Level 2+ Reptiles Unit

This week, we’ll be getting up close and personal with one of the vertebrate types we learned about in our Australia Unit…reptiles! In most cases, a reptile is a cold-blooded animal with scales that lays eggs, but there are so much more to the lizards, snakes, crocodiles, and turtles that make up this fascinating animal class. Throughout our unit, we’ll explore what makes these animals slither, slough, and swim while working on science, math, literacy and more. Click here to download our weekly skills tracker, and let’s begin!

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:

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 OR.

Lesson 1:

The class of reptiles can be divided further into four living orders, or branches: Crocodilia (crocodiles and alligators), Sphenodontia (tuataras), Squamata (lizards and snakes), and Testudines (turtles). These are the 25 species of Crocodilia, 2 species of Sphenodontia, approximately 9,200 Squamata species, and the Testudines, with about 325 species. (source) We’ll begin our unit by learning more about lizards, focusing on one common creature that definitely deserves a second look: the gecko! Let’s start by reading Gecko.

Activity 1: One of the most amazing things about geckos is their ability to stick to nearly any surface—and then unstick just as quickly so they can run along a surface upside down! Do they use the world’s most powerful super glue? Some kind of grappling hook? Or do they have some kind of amazing Spider-Man ability? Your child might be surprised to know it’s actually closer to the latter—and involves some pretty amazing nanotechnology! Watch this video to learn more. (+) If your child is ready for more about the chemistry behind this incredible bonding action, they might enjoy this video.

Next, let’s create our own climbing gecko! Start by printing this gecko template on a piece of cardstock and cutting it out. Your child can color or decorate their gecko as desired. (Here are some gorgeous geckos to inspire them!)

Next, flip over the gecko and tape or glue two 1-inch pieces of a straw and a penny to the template like this. Thread your yarn through the straws (you may also want to tie beads to the end of the yarn to keep it from slipping out). It should look like this:

Now, let’s climb! Loop the middle of your yarn over a door knob, chair back, stair banister, or whatever is available to you. Finally, have your child slowly pull one side of yarn at a time to make the gecko climb!

Activity 2: Another cool feature of geckos (and other reptiles) is their ability to shed their skin. Shedding (also called sloughing or molting) is a lifelong, continuous process of phasing out aging skin in favor of healthy new tissue. Humans actually do something similar, but on a much smaller scale—we’re constantly losing dead skin cells and strands of hair! (Gross and cool, right?!)

Reptiles generally shed their skin in large patches or all at once, often leaving behind a shed skin you can even pick up—if they don’t eat it, like the gecko. (source)

Let’s bring this to life and see what it would be like to shed our own skin in large pieces! Start by using a paintbrush to paint some non-toxic craft glue onto a section of your arm. Next, let it dry completely (you may want to work on the next activity while it dries!). Your child will likely notice as soon as the glue is dry because it will start to flake, just like a real molting skin layer. Once it’s dry, let your child peel off the glue layer and observe it. What do they notice? Can they see anything in the shed “skin” that tells them about where on their body it came from? What would happen if they repeated this activity over their whole body? (We don’t recommend doing that! 😉)

For lizards and other reptiles, shedding is a sign of good health. If a lizard isn’t shedding properly or completely, it can be a sign of a problem, like dehydration, and lead to infection. A healthy reptile is one that sheds at regular intervals.

Activity 3: Let’s learn about one more lizard super power today: the lizard’s ability to drop and regrow its tail! We can learn more about why they drop their tails and how they’re able to regrow them in this video. The average gecko can regrow its tail in 30 days, which is significantly faster than other lizards. Scientists are so fascinated with this ability, they’ve even been studying it to see if the biology behind it could help humans who have experienced spinal cord injuries! (source)

In fact, science and engineering take inspiration from nature all the time. Let’s find some animal ability inspiration of our own! First, discuss with your child an animal ability that they think is interesting. Perhaps it’s the smelling ability of a bloodhound, the aerodynamic build of a cheetah, or the climbing skills of a gecko! Next, discuss how this ability could be useful for humans. (Maybe the cheetah could help them design a faster racecar or the dog’s nose could help a chef prepare better food!) Have them record their brainstorm and potential invention in this printable sheet to help organize their thoughts and fold in some handwriting practice.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll learn about another order of reptiles: Crocodilia (crocodiles and alligators)! Let’s begin with the book Beware of the Crocodile.

