Our first unit in our habitat studies was our Polar Unit study. We chose to start with the Arctic and Antarctica regions because these regions are simpler in many ways than other regions: they are mostly snow and ice and have less animal diversity compared to many other areas of the world. The animals that live there are unique yet easily recognizable to young children (my kids are age 3 and close to age 5), with a fun variety of land and ocean animals. The combination of these things made this habitat a great choice for us to start with.
The first thing I did was check out Pinterest. I made a Polar Unit board and pinned ideas for books, games, print-outs, and more. I also pinned some different examples of dioramas.
Next up: our public library (sans kids so I could have my hands free!). I picked out books that fit our unit theme that I thought the kids would be interested in. I grabbed mostly non-fiction books from the kids’ section with some fiction as well.
I printed and laminated worksheets and games and collected everything together into a notebook for easy access and organization.
The last thing I did was create a cheat sheet for myself, which looked very similar to what will be in this post. The cheat sheet was organized into categories which were mainly based on the books I had collected for the kids and me to read together.
Each category below can last as long as you like: a category per day, or per week, or whatever pace works for you. We took a few days to go through each category on average. Although I originally had about 30 books from the library, we skimmed through and set aside many that ended up being too advanced or boring for the kids. I’ve listed only the books that my kids enjoyed.
We followed this list very loosely and ended up switching around some of the activities so not everything was in this exact order.
For a complete list of all of the books we used, click here.
Note about the books: I found all books listed below at our local library but I’ve included Amazon links to them. These links are for your convenience only; we are not affiliated with or promoting Amazon in any way.
1. What are the Polar Regions?
- point to Antarctica and the Arctic on the globe and discuss
We talked about which one is north, which one is south; how the Arctic is an area of ocean surrounded by land and how Antarctica is an area of land- a continent- surrounded by water.
- point to Antarctica and the Arctic on the continents chart and discuss
We have the Trend Enterprises The Continents Chart on our wall. I wanted my kids to be able to recognize the polar regions on both a globe and a map.
- color Antarctica geography sheet
My kids colored this printable while I read some books about Antarctica aloud to them.
- look at the polar regions on Google earth- zoom in to view photos of the areas
For this activity I zoomed in to the area I wanted my kids to explore and then let them explore on their own. I used this time to get some things done around the house since my kids are familiar with how to work Google earth. The image below shows an example of how the kids use Google earth to zoom in close-up over Greenland, locate a glacier, and view a photograph of it. (All images below are from Google Earth.) Most of their zooming around is random but they still found some pretty neat stuff, including buildings that scientists had set up, and some seals!
- Alone in the Arctic: Can Science Save Your Life? (Science to the Rescue)
by Gerry Bailey (link)
- About Habitats: Polar Regions
by Cathryn Sill (link)
- Here is Antarctica (Web of Life)
by Madeleine Dunphy (link)
(This book was Mr F’s favorite.)
The Magic School Bus Season 3, Episode 1 (Arctic)
This was the perfect way to kick off the first day of our unit study with. It talked a lot about blubber and how animals in the polar regions have blubber to protect them from the cold water. It also discussed polar bears and how they keep warm with their fur. We found this episode on Netflix.
Immediately after the Magic School Bus episode, we played what we fondly called The Blubber Game to explore how blubber works. Mr F loved it but Miss C had to be coaxed into sticking her hand into the “bag of blubber”, even after we explained to her that her hand wouldn’t get wet or messy!
We used Crisco, two plastic sandwich bags, and a bowl of icy water for this game. The Crisco is the “blubber” that keeps your hand warm and dry while in the icy bowl of water. The plastic sandwich bags keep your hands clean from the Crisco.
After this the kids invented their own game with the bowl of icy water. They used Arctic TOOB animals for this game. They put each animal in the icy water and shouted out whether the animal would live or die in the water based on if it has blubber to keep it warm enough or not. This game was entirely their idea but I was impressed at how much they had already learned about what animals could survive in the icy water and which could not (for long). As the kids invented this game on their own, it was of course their favorite!
Read more about how we played both of these games in this post.
2. Geography of the Polar Regions (What do they look like?)
- point out glaciers and icebergs on our Geography Terms chart
We have this one on our wall.
- Snow (Weather Wise)
by Helen Cox Cannons (link)
- Who Needs An Iceberg? (Ecosystem Series)
by Karen Patkau (link)
Frozen Planet- Episode 1: To the Ends of the Earth
This one was on Netflix also.
We started our Arctic diorama at this point. Click here to read about how we made our Arctic diorama.
And of course, when learning about snow, icebergs, and glaciers, it’s important to sample the local food!
3. What Animals Live in the Polar Regions?
- Identify different polar animals print-out (link)
Mr F colored his animals while Miss C asked me how to spell the word for each one while she wrote the letters. Yes, she did spell crab like “CRAP”. It was too funny to correct her (don’t worry, she will learn the correct way to spell it some day!).
