Tip: when you put this in a ziplock to take home, be sure to leave the string hanging on the outside of the bag so it doesn’t get covered in goo.

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Design your own creature: We had a drawing table with paper and markers, and some prompt questions encouraging them to design their own creature… what kind of skin would it have, how many legs, would it lay eggs or have live babies, and where would it live.

Free Play:

Sensory table: Simple… just sand and plastic animals (ideally desert animals) and sifters to shake sand over the animals.

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Water table: Toy aquatic animals: fish, marine mammals, amphibians. Some rocks for the amphibians to sun themselves on. Fish tank nets to catch the fish with.

Finger puppets: We had a collection of animal finger puppets for imaginary play.

Animal puzzles: We put out four puzzles with farm animals and zoo animals. For manipulables, we try to put out things of different skill levels. So, a peg puzzle that was easy for little ones, a puzzle where you match two halves together to build an animal, a 24 piece jigsaw, and a cubes puzzle that has 6 different puzzles on the 6 sides of the cubes, so you have to figure out first which side to use, then how to put the puzzle together.

Opening Circle:

Intro to Theme and the Question: “Today, we’re going to learn about “classification” [write on board] This is how we sort things. Like if I had these things [hold up 2 crayons and 4 markers]: if you use your senses to observe them, what do you notice? Compare them: How are they like each other? What do they have in common? Contrast them: How are they different from each other? Classify them: Can you sort them by color? Can you sort them by type of object?”

“Today we’re talking about how scientists classify animals. They divide them into these 5 categories. Some ways to figure out which category an animal is in is to think about its skin: does it have fur, feathers, scales? Or limbs: How many legs does it have? Does it have live babies or lay eggs? Can it live underwater, can it fly, or does it mostly live on land?” (Point out posters from the fishing and sorting activity to illustrate different kinds of animals.)

“We’re going to read a book, and after I read each page, I’m going to ask you to tell me what kinds of animals some of the animals in the pictures are.”

Book: How Are They the Same? (see details below)

Puppet classification. Hold up a puppet, ask questions like: “What is it? What is its skin like – does it have feathers, fur, or scales? Does it lay eggs or have babies? Can it breathe underwater?” Then talk about what category of animal it belongs to and asks for examples of other animals in that category. “It’s a bird, so it has two legs, wings, and lays eggs. Can anyone think of any other birds?”

Conclusions Circle:

One of these things is not like the other: We laid out sets of four finger puppets, and sang the song from Sesame Street, and asked the kids which puppet didn’t belong, and why. We started easy and got harder. The first set was three identical snake puppets and a dragon puppet. The second set was three mammals and a duck. The third was three things that swim and one that doesn’t.

Book: Is Your Mama a Llama?

Animal spinner: One teacher created a spinner with pictures of lots of animals. A child would spin, and whichever animal came up, we all pretended to be. So, we’d have kids quacking and waddling around for a while, then say “OK, we’ll stop being ducks in 3 – 2 – 1.” After they all sat back down, the next child spun, and we were all gorillas. You could also do this as charades: the child who spun wouldn’t tell anyone what the animal was, and they would act it out and have people guess. This would likely work for ages 5 and up. But, for our 3-year-olds, as soon as they see what they spun, they announce it out loud.

Option:

Monsters: We included “monsters” in two of our activities last year. With the puppets at opening circle we showed a unicorn and a dragon, and asked about their characteristics, and asked what kind of animal they were and whether they really existed. So, a unicorn is like a mammal, but doesn’t actually exist. With the buckets at the fishing pond, we had one labelled monsters that the mermaid and other mythical creatures went into. It’s a fun thing to include, but you can decide whether it works for you or whether it feels like too many concepts to roll into one class.

Book Recommendations (in order from favorite for my class to least favorite)

Who’s Like Me? This is a lift the flap (uncover and discover) book, where one animal says “I’m a bunny. I am furry and breathe air. Who’s like me?” Then there are flaps with feathers, scales, spotted skin and fur. When you lift the flaps you reveal a pigeon (I have feathers, not fur), a fish (I don’t breathe air), a chameleon (I don’t have fur), and a fox (yes, I have fur and breathe air like a bunny).  Tip: In our morning circle, we had a little chaos as every kid wanted to lift the flaps. So, in the afternoon, we announced before starting a page which children would be responsible for the flaps on that page, and asked all the other children to sit back and wait for their turn.

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Is Your Mama a Llama? This is a sweet book and a nice read-aloud. It has a great rhythm and rhyming couplets which engage the kids as they predict what the next word will be: “'[My mama] hangs by her feet and she lives in a cave. I do not believe that’s how llamas behave.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘you are right about that. I think that your mama must be a’ …” If you pause here, lots of kids will shout “bat.”

