We find that winter is the perfect time to talk about habitats, starting with the polar regions.  Children generally love animals so learning about them is usually something they really enjoy.  In our classroom, the teachers too love animals and nature and we feel that the more our students know about them the more they will respect and protect them in the future.  As part of our winter study and a precursor to polar habitats we learn about the water cycle.

Liquid, solid, gas sort:  We put out various items or pictures that represent liquids, solids and gases.  The children help sort the items and discuss the characteristics and difference between the three groups.

Evaporation experiment:  We ask children what happens to water after it rains.  They usually know it dries out so we discuss their ideas about how this happens and where the water goes.  We ask them to think about what will happen to the water in the pot once it's heated.  We boil a pot of water in order to observe evaporation and condensation.  The children record their observations in their science journals.  This year we pasted a picture of the pot in their journals beforehand, but usually we let them draw everything.

Freezing experiment:  We discuss what happens to water in the cold.  We place a cup of water along with other liquids and non-liquids in the freezer to see what will happen.  The children tend to hypothesize that everything will freeze.  The conclusion is that in general liquids freeze, especially if they have water in them like juice.

Introduction of "habitat":  We show the children pictures of various habitats and animals and ask them to match each animal with a habitat.

Polar habitat slide show: We use the smartboard to show them a slide show (Download Polar slideshow)  we created on the Arctic and the Antarctic.  Please download the interactive viewer here

Keeping warm experiment:  Ask the children if they think all animals could survive in the polar areas.  Why not?  Write down their responses.  Ask students what keeps them (students) warm in  the winter.  Have them draw in their science journals the clothing that keeps them warm.  Explain that polar animals have fur and/or a thick layer of fat called blubber that keep them warm.   Fill a bin or bowl with ice.  Each student feels the ice with a naked hand.  Then they feel the ice with a glove (fur).  Ask them which feels colder.  Next they feel the ice again with a naked hand.  Then with a blubber layer (a zip lock bag filled with Crisco).  Students compare which feels colder.

Ice bin play:  We fill a big bin with a lot of ice and a little water.  We put in polar animals for the children to play with.  The students asked to put in unfix cubes too so we let them.  We use the Polar and Tundra Animal Collection by Lakeshore.  They have a variety of animals and also a little bit of information about each one.  The kids LOVE them.

Dot-to-dot: We put out dot-to-dot activities and coloring pages in the arts and crafts area for the children to use as they please.

Favorite polar animal:  We ask  the children to share which is  their favorite polar animal and why.  Then they draw that animal in their science journals.  They look at books and pictures to help them with their drawing.

A traveler from Antarctica:  Our assistant, Marisa Rose, had a friend who recently traveled to Antarctica.  She asked him to come in to share his experience with our class.  Trevor Sumner was really great with the kids.  He created a slide show and brought in some of his scuba diving gear to show the kids.  Needless to say that our students were speechless with both his photos and his stories!

Polar habitat mural:  We explain to the class that we will be making a mural depicting the polar habitats.  The children brainstorm what should be on the mural and we make a list.  Each child makes the item he/she named.  We usually have paper, cotton balls, and thin felt for them to use.  They look through pictures and books to find out what their animal or item looks like.  Over the years, I have collected many pictures of animals and landscapes from friends' old calendars.  Then we paint the background on two pieces of butcher paper. Next the beginner writers make labels by copying the names found in books.  The more advanced writers think of a fact that we have learned about some of the animals in the mural and write it on a flashcard.  We separate the mural into two sides and glue everything on.  One side in the Arctic and the other the Antarctic.

Here are some of the books we used:

Our class really enjoyed this unit.  Please let us know if you have any other activities that we could add to it.  In the near future I will also be sharing about our rainforest and desert studies.