I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
This is part 1 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Ecology. Make leaf rubbings, assemble rain forest terrariums, make pine needle tea, experiment with forms of animal insulation, and more! These lessons are geared toward 3rd-5th grade level children and their siblings. This lesson was created for a homeschool co-op class. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 33 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, or co-op!
Biomes Introduction & Overview
1. Pray. Read and discuss Genesis 1:27-30 and Psalm 8:4-9. Emphasize how God created the world and all that is in it for us to use and to take care of as good stewards.
2. Ask a couple of the children to describe their homes. Ask a couple other children to describe their community, as in our city or county. We are about to endeavor on a study of biomes. Who can tell me what a biome is? A habitat is the environment in which a plant or animal lives. It is kind of like what [names of children] were describing when they were talking about their houses. A biome is the entire community of living organisms within a major region. A biome is like what [names of children] were describing when they were talking about our city or county.
3. Read Forests by Chris Arvetis and Carole Palmer or other book that gives a brief introduction to the major biomes of the world. (Forests includes 6 of the seven biomes. It covers deserts in another book. It was definitely my children's favorite picture book covering the biomes. It has colorful illustrations and includes a brief overview about each of the biomes.)
- YOU WILL NEED: Forests by Chris Arvetis and Carole Palmer or other book that gives a brief introduction to the major biomes
4. Briefly go through the seven types of biomes and sing the "Seven Types of Biomes" song.
Seven Types of Biomes Song
The Best Book for This Entire Lesson
Deciduous (Temperate) Forests Snacks & Book
5. Ask children what they think of when they think of a forest. What are some of the differences between a deciduous, coniferous, and tropical rain forest? One of the biggest differences is the types of trees found in each of them. Deciduous forests have mostly what types of trees? (Deciduous Hardwoods) How many seasons do they have? (4) Let's name them together.
6. Deciduous forests are full of nuts and berries that are delicious for both animals and people! Wash or sanitize hands and allow children to eat small bags or cups of "Deciduous Forest Trail Mix" (dried cranberries and/or blueberries and pecans or walnuts) *Be sure to check for nut allergies first!* As children eat their trail mix, read part of I Can Name 50 Trees Today!: All About Trees (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth.
- YOU WILL NEED: baggies of dried cranberries and/or blueberries and pecans or walnuts and I Can Name 50 Trees Today!: All About Trees (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth
Deciduous (Temperate) Forests Leaf Study
7. Deciduous forests have deciduous trees, which lose their leaves every fall. Go outside and have children collect 5 leaves from different trees. [If you can't do this, bring an assortment of tree leaves to class.] Have them use magnifying glasses to inspect them. Mention how botanists, who are scientists who study plants, use the shape of a tree's leaves as one of the ways they identify leaves. Then have them make leaf rubbings with their favorite leaves. *We noticed that some crayon brands and colors worked better than others, so try to switch out any crayons that do not seem to be producing clear images.
- YOU WILL NEED: magnifying glasses, crayons, paper, & leaves [optional]
8. What types of animals might you find in a deciduous forest? Flip through pictures on your laptop or use pictures from A Walk in the Deciduous Forest (Biomes of North America) by Rebecca L. Johnson to show some of the animals.
- YOU WILL NEED: pictures of animals from a deciduous forest (from your laptop or a book)
9. Review: What type of biome did we just learn about? What makes it different from other biomes? What kinds of plants would you find there? What types of animals might you find there?
Coniferous (Taiga/Boreal) Forests Pine Needle Tea
10. Ask children what they think of when they think of a coniferous forest. Coniferous forests have mostly what types of trees? What do coniferous trees grow inside of leaves? (pine needles) What else do they have? (cones)
11. (Optional -- if you have available pine trees) (Prep: Bring a pot of water to boil. You will want about 3 cups of water for every 10 children if you want them to each have a small taste. You will want a ratio of about 1 cup of pine needles for every 3 cups of water.) Make Pine Needle Tea:
- Go outside and have each child grab a handful of green pine needles from a pine tree.
- Use scissors to cut the needles into smaller pieces. Only use the green parts of the needles -- though it won't hurt if the brown tops get in there as well. (A teacher/parent can do this or the children can do it.)
- After the pine needles have been cut, a parent/teacher should drop them into the boiling boiling water. After all the needles have been put into the pot of water, cover it and lower the temperature to simmer/low.
