Level 2+: Monkeys + Apes Unit

Ready to monkey around a bit? In this animal-themed unit, we’ll meet a few primates that have captured human hearts for years. We’ll also brush up on math and geography skills, get some purposeful writing practice, and more! Click here to download your skills tracker before you start.

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

What you need:

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

Optional additional books:

Optional chapter books:

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 phonogram CI.

Lesson 1:

Throughout this week, we’ll be learning about a variety of animals that are classified as primates. Primates are a group of mammals that includes monkeys, apes, lemurs, bush babies, and lorises. (Humans are also primates!) All primates have a large brain compared to their body size. They are also good climbers, with strong arms and legs and long, grasping finger sand toes. Their eyes face forward to help them judge distance accurately. (source)

The terms “monkey” and “ape” are sometimes used interchangeably, but this is actually incorrect. Today, we’ll discuss some of the major differences between these similar creatures. Let’s begin by reading A Book of Monkeys (and Other Primates).

Activity 1: Let’s narrow down some of the differences between monkeys and apes with a Venn diagram (you can use our printable, if desired). This article highlights the five main differences, and/or you can watch this video.

We’ll be focusing on monkeys for the next two days, and then we’ll shift our focus to apes.

Activity 2: There are over 250 species of monkey, and they are divided into two separate groups, called Old World monkeys and New World monkeys. The term “old world” refers to the areas (Europe, Africa, and Asia) known to the Europeans prior to the discovery of the “new world” (the Americas). Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia while New World monkeys are indigenous to the Americas, but their homes are not the only ways in which they are different. Here are a few other key differences:

  • New World monkeys are members of five different primate families (Callitrichidae, Cebidae, Aotidae, Pitheciidae, and Atelidae) and consist of almost exclusively arboreal (tree-dwelling) species like marmosets, tamarins, capuchins, and spider monkeys.
  • Old World monkeys belong to the family Cercopithecidae and consist of species such as macaques, baboons, and vervet monkeys. These monkeys spend much more of their time on the ground, but can be found in habitats ranging from the rainforest to the savannah to the mountains!
  • Some species of New World monkeys possess prehensile tails, meaning they can use their tails to grasp or hold on to objects. Old World monkeys all have tails, but they lack the ability to grasp objects.
  • Some Old World monkeys have pads (called ischial callosities) surrounding their hind region. As these monkeys tend to spend more time on the ground than their arboreal New World counterparts, these calloused areas of skin provide support when they sit to feed or rest.
  • New World monkeys have an additional premolar tooth in their mouths; they have three while Old World monkeys only have two.
  • Old World monkeys have fingernails and toenails, while New World monkeys often have claws on all of their digits (with a few exceptions).
  • In New World monkeys, it is common for the males to be involved in infant care. However, this is extremely rare in Old World monkeys.
  • Old World mothers also often carry their babies on their bellies, while New World babies will more commonly ride on their mothers’ backs.
  • New World monkeys generally rely much more on fruit asa food source than Old World monkeys, which instead focus more on leaves and grasses. (source)

Let’s do a mapping activity to find where many primates in our book are are found in the world. First, print this map. Begin by having your child label each continent and complete the compass rose. Next, assign each primate a color using colored pencils—fill in the box next to the primate name in the key to set the colors. Finally, use the book or your own research to find where each primate is originally found, and then draw dots in the assigned color on the map.

Activity 3: Because of their diversity, monkeys come in a wide range of sizes. Let’s compare some common monkey heights with your own! First, print these monkey cards. Use a tape measure to measure their heights on a wall or door, and mark the height by taping the card to that spot. Finally, measure your child and mark their height with the last card. Compare the differences. Can they find the difference between the tallest monkey and the smallest?

Activity 4: Let’s create a primate book to record what we learn about some fascinating monkeys and apes this week! Begin by printing 4-5 of these pages. Select a monkey from today’s book (or one you find in your own research) to highlight on the first page, filling in the details your child would like to record.

Lesson 2:

Monkeys have a variety of abilities that enable them to be extremely clever and adaptable. Let’s read a true story about a baboon in the late 1800s that provided an incredible service to a fellow primate—a human!—in the book Railway Jack: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon.

Activity 1: Let’s add a baboon page to our primate book! You can learn more about baboons in this article or by watching this video.

Activity 2: One amazing feature of monkeys that separates them from apes is their tail! Monkey tails are generally categorized as prehensile (meaning they can act as an additional hand) or non-prehensile (meaning they don’t grip, but they are still useful for balance). That means that a monkey with a prehensile tail is almost like you having five arms!

Let’s use this concept to inspire a little multiplication work! Print and laminate this page (or you can put it in a large zippered plastic bag). Point out to your child that each monkey has five limbs, including their tail. You might even try skip counting by fives as you count the monkeys.

