This is a great unit to do before a trip to the beach or a cruise. Or before buying fish for a family pet.
How to Begin: Exposure
The easiest way to begin this unit is with books and short toddler-friendly videos. If you're headed to the beach soon, or have been their in the past use family photos to open the discussion. Or begin by taking a trip to an aquarium.
*Don’t forget the best thing you can do to educate your child (besides read!) is to give them experiences; let them explore and expose them to new things. Don’t worry if you’re not near a beach. Your child can still have tangible, valid ocean experiences. Aquariums, pet stores, even doctors offices have ocean life. You may have to research a little but the more they see with their eyes (and touch if you can swing that) they more meaningful the experiences.
Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Shell! by Lucille Colandro
Ocean Colors by Charles Reasoner
Ocean Life From A to Z Book and DVD by Cynthia Stierle
Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier
You Can Count the Ocean by David Brooks
Websites and Teacher Guides:
- Ocean cams: This site lists several underwater/ocean life cams including sea turtles, penguins, sharks and whales
- Beluga Whale Cam
- Octopus cam: Smithsonian National Zoo
- For Parents and Teachers: Sea World’s Free Teacher Guides
- Sea World Penguin Cam
- National Geographic Kids: Ocean
- Fishing for Letters by Pigtails and Tutus
- Expand your child’s vocabulary by doing a lot of talking during this unit. Tell them the names of the animals, ask them questions, have them describe what they’re seeing, feeling and experiencing.
- You Can Count the Ocean by David Brooks
- Take any opportunity you can to count: fish, seashells, ocean animals, whatever.
- Sorting. Sort your ocean toys by color, size, stripes, etc.
- YouTube Sesame Street: Elmo The Musical - “Barnacle Subtraction Song”
Arts and Crafts:
- Make Fish and Ocean Life Masks.
- Melted Oceans by Crayola. This involves heating the crayons, so you may want to practice yourself first and closely monitor them.
- Cute puffer fish craft.
- Sea shell crafts. I always see little bags of seashells at the dollar store. These are great for touching, rubbing, sensory tubs and making things with. What kinds of crafts can you make with seashells?
- Sponges! Sponges are great craft tools and they come from the ocean. (especially if you can find some natural sponges.) They can be used to paint with, or paint with water on the sidewalk, dry them out and compare wet to dry, soak them with seeds and watch how things grow.
- Lots of cute ocean animal crafts on totally tots.
- Use your Fish and Ocean Life Masks and pretend to live underwater. Set the scene by hanging blue sheets or curtains, or do it in the backyard pool.
- Imitating ocean animals. Watch some short video clips or live animal cams of ocean animals, including ocean mammals like sea lion, dolphins or polar bears and birds like penguins or sea gulls. Then see if your child can make those same movements. Swimming, diving, twisting, flapping.
- Watch an online animal cam (see Websites section) and observe how the animals behave. Ask your child to describe what he sees. Are they swimming, eating, walking, breathing, etc. What do they look like? Are they big or small? What colors?
- Build a Water Table (see how below).
Bath Tub or Water Table Activities:
**Water table and sensory tub activities are great for building science knowledge, fine motor skills and kinethestic awareness and if you’re asking questions and encouraging a dialogue, language development. Drawing what they did in the tub afterward helps them explore pre-writing skills as well. Here’s an article about all the other ways they are great for your little ones.
- “Make” an ocean. Using your water table, or small tub fill it with water and add salt. Let kids smell and taste it. Explain the difference between fresh water and salt water.
- This is a great example of an Ocean Sensory Tub by totally tots.
- A beautiful ocean tub by Connecting Family and Seoul.
- Another Ocean Sensory Tub by No Time for Flashcards.
- Adding icebergs to your miniature ocean by No Time For Flashcards.
- Create a Motion Ocean by National Geographic Kids
- Turn your bathtub into a temporary ocean.
- Use a heavy glass casserole dish for little ones in their high chair because it's too heavy for them to move--just keep an eye on them!
- Add food coloring, jello powder, kool-aid mix, corn syrup or cooking oil and talk about what happens to the water.
- Add cooked or uncooked noodles and watch what happens to them.
- Add Sink or Float items and talk about what happens: rocks, blocks, foam items, corks, filled and empty plastic bottles, toys, etc.
- Add nature items like pinecones, large leaves such as lilypads, shells, stones and pebbles, dirt, plants, etc. and talk about what kinds of things are in oceans, lakes, ponds and rivers.
- Eat Like a Baleen Whale by The Usual Mayhem
- Salt Water Taffy: Recipe 1 by Vanilla and Lace. Recipe 2 by exploratorium.edu. This is definitely something kids cannot do without adults.
- Get creative with sandwiches like here and here.
- Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.
- Blue jello filled with swedish fish.
- Hot Dogs cut up to look like an octopus. (We use soy or tofu dogs. Yum!)
- These cute clam cookies.
- Yogurt or pudding covered in crushed cookies such as Nilla Wafers in a little beach pail.
- I love these Ocean Animals Cookie Cutters. Use them on sandwiches/bread, pineapple, watermelon, cheese slices, poundcake, etc.
Movies and Videos:
Baby Einstein: Neptune’s Oceans Discovery Kit
Cat in the Hat: Ocean Commotion by Martin Short
Cat in the Hat: Ocean Commotion by Martin Short
*WARNING--there are some gruesome ocean animal videos on YouTube, always preview before you show your kids.
Smithsonian Zoo App has live web cams. $1.99
Field Trip Ideas:
- Local aquarium
- Pet or fish/aquarium store
- The beach. For little ones, take a baby bath tub, or small wading pool to the beach. Fill it with ocean water and that way your kids can experience the ocean while staying safe on the beach.
- Whale Watching
- Glass Bottom boat tour
- Sea World or other ocean parks
- Children’s Museum. Check your local children’s museum. They often have ocean units where kids can touch living things in shallow water, feel dried starfish or sand dollars, etc.