- Simmer the needles for about 15-20 minutes (or longer if you have time).
- After you return, strain the needles from the tea and add desired amount of sugar or honey.
- This is a great source of vitamins A & C, and was used by Native Americans and American frontiersmen as medicine to help strengthen their immune systems when they got sick.
- YOU WILL NEED: pine tree with accessible pine needles, scissors, kettle or pot with a lid, sugar or honey, strainer, & cups
Coniferous (Taiga/Boreal) Forests Pine Cone Bird Feeder
12. While the tea is simmering, Make a pine cone bird feeder. Do this outside for easy clean-up. Have each child write their name on sheet of paper and then place the sheet of paper in a plastic grocery store bag with their name facing outward. This will be used so that they can tell which bird feeder is theirs. Have children tie a string to the top of a pine cone. Use a plastic knife to spread peanut butter over the pine cone. Use a cup full of birdseed to sprinkle over the pine cone. Do this over a bucket in order to catch the loose birdseed. Place the bird feeder on the sheet of paper. Have children place their bird feeder in the plastic bag and then allow children to wash their hands. Do not leave these outside if you live in an area that has ants.
- YOU WILL NEED: pine needles & leaves (optional), 1 sheet of paper per child, 1 grocery store bag per child, markers, 1 pine cone per child (the larger the better), 1 plastic knife per child, 1 piece of 2' string or yarn, 5 large containers of peanut butter, 1 10 lb. bag of bird seed
13. Read most of Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree? by Jennifer Blomgren while children sip on pine needle tea.
- YOU WILL NEED: Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree? by Jennifer Blomgren or other book about coniferous forests
14. Review: What type of biome did we just learn about? What makes it different from other biomes? What kinds of plants would you find there? What types of animals might you find there?
Tropical Rain Forest Snacks
15. Ask children what they think of when they think of a tropical rain forest.
16. Tropical Rain Forests are full of nuts and fruits that are delicious for both animals and people!
- (Optional) If papaya is in season, show the children the inside of the papaya. The black seeds of the papaya are edible and have a sharp, spicy taste. They are sometimes ground and used as a substitute for black pepper. Allow children to taste one if desired or hold one and squeeze it.
- One of my favorite foods comes from the rain forests: chocolate! Chocolate actually grows as a bean on trees. It is crushed up and mixed with other ingredients to make it more delicious. This is basically what chocolate tastes like.
- Allow children to sample tiny pieces of unsweetened baking chocolate. Isn't not very good without sugar and milk, is it?
- Thankfully I did bring some chocolate with sugar and milk added.
- I'm going to pass out those and Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts grow on one of the largest of trees in the Amazon rainforests, and some of them can live to be 1,000 years old! A couple fun facts I found out about Brazil nuts: 1) It's illegal to cut them down in Brazil, so they grow in many places. 2) From what country do you think we get most of our Brazil nuts? It's not Brazil! We get most of them from Bolivia!
- Allow children to sample small bags or cups of "Tropical Rain Forest Treats" (chocolate chips and Brazil nuts) while you read part of If I Ran the Rain Forest: All About Tropical Rain Forests (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth.
- YOU WILL NEED: papaya (optional), small pieces of unsweetened baking chocolate, chocolate chips, Brazil nuts, small baggies or cups, and If I Ran the Rain Forest: All About Tropical Rain Forests (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth or other book about the Tropical Rain Forest
Book for Activity 16: Our Favorite Book on Tropical Rain Forests
Tropical Rain Forest Miniature Terrarium
17. Tropical Rainforests are warm and moist with plenty of rain water cycling through to keep all the plants lush and green. We will make our own little tropical rain forests by making miniature terrariums. Line up the jars (which should have the children's names on them), pebbles, charcoal (sometimes called terrarium charcoal), potting soil, sheet moss, other seedlings/plants, & water in a line. Have the children walk through the line and put about 1 inch of each of the items in their jars in that order. If they are not able to get the moss to drop in green-side-up, they can use a stick to push it over. Slowly pour just enough water into the jar until you can see water in the pebble layer. Screw on the lid. They should remove the lid when they get home and keep it off for a month or so. After that, they can cover the jar and spritz it with water every few weeks.
