Level 2: Arctic Unit

For our Arctic Unit, we’ll be exploring the northernmost part of the planet—and getting to know some of the people and animals who call it home! We’ll also explore how the hemispheres work together while strengthening your child’s math, literacy, and fine motor skills. Download our printable tracker document to keep a record of the books you read, activities you complete, and the skills you work on.

Have you printed a Learn and Live passport? Don’t forget to add a stamp to your passport as you visit the Arctic!

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the TH phonogram. TH makes two sounds, a voiced and an unvoiced sound. You will find examples of this throughout our unit and in high frequency word like this, that, and the.

Lesson 1:

Where is the Arctic anyway?? Let’s pull out a globe or an atlas and show your child the Arctic on the map. The Arctic is located at the northernmost part of our planet. Scientists usually define the Arctic as the area above the ‘Arctic Circle’—an imaginary line that circles around the top of the globe. Play this brief introductory video about the Arctic. Here are some additional facts you can share with your child:

  • The Arctic includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, the USA (Alaska), Greenland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland.
  • It is freezing-cold in the Arctic, but approximately four million people call this wintery wonderland home! Amongst these are the indigenous people of the Arctic, called the Inuits. They’ve found ingenious ways to survive in one of the harshest environments on our planet.
  • The word ‘Arctic’ means bear in Greek. Why? It isn’t because of the polar bears! It’s believed the name refers to two constellations that can be seen in the northern sky—‘Ursa Minor’ (Little Bear) and ‘Ursa Major’ (Great Bear).
  • Penguins don’t live in the arctic! It might be surprising, but it’s true!
  • Want more? This article has seven more fun facts about the Arctic.

Activity 1: The Arctic is at the very top of the globe in the northern hemisphere—but what does that mean? Let’s read North and South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres to help teach your child about the different hemispheres of our planet. This book has a lot of information, so don’t feel like you need to read every single word. Instead, reinforce the idea that life is very different on opposite sides of the globe and we divide these areas into something we call hemispheres. Next, do this hemispheres activity to reinforce the lesson.

Activity 2: As you might guess, there’s a lot of snow in the Arctic! In fact, while it typically snows 8-9 months out of the year, snow has been recorded every month of the year and the annual average is 45 inches! (source) Even if you don’t have nearly that much snow by your house, let’s create a little snowy fun with this “snowball” toss math game. The original post used numbers up to 12, but we encourage you to use bigger numbers if your child is ready for that.
(+) Want an arithmetic upgrade? On 2-3 sides of your die, write “addition” or “subtraction.” If that side comes up when you roll, have your child add or subtract the numbers instead. If they need manipulatives, give them counters to find the sum or difference.

Activity 3: Let’s create a snowy sensory bin for some imaginary play. Use this recipe to make some faux snow, and then break out your arctic animal figurines to create your own arctic scene.
(+) Turn this into a literacy activity by adding letter magnets or some other letter manipulative. When your child finds a letter, try one of these activities:

  • Have them name a word that starts with that letter.
  • Have them write the letter on a paper or chalkboard.
  • Write a simple word that starts with that letter that is either a sight word or that they can sound out.
Lesson 2:

Today, let’s discover some of the amazing animals of the Arctic! We’ll start by reading Here is the Arctic Winter.

Activity 1: Want to view some real Arctic animals? Here are some webcams where you can view live animals. (Note: Don’t see any live animals? Try another time, or check out some of the highlight videos.)

Activity 2: Arctic animal checkers.

Activity 3: Arctic animal gross motor movements. Don’t worry if you don’t have the dice. You can simply have your child draw a card or draw for them.

Activity 4: Let’s learn about a fascinating survival tactic of the Arctic fox: camouflage! First, watch this video about the arctic fox. Next, let’s do this craft.

Lesson 3:

We get a sneak peak of the Inuit People, the Native People of the Arctic, in our next story Arctic White. Point out the unique parts of this culture that are featured in this picture book like the canoe, ice fishing, domesticated dogs, the warm clothing, and the igloo home. This family and their friends travel to see the Northern lights. We’ll learn more about that in a couple days!

Check out this article to learn more about the Inuit People, including some great photos that share parts of their culture. We picked out a few facts to share below:

  • The Inuit are one of many groups of First Nations who live in very cold places of northern Canada, Greenland, the Arctic, and Alaska.
  • The language of the Inuit is Inukittut.
  • They are sometimes called Eskimos but most Inuit prefer to be called by their own name, either the more general Inuit or their actual tribe name.
  • Inuit is a tribe name but not all indigenous Arctic peoples in North America are Inuits. 
  • Inuit were also nomads, but they did not domesticate any animals except for dogs, which they used to pull their sleds and help with the hunting. They were hunter/gatherers, living off the land.
  • Inuit lived in tents made of animal skins during the summer. In the winter they lived in sod houses and igloos. They could build an igloo out of snow bricks in just a couple of hours. 
  • The Inuit made very clever things from the bones, antlers, and wood they had. They invented the harpoon, which was used to hunt seals and whales.
  • They invented the kayak for one man to use for hunting in the ocean and among the pack ice.

***Bonus for parents: There’s a lot parents can learn from the Inuit People, too! This article shares how they help teach their children to regulate big feelings from a young age.

Activity 1: Build an igloo.

Activity 2: A traditional Inuit diet consists of a lot of meat, including polar bear, seal, and fish, but they also often eat it with bannock, a flat quick bread that can be cooked on a griddle or over a fire. Let’s make our own Inuit bannock with this simple recipe.

Activity 3: The Inuit are ingenious in their ability to use materials from the land aroun them for a variety of uses. Let’s work with some natural materians today as we make these acorn cap candles.

Lesson 4:

Let’s continue learning about Native people and animals of the Arctic with our next book, A Symphony of Whales. If your child is interested in the true story that inspired this picture book, you can read an article about it from The New York Times in 1985 here. You can also play this video to hear a real whale song.

Activity 1: In our book, Glashka is able to save a whole pod of beluga whales with music. Do you know what a beluga whale is? Click here to learn more about them. (You may want to check in on the beluga cam from earlier this week as well!) Next, let’s make this beluga craft.

Activity 2: It was never recorded what actual song drew the whales back to the ocean, but we like to think the Russian ice breaker captain might have picked a Russian classical composer who wrote a lot of music for strings, like Tchaikovsky! This web page shares some interesting facts for children about this famous classical composer, who also wrote the music for The Nutcracker ballet. Next, play this song for your child. Can they imagine the belugas following it to freedom? How would they “swim”/dance to this music? How would they draw it?

***Click here for more tips on how to teach music without formal training!

Activity 3: Another enchanting creature of the Arctic Ocean? The narwhal! Watch this video to learn about this amazing mammal that has been dubbed “the unicorn of the sea,” and then make this narwhal craft. (Or, if your child prefers to play with LEGO, you could make this LEGO narwhal!)

Activity 4: Finally, let’s review ending punctuation with this fun narwhal game!
(+) Upgrade by using two dice and folding in some addition practice.

Lesson 5:

Let’s end our week by taking a closer look at one of the most beautiful natural phenomena, the aurora borealis. (Also known as the northern lights!) Start by reading The Lights That Dance in the Night.

Activity 1: What causes the northern lights? This video breaks it down. Next, let’s make our own lights with this simple craft.

Activity 2: One Arctic resident we saw in our book? The polar bear! Learn a bit more about them in this video. Next, let’s craft our own polar bear to add to our northern lights picture. Start by printing this template on white cardstock. Next, use glue and cotton balls to give your polar bear its important thick fur. Finally, glue your bears into your aurora borealis scene!

Activity 3: Snowman launcher.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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