Level 2+: Mountains Unit

Get ready for some high-climbing adventures learning about our planet’s tallest peaks! In this week-long unit study, we’ll learn more about how these majestic mountains were formed and some of the people who have scaled them. We’ll also delve into other earth science, learning about rock formations found in many mountains, as well as math, literacy, geography, and more. Ready to learn? Click here to download your skills tracker for the week.

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 book:

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 OU.

Lesson 1:

Mountains are one of the most majestic land masses on the planet—but how did they come to be? Let’s find out with the book How Mountains Are Made.

Activity 1: Let’s build some mountains with this hands-on activity!

Activity 2: Mountains and their formation present a great opportunity to review matter and its primary states: solids, liquids, gases. If you got the book Matter: Physical Science for Kids, you can read that now, or you can read this page together and/or watch this video.

Next, let’s create a simple craft to illustrate how the molecules appear in each state of matter. Print this page on a piece of cardstock. Next, have your child use a cotton swab and some paint to add the molecules to each state. For solids, they should be close together; for liquids, more spread out; and for the gas, even more spread out in the cloud. It should look like this:

Next, write these simple definitions out for your child to write for copywork under each state:

  • Solids: a state of matter that retains its shape and density when not confined
  • Liquid: a state of matter that does not have a definite shape but takes up a definite amount of space
  • Gas: a state of matter that has no fixed shape and no fixed volume

Activity 3: Next, let’s bring to life how water changing its state can impact the shape of a mountain with this simple activity. Take an egg and use a skewer or the tip of a knife to poke a hole on one end. Empty the inside of the egg to create a hollow shell (you may also need to create a second hole on the other end to blow out the contents—just plus the second hole with a bit of clay or playdough). Mix some blue food coloring into a bit of water and use it to fill the egg all the way to the top. Cover and seal the hole with some clay or playdough. Have your children observe what it looks like now, and then put it in the freezer for a few hours.

When the water freezes, the egg should start to crack, revealing lines of blue food coloring. Let your child observe these changes.

How is this similar to what happens on a mountain? Because water expands when it freezes, water in that is absorbed into the soil and rocks on a mountain will create cracks in the rock when it freezes. As this happens continually over time, it changes the overall shape of the mountain.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll work on some geography as we learn about mountains from around the world. Begin by reading either Mountains of the World OR Mountains: Explore Earth’s Majestic Mountain Habitats.

Activity 1: Let’s meet the tallest mountains on each continent. First, print this map + mountain cards set. (You can also use this time to review the names and locations of each continent.) Next, use your book or this article to learn about the tallest summit on each continent. Mark the mountain’s location on the map with a marker, a chocolate chip, or a bit of playdough or clay. You can also have your child fill out the name and height of the tallest peak on each mountain card for a little writing practice.

Activity 2: Time for some math practice! Use this printable and 3 dice to work on number families between 0-30. Start by rolling all the dice and having your child total the dots. Then have them write that number in the top circle of one mountain. Next, have them roll 1-2 dice and write the number in the bottom left corner and solve for the last number in the number family.

Activity 3: Does your child know all the parts of a mountain? Here are the main parts:

  • base: The base of a mountain is where it meets flat or only gently sloped ground. (The height of a mountain is measured from sea level rather than from its base.)
  • slope: A slope is the side of a mountain, hill, or valley.
  • face: The visible side of a mountain.
  • peak: The highest point of a mountain.
  • snow line: Where snow can be seen on a mountain.
  • ridge: A geographical feature consisting of a chain of mountains or hills that form a continuous elevated crest for an extended distance.

Finally, let’s bring it to life by creating a torn paper mountain collage and labeling the parts.