- YOU WILL NEED: 1 small handful of moss per child, 1 bag of potting soil, 1 bag of terrarium/activated/chipped charcoal (found at a nursery/garden center or pet store), 2-4 trowels or cups to use to pass out the charcoal and soil, sheet moss (sold in a nursery), 1 Dixie bathroom cup size cups per child for water, small plants (We used clover & dollar weed which we dug up from the ground) & items brought by families: a glass jar with lid with gravel/small pebbles
18. Review: What type of biome did we just learn about? What makes it different from other biomes? What kinds of plants would you find there? What types of animals might you find there?
19. Ask children what they think of when they think of grasslands.
20. Much of America's Midwest is covered in grasslands, which we also call prairies. They are great places for growing crops because they have nutrient-rich soil and few trees. Much of the food we eat, including grass, comes from the grasslands of America. Did I just say that we eat grass? We do! Wheat is a type of grass. Wheat is what makes flour, and flour is what we use to make bread, cookies, cakes, and lots of other delicious items.
- Option A: If you have a wheat grinder (or coffee grinder) available, show the children how wheat kernels are ground into flour.
- Option B: Compare various types of flour (at least white and whole wheat). Allow children to compare them by looks and taste. If you can purchase wheat kernels, allow children to observe them and try to smash them.
- YOU WILL NEED: Option A: wheat kernels and wheat grinder (or coffee grinder) OR Option B: various types of flour (at least white and whole wheat) and wheat kernels (optional)
21. Grasslands are also called prairies in America. In Asia they are called steppes. In Africa they are called Savannas. Let's read about savannah's while you enjoy some whole wheat rolls from the wheat grown in the American grasslands. Read some of Safari, So Good!: All About African Wildlife (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth.
- YOU WILL NEED: whole wheat rolls, napkins, and Safari, So Good!: All About African Wildlife (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth or other book on African savannas
22. Review: What type of biome did we just learn about? What makes it different from other biomes? What kinds of plants would you find there? What types of animals might you find there?
Desert Animals & Temperatures
22. Ask children what they think of when they think of deserts.
- Let's discuss animals in the deserts. Name some.
- Are most of them diurnal (awake during the day) or nocturnal (awake at night)? [nocturnal] Why? [avoid heat of the sun]
- Where do many of them live? [in the ground] Why? [It is cooler.]
- How much cooler do you think it could possibly be in a hole in the ground? Let's find out! Before we start, let's make a hypothesis, an educated guess. Who thinks there won't be any difference between the temperatures on the grass versus a hole in the ground? Who thinks there will be a slight difference? Who thinks there will be a big, significant difference?
- Have a few children take turns digging a hole in the ground. (We dug about 1 1/2 feet deep and tried to kind of dig a small tunnel under the grass.)
- Place one thermometer in the "tunnel" in the hole and one in the grass near the hole. (Tip: If you are using your thermometer app on your phone, be sure to put in in a bag to keep it from getting dirty!)
- While we wait for the temperatures to heat up a bit, let's do something else.
- YOU WILL NEED: a shovel and 2 thermometers (Your phone app will work if you don't have scientific ones.)
Deserts & Desertification
23. Much of the world is becoming a desert. We call that desertification. Do you think that's a good thing? Would you like to live in a desert? Why do you think that is happening?
- Erosion is causing much of the desertification. A few years ago my family visited Providence Canyon in Georgia. About a hundred years ago Providence Canyon was covered in farms and the land grew plenty of crops. Farmers kept planting and planting and planting. Eventually the soil started wasting away. Then cracks started opening up. Eventually canyons, hundreds of feet deep opened up and the once fertile farm land was now sandy desert land. What in the world happened?
- Let's see how erosion works. Place a piece of sod in one erosion tray (i.e. the lid to the plastic shoebox). Fill another half full of just soil. Tilt both trays. Put an equal amount of water in two watering cans. Water each tray. Compare how much water and soil has collected at the bottom of the tray.
- YOU WILL NEED: soil, a piece of sod with dirt on its roots, 2 trays (like a plastic shoebox lid), and 2 watering cans with equal amounts of water
24. Let's check back with the thermometers. Is it really that much cooler in the ground?
25. (Optional) If you are not limited by time, read part of a book on the desert such as Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry?: All About Deserts (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Tish Rabe.
26. Review: What type of biome did we just learn about? What makes it different from other biomes? Who can name a plant or animal that we'd find in the desert?
