Ocean Unit Study for Preschoolers

ocean unit study for preschoolers

Getting Started

The kids and I started studying habitats this year. We started with a Polar unit study which we did in April and May. After we finished we took a bit of a break and within a week or two the kids were asking what our next unit would be. We decided to study the ocean next, which we did through June and July, with our grande finale (read on to see what it was!) in August.

Studying the polar regions was pretty simple and straightforward (not as much diverse animal life). Studying the ocean was the complete opposite: so much unique life!! The ocean really feels like a completely different world, an amazing and mysterious one, especially to kids. My kids are almost 5 and 3.5, so most of this study is geared toward preschoolers as far as interest and comprehension.

First stop: Pinterest. Books, games, printables, dioramas… they all went on my Ocean Unit (Preschoolers) board on Pinterest. Having a Pinterest board kept me organized throughout the unit study with all ideas in one place. 

Then off to the library for books. Since this was our second unit, I had some idea of what I wanted this time around. I ended up with so many books that I had to use my husband’s card as I went over the allowable item limit for one card (50)!

Tides, hurricanes, mammals, fish, sea anemones, coral reefs… When I got home and looked at my stash I realized it was all going to be too overwhelming for all of us! So I narrowed things down. You can read about our final selection of 28 books in another blog post. 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.

Next, I hauled out my trusty laminator again to laminate some games that I had printed.

Then I printed out my cheat sheet. For an example of what it looks like, this is the first page (of three total pages).

ocean cheat sheet page 1

We used this very loosely to give us ideas. It helped us to focus on one particular thing instead of jumping around. We learned about coral reefs for a few days, and did a project based on that. Another day we studied dolphins and whales… and so on.

I’ll post more in detail about each section here, but the cheat sheet above is what my version looked like while in-use. We took our time with each section. Some of them took a couple of hours total, some parts we spent several days on. We didn’t have any set times; we just read books, played games, or worked on art projects when everyone felt like it.

ocean unit ready to go

Here is an outline of what we did in our ocean unit study:

1. What are the oceans?


  • Learn the names of the oceans
    We pointed out the oceans on our Trend Enterprises The Continents Chart on our wall and talked about the names. We also sang a song that we found on YouTube and printed out a copy of the song to hang on our wall.
  • Point out the oceans on the globe
    The kids love the globe so after we pointed out the oceans they spent quite a bit of time just playing with it and talking about it together while I did some things around the house and took care of the baby.

pointing out oceans on the globe

image of a sea turtle.jpg


Curious George Discovers the Ocean
Sea Bones
Sea Slime
Swim, Fish


Discover the World of Animals
This was a DVD from the library and the kids were interested for about half of it.

The Magic School Bus (Episode 52) Takes A Dive
We found this episode on YouTube. The Magic School Bus is always a hit around here!

2. Ocean Zones


  • Explain layers using hands
    Depth isn’t an easy concept for little kids, so we played a little game. We laid our hands all in a pile, one on top of another, to show how the ocean goes down a long ways, and how different sea creatures live at different levels (or “hands”) in the ocean. The kids liked this little game and it seemed to make sense to them.

explaining layers and depth

  • Talk about ocean depths and layers
    We talked about how the ocean has layers and depths, each with a different name, and how different sea creatures live in different layers or depths in the ocean.
  • Talk about different parts of the ocean and what zone they’re in
    We discussed hurricanes (at the surface or above the water), coral reefs (in shallow waters), tide pools, and different sea creatures.


Tide Pools
Hurricane Watch
The Magic School Bus Presents Inside A Hurricane


The Magic School Bus Season 2 Episode 8: Ups and Downs
Another Magic School Bus episode. This one was on Netflix.

Planet Earth: Episode 11: Ocean Deep
This was also on Netflix. The kids liked this one more than I was expecting. There are some very strange creatures living in the deeper parts of the ocean!

Games/Art Projects

Explain depth with pans
To continue our discussion about depth, I spread a towel on the kitchen floor and filled two pans with water: one shallow, one deep. The kids put their hands in each one and touched the bottom of the pans to see how deep the water was. The kids then wanted to play with their ocean Toob animals in the water, and we Googled each animal to see if it liked living in shallow or deep water. If it liked shallow waters, it went in the shallow pan. If it liked deep ocean waters, it went in the deeper pan. The kids had fun playing this game for quite awhile, tossing animals back and forth between the pans.

depth and pans of water.jpg

Ocean zones poster

The kids and I delved deeper (ha, ha) into learning about ocean zones with this fun art project. You can read about how we did it in this blog post. This was a huge hit with the kids and they learned a lot from it.

ocean zones poster


3. Coral Reefs


  • Talk about what coral reefs are
    The kids and I talked about the beautiful colors in a coral reef, what coral reefs are made of, how they are home to so many ocean creatures, and how they can die if humans do not take good care of them and our oceans.
  • Google
    More Google… this time we looked up images and maps of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Label continents map 
    We printed out a small picture of the Great Barrier Reef and taped it onto our Continents Chart.


Sea Anemones
Coral Reefs


Planet Earth: Episode 9: Shallow Seas
Netflix. The kids were interested in this briefly but were getting a bit tired of ocean documentaries by this point.

The Blue Planet: Episode 6: Coral Reefs
Also Netflix. The kids didn’t watch this one but I included it on the list for older age groups who have longer attention spans!

Games/Art Projects

Make a coral reef

Everything we used for this project we had around the house already! It was a great way to recycle scraps we had leftover from other projects and the kids were able to just freely create with it. You can read more about what we did in this post.