- Match cartoon animal pics to their real life image print-out
The kids drew a line from the cartoon version of the animal to the photograph on an activity sheet that we got from our Arctic animal pack (downloaded from royalbaloo.com)
- print out tiny animal photos and tape on Continents Chart
- Endangered Animals of Antarctica and the Arctic (Save Earth’s Animals!)
by Marie Allgor (link)
- Arctic Tundra (Food for Life)
by Kate Riggs (link)
Most of these games I got from royalbaloo.com toddler and preschool Arctic animal packs, which are available to download for free. There are SO many worksheets, activities, and games things in these packs and my kids loved them!
- Arctic Animals Match game
We used cards from our Arctic animals pack to make a Match/Memory game
- Heads & tails game
Match Arctic animal heads with tails, or create your own hybrid animal!
- Size sorting game
We used different sized animal cards to sort into different piles based on size: small, medium, or large animal cards.
4. Polar Bears
- talk about where polar bears live
We memorized where polar bears and penguins live by remembering that they don’t live together, they live in opposite places: polar bears north in the Arctic regions, penguins south in Antarctica.
- Little Polar Bears (Born to be Wild)
by Valerie Guidoux (link)
- A Pair of Polar Bears: Twin Cubs Find a Home at the San Diego Zoo
by Joann Ryder (link)I chose the two books above to read in the same sitting. The first book was about a pair of polar bear cubs born in the Arctic; how they grew up and learned to hunt from their mother, and how they survived the elements. The second book was about a pair of polar bear cubs in the zoo and what their life was like growing up there. These books perfectly contrasted polar bears in their natural habitats vs. polar bears out of their natural habitats, which is what I wanted to do.
- Planet Earth: The Complete Collection- Season 1, Episode 6 “Ice Worlds”Also on Netflix. We didn’t make it all the way through this one but my kids enjoyed most of it.
- measure out a polar bear
We did this outside with chalk and a measuring tape. I measured our chalk polar bear about 5 feet high at the shoulder and 8 feet long. It was quick and easy but the kids had fun with it and even laid down on the ground to see how their size compared to the polar bear’s size.
- talk about where penguins live
- Little Penguin: The Emperor of Antarctica
by Jonathan London (link)
- About Penguins: A Guide for Children
by Cathryn Sill (link)
- IMAX Antarctica- An Adventure of a Different Nature
I thought this one would have more animals in it than it actually did but the kids enjoyed it quite a bit anyway.
- March of the Penguins
We watched both of these on Amazon video with our Amazon Prime account.
6. Other Polar Animals
Using our TOOB Arctic animals and books from the library we did a short overview of orca whales, Arctic foxes, beluga whales, harp seals, leopard seals, walruses, and blue whales. We also talked about the areas these animals live; the Arctic, Antarctica, or both.
- Seals (Baby Animals)
by Alice Twine (link)
- Arctic Foxes (Nature’s Children)
by Vicky Franchino (link)
- Killer Whales: Built for the Hunt (Predator Profiles)
by Christine Zuchora-Walske (link)
- The Blue Whale
by Jenni Desmond (link)- this one was another favorite with the kids
- The Incredible Life of Balto
by Meghan McCarthy (link)
- How Seals Keep Warm And Dry (In Cold Water)
This was an awesome game. We actually used a print-out of a seal rather than a penguin but the idea was the same. The kids colored the seal with crayon and then we poured water over it. Everywhere they had colored with crayon, the wax kept the paper dry and the water slid off of it. We talked about how seals (and penguins) stay warm and dry in the water in a similar way.
I’m so glad I included the Inuit in our unit study. They were a huge favorite with both of my kids.
- Inuit (Spotlight on Native Americans)
by Jayson Chesterfield (link)
- The Inuit (True Books: American Indians)
by Andrew Santella (link)
- Inuit toy
We made a toy loosely based on an Inuit toy using toilet paper rolls, craft sticks, and ribbon. (The real one is made from bone.) I hole-punched one hole on the edge of the toilet paper roll and tied the ribbon through the hole with a knot on one end so it wouldn’t fall off. Then I glued the other end of the ribbon to the craft stick. The kids tried to get the craft stick to swing into the toilet paper roll but mostly they enjoyed just swinging it around.
The kids and I loved making our Arctic diorama (we skipped the Antarctic animals for this diorama so as not to confuse the kids by combining animals in one diorama that don’t actually live in the same region, such as polar bears and penguins). It was a huge hit with both kids, who still play every day with it and their little toy animals.
The Arctic diorama is best explained in another post. You can read about how we made it and see pictures of the process in this post by clicking here.
I want to end this post with a note about how important it is to me to teach the kids things that they enjoy, and only for as long as they are enjoying it. If at any time they had wanted to stop our polar unit, or if they had grown disinterested, I would not have made them finish it. At this age, the only thing that matters to me is that my kids are having fun as they learn; I do not push or force topics on them that they are not interested in.
My only educational goal for my kids at this age is to foster their inborn love for learning.
After our last project was done and our last library book was read, I asked the kids what they thought about our polar unit study and what they especially liked about it. They both got big smiles on their faces and started talked excitedly about some of the things they had learned. Miss C said, “I liked EVERY thing we did!”