Use an old magazine, old drawings or paintings, or plain construction paper. Tear colorful pieces into strips and layer them to form a mountain, like this:

You can also create some smaller mountains to form a ridge, like this:

Add a snowline by topping your peak with some white scraps, or you can sponge on some white paint. Finally, label the parts of your mountain, like this:

Lesson 3:

In today’s activities, we’ll explore a rock mass commonly found in mountains—caves! Begin by reading Caves OR Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Activity 1: Just like the ocean, caves have layers that are determined by the amount of light they receive—and each of these layers experiences its own ecology. The layer are:

  • Entrance Zone: The area that most resembles the environment above ground. It receives sunlight and has a variable temperature. Green plants may grow in the entrance zone, which may provide food and shelter for animals. Many animals may eat, sleep or nest here.
  • Twilight Zone: The twilight zone is just beyond the entrance of the cave.  There is much less light in the twilight zone with little or no vegetation, and the temperature is fairly constant but fluctuates some according to the weather outside of the cave. Many trogloxenes (or animals that find temporary shelter, a resting place, or a hunting ground in a cave, like bats) live here. The animals found in the twilight zone usually enter and exit the cave when it is necessary.
  • Dark Zone: The dark zone is the deepest part of the cave. There is no natural light that enters into this part of the cave, and it is one of the few places to experience total darkness (the other is the bottom of the ocean). No vegetation is able to grow in this area, and the temperature is constant.  The dark zone is where many troglobites (or animals that live their entire life in caves) live. (source)

Let’s build a diorama of each layer to learn more about them! You’ll need three shoebox-size boxes. Start by taping or gluing them together. Cut an opening on the side of the first box to be the mouth of the cave. This box will be our entrance zone. Paint the inside of the box light gray (or cover it with light gray construction paper) to demonstrate that this zone gets an adequate amount of light. Add rocks and paint “moss” on them with green paint and a sponge brush. You can also add faux ferns and figurines (or printed pictures) of animals like salamanders, racoons, bats, and bears. You may also want to add some faux greenery just outside the mouth of the cave.

The second box will be your twilight zone. Paint the inside a darker gray color to demonstrate that this zone gets limited light. Organisms living in the twilight zone need moisture and coolness to survive, so you can also paint a small pool (or use a small mirror to create it). You could also use playdough, air-dry clay, or paper to create some stalactites and paint dripping water on them. Here, you’ll find the habitats of many trogloxenes, including moths, bats, spiders, millipedes, and mushrooms, so your child can either add figurines, cut out pictures, or draw these creatures to add to the diorama.

The final box will be our dark zone. Paint it black, as this area gets no natural light. Add more stalactites and stalagmites using black paper. Add pictures or drawings of crayfish, beetles, a small salamanders that can survive in this zone.

Activity 2: One of the most distinctive formations of caves are stalactites and stalagmites. But how do these pointy features form?

When water flows down through the ground and into a cave, it dissolves a mineral called calcite (a major building block of limestone) and carries it through cracks in the ceiling. The dripping water leaves behind traces of calcite, which slowly builds up on the ceiling until a stalactite takes shape, hanging down like an icicle.

Water from the end of the stalactite leaves more calcite in a pile on the cave floor, and pretty soon a cone-like stalagmite forms. That’s why stalactites and stalagmites are usually found in pairs. Sometimes they grow together to form a pillar or column. (source)

Let’s bring it to life by growing our own with this activity.

Activity 3: Another cave discovery that has fascinated scientists and art appreciators for decades are cave paintings! These ancient works of art have been found on the walls and ceilings of caves on every continent except Antarctica. (Look online to see if there are any cave paintings you can visit in your area!) Most often, they depict hunting scenes and animals. It is not known why these paintings were made. Many people think they may have had a function for rituals, while others think they may also have been a way to transmit information. Most paintings are in caves that are difficult to access, and these caves usually do not show signs that people lived there all year round. (source) Click here to see examples of cave paintings from around the world.

Would your child like to make their own cave painting-inspired art? Start with a piece of white water color paper (you can tear the edges to give it a more ragged look). Use pencil and oil pastels to draw animals, people, or other things you might see in nature in your area. (Use earth tones for a more realistic look, but let your child be creative.) Use a finger and blend the oil pastels inside the animal shapes.