How Are They the Same? by Kalman. Age 3 – 7. This book is a great visual aid for any class where you’re addressing the idea of “same” and “different” or compare and contrast. It is especially good for a class on animal classification. Each two page spread shows several photos, then asks how the things shown are the same or different. For example, on the pages with a leopard, a leopard butterfly, a leopard gecko and a leopard frog: “This cat is a leopard. A leopard has spots on its coat. How are these animals the same as a leopard? Are they cats too?” See above for how we used this book in circle. There are a couple lame pages in the book – the opening page of random “words to know” and the dino activity at the end, but as a whole, it is quite good for our purposes in the class. I especially like the ‘notes for adults’ section at the back that has extension activities such as sorting stuffed animals and drawing pictures of animals in categories.

Creaturepedia: Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth by Barman. Ages 6 – 9. This is a big hefty book – over 200 pages – there are kids who love big books. Illustrations are fun “kids book” style illustrations, but still reasonably scientifically accurate. Each page spread lists a “category” and then shows several animals that fit that category. The fun of this book is how it assigns animals to new categories: “the prickly ones” includes armadillos, porcupines, horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, prickly leaf beetles, and more. “The show-offs” fill multiple page spreads and include: peacock, gray crowned crane, red deer, martens, and bowerbirds. If you’re a teacher who likes to teach one concept really clearly and doesn’t like to confuse matters by adding in more ideas, then this is not the book for you. If, like me, you like to teach one concept clearly, but then encourage them to play around further with the idea of classification by seeing what’s alike and what’s different, you may well like this for your bookshelf, though not to read aloud.

Mammals: Hairy, Milk-Making Animals  and Reptiles: Scaly-Skinned Animals and so on. There are multiple series that have one book each for mammals, reptiles, etc. These are from the Amazing Science: Animal Classification series by Salas. Age 6 – 9.  The mammal book covers the same basic ideas as Hall, but in much more detail. Appealing illustrations, with good attention to accuracy. Includes a Linnaeus classification chart in the back, which shows how lions are the species panthera leo, which is part of the genus panthera, part of the family Felidae, etc. Sample text : “All mammals are warm-blooded. This means their body temperature doesn’t change much. Because they are warm-blooded, mammals can live all around the world.”

Mammals: A Compare and Contrast Book by Hall. (Note: she also wrote: Amphibians and Reptiles) Age 6 – 8. Great photos. Text is a little bland… like an encyclopedia entry has been split up to one or sentences per page, then nicely illustrated. – “Mammals are a type of vertebrate animal. All animals have a spine or spinal column. // A mammal’s skeleton supports its body. This cat skeleton has a spine that connects the head bones (skull) all the way too the tail.” But, it conveys all the key info about mammals (breathe air, vertebrate, warm-blooded, hair or fur, live birth, and milk.) At the back, there’s extension materials for kids who want more: a dichotomous key and then descriptions/photos of animals that you can assess using the dichotomous key, info about strange mammals (platypus and echidna) and how to look for signs of animals near you. (tracks, evidence of feeding, scat, and signs of habitation.)

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Dolphin, Fox, Hippo, and Ox: What Is a Mammal? (Animal Groups Are Categorical) (Animal Groups Are CATegorical (Paperback))  by Cleary. I like the text of this book – I find the illustrations dreadful – not to my taste at all! Anthropomorphized animals, exaggerated features, gaudy colors… But the information contained is good, and written in a style that is engaging for ages 5 – 7. “Mammals all have hair or fur – like tigers or a mink. And when they’re very young, their mother’s milk is what they drink…. they may eat meat or plants or both, use wings or arms and legs, but nearly every mammal is born live and not from eggs.” It is a good overview of all the key info about mammals, and children would find it engaging. I like that the final two pages summarize all the info from the book. This is a series of 5 books, about each category of animals

What Makes a Mammal? (Animal Kingdom) by Rourke. This Discovery Library also includes books on Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Insects, Mammals and Reptiles. Age 6 – 9. Not an attractive book. It has a acceptable-but-not-great photo on one half of each spread – the other half is blocks of text. Each page packs in random factoids that are loosely connected to a theme. “Kinds of mammals. Scientists separate the 4000 kinds, or species, of animals into 18 or 19 groups. One group is made up of meat-eaters. Dogs, cats, otters, seals and bears are some of them. Rodents make up the largest group, nearly 1800 kinds. Rodents have special teeth for gnawing…”

Resources to Explore More