Next, use a dry erase marker to circle two of the monkeys. On the top equation, write a 2 in the second space (it will now read 5 x 2 = ___). Have your child solve for the product, either by counting the limbs or counting by fives. Erase your circle and now circle 3 monkeys. Write a 3 in the second space of the equation and solve for the answer. Repeat this activity as many times as your child has interest!

Activity 3: Let’s try a little STEM work with this prehensile tail game. First, print 4-10 copies of this monkey template on white cardstock (the more monkeys, the more fun!). Have your child color the monkeys, if desired, and then cut them out. Use a hole punch to cut out the circles on their front hands and rumps, and then thread small pieces of pipe cleaner through the holes to act as the monkeys’ hands and prehensile tails.

Now you’re ready to play! Drop all but one monkey on the ground. Using your remaining monkey, try to pick up another monkey by hooking their hand or tail using only your first monkey’s hands or tail. Repeat, picking up as many monkeys as you can using just your monkey chain. How long of a chain can you make?

Lesson 3:

What does a gorilla learn in school? His APE-B-C’s! Today, we’ll begin exploring world’s largest ape, the gorilla! Gorillas are extremely intelligent creatures, and some have even learned to communicate using sign language. Today, let’s read a true story about a gorilla who learned to do just that in the book KOKO-LOVE! Conversations With a Signing Gorilla (or read it here on OpenLibrary). This is also a good day to start one of our two recommended chapter books!

Activity 1: Gorillas are NOT monkeys—they’re apes! Let’s learn more about them in this video. Next, make this simple gorilla craft by printing the template onto watercolor paper and painting with watercolors.

Activity 2: How big is a gorilla? On average, they are 4 to 6 feet tall. Adult males can weigh nearly 500 pounds. Their size varies depending on species and sex. Female adult gorillas tend to be smaller than their male counterparts. Eastern gorillas tend to be larger than the western species, adult male eastern gorillas weigh up to 484 pounds and females weigh up to 215 pounds. (source) The hand of a gorilla has a similar structure to a human hand, but the thumb is shorter. Let’s compare your child’s hand size to the average size of a gorilla hand.

First, use a large piece of black paper or cardstock to draw a gorilla hand that is 12 inches long and 6 inches across. (source) You could also print this template on black paper and cut it out (it will be slightly smaller than 12 inches if you fit to the full size of your paper).

Next, have your child make a handprint with white paint on the gorilla hand. Once the paint is dry, have your child measure their hand. What is the difference in length and width?

Activity 3: Did you know that a baby gorilla is called an infant, just like humans? Scientists have come up with lots of interesting names for baby animals. Let’s learn a few your child might not already know with this baby animal name memory game! Print and cut out these cards on white cardstock, arrange them facedown in front of your child, and then let them flip cards until they find all the matches!

Activity 4: Don’t forget to add a gorilla page to your primate book!

Lesson 4:

The primates we share our planet with are incredibly diverse and interesting, but many of them are also threatened due to pollution, land development, and sport hunting. Let’s learn about a real scientist who spent her life speaking up for apes in the book The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps (or read it here on OpenLibrary). (And don’t forget to add a chimpanzee page to your primate book!)

Activity 1: Jane Goodall was an incredible researcher and friend to nature. Let’s do a bit more research about her and create a lapbook! Start by watching this video, and then look for other books or do research online for more information. Include details like where she was born, where she studied, and her major accomplishments. You can also include a quote of hers from this list for some copywork.
(-) Looking for a simpler assignment? Just do the quote for copywork.

Activity 2: Want to try observing some apes of your own? Take a look at the below live cams:

As you check out the monkeys and apes, have your child record their observations on the first page of this printable. Next, use the second page to chart their observations.

Activity 3: Want to try a little origami? See if you and your child can fold this paper chimpanzee!

Lesson 5:

Activity 1: For our last day of lessons, let your child pick a monkey or ape that interests them to add to their primate book. Some options they might consider are orangutans, mandrills, spider monkeys, or even lemurs! Do research online or look for books at your local library or on OpenLibrary. Finally, have your child create a cover for their book and staple or lace it together to complete it.

Activity 2: Let’s use chimps to inspire our math practice for the day. Begin by printing these pages and laminating, if desired for durability. Cut out the equation cards and the greater than/less than cards. You may also wish to provide your child with manipulatives or a separate piece of paper for their work.

Give your child the first page and place two equation cards on the outer two boxes. Once they have solved them, have them place the greater than, less than, or equal to monkey card in the middle box to identify which answer is greater. Repeat until your child is ready to move on. (We’ve also included blank cards to create your own equations.)

Activity 3: Have you ever made monkey bread? Don’t worry, monkeys aren’t an ingredient! There are different stories about how it was named, but some think it was named monkey bread because you eat it sort of the way monkeys groom each other. (We promise it’s more delicious than it sounds!) Try making this simple recipe together today. If desired, enjoy it for some Tea + Poetry while you read this monkey poem by Shel Silverstein.

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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.