Arctic Unit

This week, we’re taking a journey north to explore the Arctic! We’ll take a closer look at the land, the animal residents, and the people who call the Arctic Circle home. We’ve also included a variety of upgrades and modifications to help you tailor your lessons to your child’s exact level—remember, you’re the boss of your homeschool! Download our printable tracker document to keep a record of the books you read, activities you complete, and the skills you work on.

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):

We know it can be a challenge to find some books, so we’ve listed three options below for your primary arctic book—use whichever one you can find!

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

It’s not required, but you may want to buy an Atlas for your child to use for this and other lessons. Here are three that we like:

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!

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 that will show the landscape, the animals, and the people of the Arctic. This video has no words, so narrate the images to your child to whet their appetite for everything we learn this week. Here are some fun 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: This maps craft is a good review of the continents, especially if you’ve already started to learn about them in past units. Be sure to identify the Arctic in the map. Show your child where you are on the map, too!

Activity 2: Did we mention it’s cold in the Arctic? In summer, the average temperature is 32° F (0° C). In winter, the average temperature is −40° F (−40° C)! Share this photo with your child and introduce a thermometer to them. If you have the real thing at home, that’s even better.

Explain that thermometers are tools used to tell temperature. We use thermometers to tell us the temperature of the air outside so we know how to dress when we go out, to tell us if we have a fever when we aren’t feeling well, to know what temperature to put the oven when we bake, or for cooking maple sap like we did in the Canada Unit in January. How does a thermometer work? Let’s make our own to find out.

Activity 3: Snowball Alphabet Letters. That link has several letter activities, but we’re focusing on the first one. Use the free printable to practice letter recognition, matching lower case and upper case letters or building sight words. Remember to meet your child at their level—this can be used to practice skills they already know or to introduce something new. This is an activity you should do for a few minutes (5-15 minutes will likely be enough!) every single day this week to help reinforce a very mentally challenging skill. We recommend laminating the letters to help them last longer for repeating this lesson.
(+) Use the blank snowballs for digraphs such as ch, ck, sh, th, wh, sl, sp, wr, and st. Be sure to use one snowball for these combined letters. Once they know these letter combinations, practice building words that begin or end with that sound. Pro tip: Use one digraph at a time when introducing new sounds.

Lesson 2:

The animals that live in the Arctic adapt to the cold weather in a variety of ways. Today, we will discuss some of the most famous animals of the Arctic. Start by reading Over in the Arctic or Here is the Arctic Winter to introduce the animals to your child.

Activity 1: Let’s take a closer look at Arctic animals. Here is a link with photos and descriptions of some animals found in the Arctic. Tell your child one or two facts about each animal. If they show a stronger interest in any of these animals, click on the photo and it will bring up a new page with more details and videos. You can also print out these cards to add to your school room walls or to introduce these animals to your child off screen. (When printing out these arctic animal cards, discard the penguin card since it doesn’t belong in our lesson of the Arctic. Sorry, penguin. 🐧)

Activity 2: Polar bear craft. (Psst…while your child works on this craft, set up your bowl of ice water so it’s icy cold for your experiment.)

Activity 3: How does the polar bear stay warm in that cold weather? This polar bear experiment will help us see how their fat, or blubber, keeps them warm. (If you don’t have shortening, you can do the same experiment with cotton balls cling-wrapped to their hand inside the bag before they put their hand in the water.)

Activity 4: Take out those figurines and let’s compare their footprints in the “snow” (AKA, play dough)! Use this photo as inspiration.

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. For more details on this topic, jump back to our Native People unit.

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.
(-) Need something simpler? Try this printable igloo activity.
(+) Build an igloo with real ice for a bigger challenge.

