With winter being upon us, I recently planned a series of learning activities to teach my kids learn about Arctic animals. Arctic animals are those that live in the Arctic region of the world. The Arctic region is located in the northernmost part of the Earth. It consists of the Arctic ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Alaska, and a few Nordic countries. The animals that live in this region for all or part of the year are known as Arctic animals, and they are specially adapted to life in this unique region of the world.
This post details 9 learning activities we did to learn about Arctic animals. For more activities related to polar animals, please see my Polar Animals and Land Unit Study page.
To support our learning about Arctic animals, I ordered the Safari Ltd Arctic Toob which comes with a small figurines of an igloo, polar bear, Arctic rabbit, Arctic fox, husky, caribou, harp seal, beluga whale, walrus, Eskimo and musher. I decided to focus our learning on all of the animals in the set except for the husky and the Eskimo. (I’m saving those for another lesson on another day.)
1. Read about Arctic animals
Two books we read were:
In Arctic Waters by Laura Crawford
Over in the Arctic: Where the Cold Winds Blow by Marianne Berkes
UPDATE 1/13/14: See my review of 20 books about Arctic animals.
2. Watch videos of Arctic animals
I thought that the best way for the kids to get to know what these wonderful Arctic creatures are like – other than visiting them in real life, of course – was to see them in action. I found several youtube videos that were short but interesting for the kids.
- Polar bear emerging from the ice after 5 months with two cubs
- Polar bear stalking seal as prey
- Baby harp seal on the ice
- Orcas in the water
3. Where is the Arctic?
After getting the kids interested in the arctic animals, we pulled out our globe to see where the Arctic is located. Since the kids are still talking about Santa and his reindeer, they were fascinated to learn that the North Pole is also in the Arctic. We talked about how it is very, very cold in the Arctic and there is snow for much of the year.
4. Blubber experiment to learn about Arctic animal adaptations
After talking about how cold the Arctic is, the kids and I talked about what we, as humans, do to stay warm. Of course, animals don’t have clothes or blankets like we do, so they have to rely on their blubber to keep them warm. So we decided to do the blubber experiment I’ve seen all over the web lately.
I filled two containers with icy water.
Then I put a big hunk of
clarified butter blubber into a baggie for each kid, and made them stick their fingers into the middle of it so that the blubber completely surrounded their fingers and would keep them insulated in the cold water. We put their other finger into an empty baggie so that the only difference between their two fingers was that one was insulated in blubber and one was not.
Then the kids dipped their fingers into the frigid water.
The kids noticed right away the difference in temperature between the finger coated in the blubber and the finger that did not have a blubber layer.
5. Arctic animal identification
One of my goals for our study of the Arctic animals was for the kids to recognize and identify several Arctic animals. For this activity, I used the animal figures in our Safari Ltd Arctic Toob. I thought the figures were life-like (rather than cartoonish) and would be a great way to have a tactile representation of each animal for the kids to use.
The kids were so excited when they saw the figures and immediately wanted to hold them. I went through each of the animals and had the kids look at them and name them.
Then I pulled out some Arctic animal cards I had made from pictures I found online, and I had the kids match the animals on the cards to the animals in our set.
As they worked to match the pictures with the animals, we named all of the animals to reinforce the lesson.
6. Where Arctic animals live
Next, I wanted the kids to identify which animals were land animals, which were sea animals, and which spent their time on both land and in the water. I created a Where Arctic Animals Live Venn diagram activity for them to use to sort the animals by their habitat, which you can download here.
After we sorted the animals, we looked at their feet and fins. In this way, we were able to compare and contrast the feet/fins of the animals that live on land with those that live in the water and those that live on both land and water.
7. Learning about camouflage
Did you know that Arctic animals are not white year round? I did not until I started doing research to plan these activities. In the winter there is snow so they turn white to make it harder for predators to spot them, but in the summer when the snow melts they turn brown in order to better blend in with their surroundings.
The kids and I looked at pictures from National Geographic Kids of several Arctic animals in the summer and fall, and we talked about how they change colors.
Then we did an Arctic Animals Camouflage activity to help the kids see the benefits of changing color to match the surroundings. You can download that activity here. The kids noted how it was much easier to spot the brown animals on the snow than the white animals.
At this point XGirl was not in a mood to continue the activity, but QBoy was game to keep learning about camouflage. Since our carpet is red, he changed in to red clothing so he would be camouflaged.
And then he went to the kitchen to see how his red clothes made him very visible against the white tile.
But he decided he wanted to wear something that would camouflage him in the kitchen too. Since our tile is white and black, he put on a white shirt and black pants.
This was such a fun and silly way to reinforce the concept of camouflage and hopefully make it stick in his brain!
8. Polar bear song and dance
Another activity we did was a cute polar bear song and dance I found at Twiggle Magazine.
9. Arctic ice sensory play
Inspired by a post at No Time for Flashcards, I prepared an Arctic ice sensory activity for the kids. I filled both a small tub and a plastic cup with a few inches of water. I placed the water-filled cup in the tub, and then put the whole thing in the freezer overnight. I put something under one end of the tub to tilt it up so that when the water froze one side would represent the land covered in ice and the other side – once I added water – would represent the ocean. (In hindsight, tilting it did create the ice vs. ocean habitat I was looking for, but since the ice was at an angle it made it difficult to place the animals on the land since they kept sliding off. Oops!)
After the tub came out of the freezer, I removed the small cup that I had placed inside. This created a “fishing hole” where the polar bears could dive under the ice to go hunt for food. I took the ice from inside the cup out and placed it in the ocean side of the box to represent an ice floe like the ones that polar bears will swim to for a rest. Finally, I placed the Arctic animals from our Safari Ltd Arctic Toob inside and added several inches of water right before I presented the activity to the kids.
The kids spent time feeling how cold the water was.
And they enjoyed moving the animals around the habitat. (Especially to “drown” them in the ice hole – eek! :-))
And that’s what we did to learn about Arctic animals! If you decide to study Arctic animals with your kids, please feel free to download both the Where Arctic Animals Live and Arctic Animals Camouflage Activity printables.
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