Tundra & Arctic Animals' Insulation
27. Ask children what they think of when they think of the tundra.
28. God provided special ways for tundra animals to insulate themselves. Insulate means “to keep warm.” One way is with their coats. Do we humans grown thick coats? Then how do we get warm? (We add on layers of clothing.) Not all clothing and materials insulate the same. Show the children 4 containers that each have the same amount of water in them. Let the children touch the water to feel that it is all the same temperature. Use rubber bands to wrap each container in a different material: bubble wrap, fleece, and cotton towel. Leave one with no insulation. We’re going to put them in the freezer. We need to make a hypothesis, or educated guess, as to which material will insulate the best. Ask, “Which container do you think will get the coldest? Which will be the warmest?” (Have them raise their hands for their vote.) Put them in the freezer.
- YOU WILL NEED: 4 containers (cups, bottles, tupperware, etc.) that are the same size each with the same amount of water in them (no more than 2 cups of water per container), 4 rubber bands, bubble wrap, fleece, and cotton towel or t-shirt
Tundra & Artic Animals' Fur as Insulation
29. Many Arctic animals, such as musk oxen, wolves, and foxes, don’t go to the store to get coats and jackets like we do. Instead, God have them grow two layers of fur to help insulate their bodies in subzero winter temperatures. The animals shed this extra layer each spring, when temperatures rise and the extra layer is no longer needed. Have each child hold out both of their hands. Have the moms lay the kitchen towel over their child’s hands. Lay the thicker towel over 1 of their hands. Now lay a piece of ice in each hand and tell the children to squeeze the ice and count to 20 together. Afterward ask, “Which hand stays the warmest? Why? What does this teach us about the Arctic animal’s fur?”
- YOU WILL NEED: 2 towels per child (such as kitchen towels), 2 ice cubes per child, and a container/bowl to hold the ice
Tundra & Blubber
30. God also gave many of the large animals blubber to insulate them. Blubber is thick layers of fat. Seals, walruses, and whales all have layers of blubber which help to keep them warm. Give each child a blubber mitten to put on one hand. Tell them to try to smash around the vegetable shortening to make sure it covers as much of their hand as possible. (If this is done correctly, the shortening shouldn’t ever actually touch their skin as it should stay in the zipper bag.) The shortening is like blubber. Their other hand will be bare. Divide the children into 4 groups and assign them to 1 of the 4 bowls. Have them then place both hands in a bowl of ice water and compare how each hand feels. Ask, “How cold does the water seem with the ‘blubber mitten’ on? Do you think a nice layer of blubber would be great protection against cold?” This shows how blubber insulates ocean mammals and keeps them warm.
- YOU WILL NEED: 4 large bowls filled with very cold ice water and one “blubber mitten” per child (To create a “blubber mitten” fill a sandwich or quart size zipper bag about 1/3 full of vegetable shortening/Crisco. Then turn a second zipper bag of the same size inside out. Place it carefully inside the bag with the shortening so that you are able to zip the one bag to the other.)
Tundra Animal Sketches
31. (Optional) If you are not limited by time, lead children in drawing a caribou/reindeer. I used the model from Draw Write Now: Book Four by Marie Hablitzel. Draw it right along with them, step by step, using an easel or dry erase board so that everyone can see it. As we drew the picture, we discussed the small plants, snow, and areola borealis.
- YOU WILL NEED: paper, pencils, crayons, and tundra picture to draw such as the reindeer/caribou from Draw Write Now: Book Four by Marie Hablitzel
32. Check on the temperatures of the insulated cups in the freezer. What did we just find out about insulation?
33. Review: What type of biome did we just learn about? What makes it different from other biomes? Who can name a plant or animal that we'd find in the tundra?
34. Quickly review the biomes and sing the biome song.
Our Favorite Books on Deciduous Forests
- Wonders of the Forest by Francene Sabin was my children's favorite picture book. It includes the typical plants and animals of a deciduous forest as the seasons change. It has soft, realistic looking illustrations that kept the attention of even my youngest children.
- A Walk in the Deciduous Forest (Biomes of North America) by Rebecca L. Johnson contains photographs rather than illustrations, but the text is short and interesting enough to keep the interest of my children.
- What If There Were No Gray Wolves?: A Book About the Temperate Forest Ecosystem (Food Chain Reactions) by Suzanne Slade is a great picture book that shows the food web in a deciduous/temperate forest and the importance of a key species