After the oil pastels, use watercolors and paint the background. The oil pastels will resist the watercolor paints and still stay bright. Finally, fill a spray bottle filled with watered down brown or black tempera paint, lightly spray across the painting. (You could also carefully flick the paint mixture onto the drawing with a paint brush.) This creates a pitted effect like that of the paintings found in caves. 

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll learn more about the types of animals commonly found in mountainous regions. Begin by reading Over on a Mountain: Somewhere in the World.

Activity 1:  Alpine biomes are found in mountain regions worldwide, including the Andes, Alps, and Rocky Mountains. The alpine biome usually lies between an altitude of about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), and the place where the snow line of a mountain begins. Combined, the Alpine and Arctic biomes cover 16% of the earth’s surface area.

The alpine biome is a tough place for plants to live. It’s windy, cold, and the sunlight at these high altitudes is very strong. There are only about 200 species of alpine plants, which are small groundcover plants that grow and reproduce slowly.

Animals in this biome must survive cold, snowy conditions and high UV light exposure from the sun and thin atmosphere. Mostly warm-blooded animals live here, but a few types of insects also make the alpine biome home. Alpine animals survive the cold by hibernating, migrating to warmer areas, or insulating their bodies with layers of fat and fur. Their bodies tend to have shorter legs, tails, and ears, in order to reduce heat loss. Alpine animals also have larger lungs, more blood cells, and blood that can deal with the lower levels of oxygen at higher altitudes. Some animals in the alpine biome are mountain goats, sheep, elk, beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies. (source) This video shares more information about the alpine biome.

Next, let’s play a game inspired by Go Fish to review biomes. Click here to download and print the cards on cardstock. (You may also want to laminate them for durability.) Our card game reviews the 8 major terrestrial biomes. Print two sets for each person playing, and then deal each person four cards. Play Go Fish until your child ends up with a pair of each, reviewing each biome when you find a pair.

Activity 2: One fascinating animal found in this biome is the snow leopard. Read Snow Leopard: Grey Ghost of the Mountain (or whatever book you were able to find, or this article) or you can watch this video to learn more about the snow leopard. Next, have your child create a lapbook about snow leopards to reinforce what they’ve learned.

Activity 3: Want to try a little mountain-themed Tea + Poetry this week? Make these “snow on the mountain cookies” and then enjoy them as you read through some of these poems about mountains.

Lesson 5:

As long a there have been mountains, there have been people who wanted to climb them! Let’s learn about some real people who have climbed the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, by reading either Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay OR You Wouldn’t Want to Climb Mount Everest! (or you can read it here on OpenLibrary).

Activity 1: In our Level 2+: Russia Unit, we learned about the main different types of maps that we use. One of these that relates to mountains is a topographical map. This type of map shows the differences in elevation changes in landscape using contour lines. It is basically a one-dimensional model that shows heights using numbers and curved lines. Let’s do this mountain mapping activity to show how these maps demonstrate the elevation of a mountain. First, print this Map a Mountain sheet.

Next, create a small mountain out of a lump of clay (about the size of an orange). Using dental floss, cut cross sections of your mountain about 2-4 centimeters thick. Trace the largest section in the large square on your sheet to create a contour line. Next, trace the next largest section inside your fist tracing. Repeat until you have traced all the sections. Add scale by labeling each section (for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume each section represents 100 feet. So the outermost section would be labeled 100 feet, the next section would be 200 feet, and so on.)

Encourage your child to share what they learn from this map. Then, have them answer the question at the bottom of the sheet.

Activity 2: Let’s “climb” a mountain with a little math! First, download 1-3 copies of this printable (or you can print one and laminate). Begin by having your child write 5 single-digit numbers at the bottom of the mountain, like this:

Next, have them add the numbers at the bottom of each arrow point together and write the sum at the top point, like this:

Keep working up each level until you reach the peak! Repeat as many times as your child desires.

Activity 3: We’ll end the week with this fun mountain climber craft! Print this mountain climber template on cardstock and follow the steps in this post. Happy climbing!

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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.