4. What Animals Live in the Ocean?


  • Print out animals for Continents Chart
    The kids and I looked up some of our favorite ocean animals (obviously we couldn’t include them all!) to put on our Continents Chart. We printed pictures of ocean animals, cut them out, and taped them onto our chart. The animals from our polar unit study are still on the chart as well so eventually if we continue studying more habitats the chart will be covered with animals! I often catch my kids quietly thoughtfully examining the chart and animals.


Baby Animals of the Sea Shore
Whoosh! A Watery World of Wonderful Creatures
The Magic School Bus Presents Sea Creatures


Really Wild Animals  (Nat Geo)
This was a library DVD that the kids enjoyed.

IMAX- Ocean Oasis
We found this one on Amazon Prime and the kids enjoyed parts of it, skipping around as they watched.

Games/Art Projects

Roll and count ocean game

This was part of a free ocean pack that I downloaded and printed from 3dinosaurs.com. The printable included a little dice that you tape together and a chart with 6 ocean animals and numbered boxes on it.

Each of us picked one animal that we thought would win. Then the three of us took turns rolling the dice. With each ocean animal that came up on the dice, we would put an X (or a circle, or a check) on the box on the paper by that animal. If the animal we picked reached 10 X’s before the others, that person won the game.

Tip: I laminated the paper before we played so that we could use a marker, wipe clean, and play again and again!

Roll and count ocean game

Match words with pictures

For this game, the kids matched words up with the pictures using example cards for guidance. This game was also included in the free printable pack from 3dinosaurs.com

matching words game.jpg

Play-Doh sorting

The kids adore Play-Doh. For this activity, I got out three different colors of Play-Doh- blue for ocean, white for snow, tan for sand- and mashed them flat onto our craft table. Then the kids sorted their Arctic TOOB and Ocean TOOB animals into the habitats that they belong in.



After they were tired of that activity, Mr F made a green fish with his Play-Doh and Miss C made Earth (with the Arctic, land masses, and oceans!).

Ocean diorama

We started our ocean diorama at this point in our study. This has been the kids’ favorite part about both of our habitat unit studies so far!

Be sure to check out how we made our ocean diorama!

ocean diorama 2

5. Whales and Dolphins


Ocean scene painting- The baby was napping so we were all able to sit down and paint together.

ocean painting


Seedlings: Whales
The Eye of the Whale
Here Come the Humpbacks!
The Blue Whale
If You Were A Dolphin
Seedlings: Dolphins


The Blue Planet: Episode 1: Blue Whales
I find blue whales incredibly fascinating so I was excited to see this one. The kids weren’t as interested for as long and eventually wandered away to play. This one was on Netflix.

Free Willy
A classic! We watched this movie for family movie night. The kids absolutely loved it and talked about it for several days afterwards. We watched this on our Amazon Prime account.

Dolphins: Spy in the Pod
The kids really liked this one. I liked it too, since it’s narrated by David Tennant.

There were two others I had planned on watching but the kids were done with ocean documentaries and movies by this point:

The Blue Planet: Episode 3: Whales and Dolphins
Dolphin Tale

Games/Art Projects

Patterns game

I printed this game from 1plus1plus1equals1.net where I found this awesome In the Sea Free Preschool Pack.

This game had a long white piece of paper with boxes on it to print out, as well as different pictures of cute, girly ocean animals.

To play, I laid out a pattern and then the kids finished it. I mixed up patterns (1, 2, 1, 2… or 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3….) and made some more challenging than others.

patterns game

6. Sharks


We Both Read- Sharks
Splash! Discover Hammerhead Sharks
Sharks Have Six Senses

Games/Art Projects

Draw a shark with chalk


I realize this is not a chalk shark. We intended to do this activity but we never got around to it. When it’s 110 degrees outside, this is what you do instead!

7. Seals and Sea Lions


The kids did some printables that we downloaded for free. This wasn’t really any specific animal theme but it was all ocean themed and the kids really enjoyed it. The printables we used were from 3dinosaurs.com, and easypeasyandfun.com.



Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas
Can You Tell a Seal from a Sea Lion?

8. Octopus, Rays, Seahorses


Giant Pacific Octopus
Splash!: Discover Rays
Sea Horses

We did a lot of just reading books at this point in the unit. There are so many great books about so many different ocean animals, and the kids were fascinated by all of them!

reading books

9. Fish


Rainbow Fish
Guess Who Snaps


Finding Nemo
An all-time favorite with the kids. They were very excited this time to recognize a lot of the characters by their real-life fish name: “There’s Nemo! He’s a clownfish! There’s Dory the Blue Tang!”

Games/Art Projects

Fish counting game

This was a fun game and a yummy one as well! We used free printable counting maps from The Measured Mom (laminated, of course) and Cheerios-type cereal for this game. Buttons or cotton balls would work as well if you prefer not to use food for the activity.

At the end of our ocean unit, here is what our wall looked like!

ocean wall

Our grande finale…

In August, we were able to visit the ocean! I was hoping to visit an area where the kids could see tide pools and see some ocean creatures but that didn’t work out. The kids had fun anyway because after all, who doesn’t just love the ocean?




3 thoughts on “Ocean Unit Study for Preschoolers

  1. Pingback: Making an Ocean Diorama | these good old days

  2. Pingback: Coral Reef Art Project (using scraps!) | these good old days

  3. Pingback: How to Make an Ocean Zones Poster | these good old days

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