Activity 1: Alligators and crocodiles may be part of the same clade, but they are not interchangeable. Let’s watch this video to learn how to tell them apart, and then use this printable to create a Venn diagram about their differences and similarities.

Activity 2: Our book talked a bit about a crocodile’s growth rate. Let’s bring it to life with a measuring activity. Using the measurements below, you can draw the crocodile with sidewalk chalk outside or use masking tape on the floor if you’re inside.

During the first three to four years, young crocodile’s increase in length by about 30 cm (about 1 foot) per year. The growth rate then gradually decreases, but growth can continue throughout life. Sexual maturity occurs at about age 10 and at a body length of about 1.5–3 meters (5–10 feet). (source) A newly hatched crocodile is about 12 inches long. (source)

Start by drawing a line (or a crocodile shape, if you’re feeling crafty!) that is 12 inches. Label this line as “newly hatched, 12 inches.) Next to this line, create another line that is 24 inches (12 + 12) and label it “1 year, 24 inches.” Continue doing the math, adding 12 inches for each year, up to age 10 (or as many years as your child is interested in drawing). Next, use your child’s age to compare their length (height) to the crocodile’s length at the same age. What is the difference? Finally, compare their height to the crocodile’s full-grown length. What is the difference now?

Activity 3: Finally, let’s make our own crocodile with this craft. (Note: This craft has a great opportunity for some scissor work, so let your child cut as much of it on their own as they can!)

Lesson 3:

Today, we’ll explore another popular reptile…the snake! Whether you find them fearsome or fascinating, there’s a lot to be learned from these slithery creatures. Let’s begin with the book I Don’t Like Snakes (or you can read it here on OpenLibrary). If you are learning with a younger sibling, you may also enjoy reading Verdi today or tonight for bedtime!

Activity 1: Snakes, like most reptiles, are cold-blooded. But this doesn’t mean that they are always cold—instead, it has to do with how the animal warms itself.

Warm-blooded animals, like mammals and birds, can regulate their own body temperature and maintain a consistent body temperature unless they are sick. Cold-blooded animals, like reptiles, amphibians and fish, have a body temperature that adapts to the temperature around them. If conditions are cold, the animal will be cold, and vice versa. The scientific terms for this are Ectotherm (cold-blooded) and Endotherm (warm-blooded). 

To stay at a warm, healthy temperature, cold blooded animals must move to find a heat source when the air around them isn’t warm enough. Let’s demonstrate this with some heat-sensitive play dough. Use this recipe to make some heat sensitive play dough.

Once the dough is made, let your child form two snakes out of it. If you have a heat lamp, set this up over one of the snakes. (Alternately, you could also warm up a plate in the oven or microwave and put one snake on this warm plate.) Use caution with whatever heat source you utilize. Observe how the snake in the warm environment changes. What would the control snake need to do to get warm as well? (Answer: Move in their environment.) Consider some ways that cold-blooded animals do this in the wild.

Activity 2: Our book examines some of the unique ways snakes slither and move without legs. Didn’t the motions almost look like cursive writing? Let’s practice a little winding cursive of our own with this free printable.

Activity 3: Currently, there are 3,971 known species of snakes. (source) Let’s use that number to inspire a little place value work today. First, get your base 10 blocks and print 2 (if your child is learning place value up to the thousands) or 3 (if your child is ready for place value up to the hundred thousands) of our place value sheet here. Tape the sheets together to form 4-6 squares side-by-side and label the place value of the boxes like this:

Explain to your child that there are 3,971 species of snakes in the world—but that’s a big number! How could we break that down to place values to better understand it? Work with your child to write the number on the lines below the boxes, and then build it with your base 10 blocks to understand the meaning of each place value. (Not sure how to start? This video for parents can help!)

Let’s try another number. There are at least 7,176 species of lizard in the world (source). Write this number on the lines under the boxes and have your child build it with the blocks. Next, try creating a number with just the blocks and seeing if your child is able to write the number you have built.

Ready for a bigger number? At the time we wrote this lesson plan, there were 11,690 different known species of reptiles! Can you build this number? (You will need three pages printed.)