Activity 2: Igloo counting practice. Print these igloo cards from Sparkle Box and laminate if possible. (You only need to print the cards with the numbers that you are currently working on at home—they range from 1 to 50.) Next, give your child clothespins and have them attach the correct number of clothespins to each card before moving on to the next to reinforce number values and counting skills.
Other ways to use these cards: Do you have a kinesthetic learner? Place the igloo cards on the floor and have your child stand on the cards as they call them out. If they are well secured to the floor, you can also have your child jump on the card after you call it out.
(+) Skip counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s is a good way to upgrade this activity and prepare your child for higher level math like multiplication.

Activity 3: Snow Hunt and sensory bin activity. Use your Arctic animal figurines to build this sensory experience for your kids. (Don’t forget: Once you’re done, freeze the figurings into an ice tray or small bowls of water so that they will be ready for tomorrow’s ice activity.)

Activity 4: While you have the faux snow out, make this snow sensory bin. Help your child create their own wintery Arctic scene using their figurines and the DIY snow. You could also include any pinecones you have lying around from our Leaves Unit!

Lesson 4:

Read The Three Snow Bears together and enjoy this charming story that is set in the Arctic about an Inuit girl and her fanciful adventure with three snow bears. This story might become your child’s favorite bedtime story this week. But for your day time fun, we have several activity bins that will keep your little one very busy today! There are two activity ideas and a lot of ways to upgrade, but if your kids are like ours, they will likely want to play with the contents of the bin for a while before moving on. Don’t worry about getting them all done if your child shows interest in one in particular. Allowing them to explore and play is the best way to reinforce all that they’ve learned this week!

Activity 1: Sometimes things endanger the animals and plant life in the Arctic. Introduce the topic of oil spills, pollution, and environmental and ecological damage by asking your child, “Have you ever made a mess that seems impossible to clean up?” Explain to your child that this happens to grown-ups, too. Giant ships carrying oil sometimes leak or are damaged in some way and spill oil into the ocean. This has happened in the Arctic, and sadly it has caused a big mess that was really difficult to clean up. Today’s activity will help your child see just how difficult it is.
(+) If your child shows an interest in this topic or is older, read Oil Spill!. You can also listen to this read aloud of Oil Spill! on Youtube.

Next, do this oil spill clean up activity. (You can use your figurines for this activity, too, if you want to demonstrate that the animals will be affected by the oil spill. To help the oil be more visible, you can mix a bit of cocoa powder into it before adding it to the water.) As the blogger suggests, use this time to engage your child in a conversation about how we can contribute to protecting the environment and the animals that live there.
(+) For more of a challenge, try this spill activity that includes lab sheets for your child to fill out as their research.

Activity 2: Animal ice rescue.
(+) If your child is really engaged, try some of these other ice activities.

Activity 3: Let’s practice numbers with this snowball activity.
(-) Still working on number values or want some fine motor practice? This simple snowball activity will help. Simply write the numbers on some construction paper or use your Igloo number cards from earlier in the week to get started.

Lesson 5:

Ready to “chill” with some art and music? (Ha!) Play this musical piece in the background while you do today’s activities. The composer is Jean Sibelius. He is from Finland. Rovanimi, Finland is the only true city in the Arctic Circle.

Activity 1: Let’s examine this picture (called, “An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay”) by William Bradford today. Bradford traveled to the Arctic eight time, and he especially loved to paint the water. Here are some prompts to try when discussing this picture:

  • Play I Spy and find the ship, the polar bear and the mast of a sunken ship.
  • Have your child compare the ship in the picture to modern ones they might have seen in person. 
  • Discuss the differences between the right and left of this picture, the light and the darkness. 
  • If you were with us for the Clouds + Weather Unit, review the type of clouds in this picture. 

Activity 2: Polar bear habitats craft and activity.

Activity 3: While you have the paint out, let’s do a finger painting art project. Use this instagram as your inspiration for today’s arts and craft project. Cut out an arctic animal of your choice. (Printing on card stock will make it more sturdy.) Using tape, attach the animal stencil to a white piece of cardstock. Have your child use fingers or paint brushes to create a swirled arctic scene using blue and white paint over the entire paper. Then, remove the stencil to reveal your animal!

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