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll take a look at the Testudines order…turtles (and tortoises and terrapins)! Like other reptiles, testudines are cold-blooded (with a few notable exceptions, like the leatherback sea turtle), egg-laying, scaly-skinned vertebrates that breathe air. But they also possess many unique characteristics, like their signature shell—which are actually non-overlapping scales called scutes! Scutes are scales with a hard layer of keratin (the same naturally-occurring substance out of which our fingernails are also made). (source) We’ll begin our testudines exploration with a book about sea turtles, One Tiny Turtle (or you can read Sea Turtles by Gail Gibbons).

Activity 1: Part of what enables a sea turtle to successfully lay their eggs into a deep hole is that the shell is not hard and brittle like a chicken egg. Instead, it has a leathery outer shell made from a flexible substance called aragonite. (source) Harder eggs have more calcium (the same mineral that strengthens your bones) than the softer eggs do. (source) You can actually create a softer egg by removing some of the calcium in a hard egg. Let’s do this with this STEM experiment! (Note: This experiment takes a few days to see full results.)

Activity 2: Turtles, tortoises, terrapins…what is the difference between these closely related members of the Testudine family? Let’s find out by reading this article together. Next, print and cut out these Testudine fact collectors. Under each type of Testudine, have your child write one fact in each box about what makes this animal unique. Next, fold each strip accordion-style, like this:

Next, take a piece of white paper and fold it into thirds. Have your child draw the habitat of the sea turtle on the first third, a terrapin on the middle third, and a tortoise on the last third. (You can show them pictures from your books or from the internet for inspiration.) When they’re done, glue the turtle fact packs to the top. Glue just the back of the folded strip so it can still open to be read, like this:

If your child does not want to draw, you could turn the folded strips into tiny books instead. Simply cut apart the rectangles and stack, then attach on the left side with two staples to make three books of facts.

Activity 3: Finally, let’s use a turtle shell to work on some fractions. First, print these sheets. Laminate the large picture of the turtle, if possible, and cut out the fraction circle cards. Next, have your child use playdough to form a circle the same size as the turtle’s shell in the laminated sheet.

Present your child with the fraction that shows 1/2. Have them use a plastic knife (or something similar) to cut the shell so that it matches the card. Ask them how many pieces the shell is in. (Answer: 2) Write a 2 under the black line on the turtle sheet using a dry erase marker. Take away one piece of the shell and ask how many pieces are left. (Answer: 1) Write a 1 on top of the black line on the sheet and explain this is how you write one half. Next, reform the circle shell and present your child with the next fraction card. Repeat the exercise using different cards until your child finishes the cards or is ready to move on.

Lesson 5:

Herpetology is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of amphibians (including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and the gymnophiona) and reptiles (including snakes, lizards, amphisbaenids, turtles, terrapins, tortoises, crocodilians and the tuataras). (source) Let’s learn about a famous herpetologist you’ve likely never heard of in the book Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor. If you have never toured a reptile house, you can also show your child this video tour.

Activity 1: Did you catch the “OR” words in the title of today’s book? Let’s work on our phonogram for the week. Start by printing these reptile cards and cutting them out. On the back of each card, write an OR word. Next, hide the cards around the room and let your child do some “reptile hunting!” When they find each reptile, work with them to read the word and determine which sound the OR makes in this word.

Here are some examples of words you could use:

  • doctor
  • tortoise
  • born
  • word
  • horn
  • cord
  • sword
  • worm
  • fork
  • morning
  • storm
  • forest
  • port
  • effort
  • mirror
  • short
  • work
  • worst

Activity 2: Joan Proctor loved inviting reptiles to tea from the time she was a young girl. Let’s have our own reptile-inspired Tea + Poetry today! Start by making these pastry snakes. You can keep them savory as indicated in the recipe, or you can sub cinnamon and sugar for the parmesan, seeds, and peppercorns to make sweet snakes!

Activity 3: Next, let’s make some guests for our tea party! Joan Proctor was especially fond of Komodo dragons. Have you ever seen one? Let’s watch this video to learn more about this larger-than-life reptile. Next, let’s make this simple komodo dragon craft. You could even make it walkable by unfolding a wire hanger and attaching it for a leash!

Activity 4: We’re ready for our tea party! While you sip and snack, read this poem about a snake and discuss what you think the author is trying to say. Does he like snakes? Why or why not? Have you ever thought you didn’t like something…and then realized maybe you liked it more than you thought?

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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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