Sharks + Ocean Animals Unit

Welcome to the Sharks + Ocean Animals Unit! We learned all about the ocean last week, so this week, let’s learn about the animals that call the ocean their home. We will explore some impressive fish and ocean mammals with books and videos. And we will dig deeper into this underwater world through art and science. We will also read two books that are inspired by true stories of individuals who loved the ocean so much, they’ve dedicated their lives to learning about and preserving this beautiful ecosystem. Want to track what you learn along the way? Download our printable tracking document here. So, c’mon—let’s dive in!

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):

Optional additional 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!

Lesson 1:

The ocean is full of life! Introduce your child to oceanic animal life with the book The Big Book of the Blue. Highlight the different families of animals, but this really is a “big book,” so don’t feel like you have to read it all in one sitting. We will be referencing it all week long, so skip around to find the animals that your child is drawn to.

Activity 1: First, let’s meet one of the most popular ocean mammals—dolphins! 🐬🐬🐬 Focus on page 50 and 51 of The Big Book of the Blue book to learn a few facts about dolphins, and then watch this video.

One of our favorite things about dolphins is that they use echolocation to get around the ocean. Let’s use this experiment to demonstrate how sound travels and bounces. Contrast the way we use our eyes to see and our ears to hear with how dolphins use sight and sound and touch to find their way around and to find their food and friends in the ocean. 

Activity 2: The fish family also includes jellyfish. Review pages 18-19 of the Big Book of the Blue book to learn a few facts about jellyfish, then watch this video. Next, do this activity to make our own jellyfish in a bottle. (Tip: If your bottle or jar isn’t very big, you may want to use a plastic sandwich bag instead of a grocery bag.)

Activity 3: Another fun member of the fish family? Seahorses! Review pages 16-17 of the Big Book of the Blue book to learn a few facts about seahorses before watching this video. Discuss how the male seahorse is actually responsible for carrying the babies until they hatch. Then, do this math activity

Activity 4: Did you know the seahorse’s tail is actually square? This unique shape helps it to grip more surface area of whatever it wraps around, enabling it to stay put even in strong ocean currents. It can also twist and wrap with ease thanks to many tiny joints protected by bony plates. Let’s make our own dexterous seahorse tails to practice some letters and their sounds. Print out this template and let your child color in the seahorses. Then, cut them out and glue or tape a pipe cleaner onto the printout to create the seahorse’s tail. Let your child bend the tails to form the letters and practice the sound each letter makes.

Lesson 2:

It’s Shark Day! Review the book Sharks: And Other Dangers of the Deep. This book is FULL of shark facts, so depending on your child’s interest, start by simply reading the names of the sharks and looking at the pictures. Read the pages that interest them and share the facts you think would most intrigue them. Practice counting “danger marks” for each animal as an extra numbers activity, and look at the size chart on each page to make comparisons. You might want to take out a measuring tape to give them a more concrete idea of the measurements.

Activity 1: Shark cards. Print these cards on cardstock and use them for letter, literacy and writing practice. Using either your movable letters or lined paper, have your child pick out the shark they would like to spell out or write. Talk about the letter sounds as you help them spell out the words, then use the Sharks: And Other Dangers of the Deep book to learn more about the individual sharks. You can also print a second set of cards to play a game of memory. 

Activity 2: Watch this video about sharks. 

Activity 3: Shark Subtraction. Shark lose teeth all the time, which is why we can sometimes find them on the beach. Let’s play with the idea of losing teeth as we practice subtraction. Print and laminate the shark picture printable in this post. (You will only need the free sample.) Tell your child a story as you play. Using one or two die, roll to get a number. “You rolled a 5 and a 6. 5+6=11. This shark has 11 teeth. Let’s draw his 11 teeth into his mouth.” (Or if you have real shark teeth, you can use these as manipulatives instead!) Once you or your child draw in the teeth you are ready to subtract. Now roll one die and subtract the amount of teeth shown and figure out how many teeth the shark is left with. If your child is ready to write number sentences, ask him to write the expression. For example 11-4=7

Activity 4: Shark sensory bin. Using the treasures you find in your fossil kit (which include coral and shark teeth) to fill in your sensory bin. Provide your child with digging tools to find the items as they play and identify each item as it is found. 

Lesson 3:

Start today by reading the real life story of the Shark Lady. This story can inspire some great conversations about following a curious mind, scientific exploration, and not looking down on people because of gender or race.

***Looking for more tips on how to have conversations about race with children? Check out this resource from PBS!

Activity 1: A shark literacy game. This template can be used in many ways, so pick an idea from the list below that works for you and your child:

  • Write different letters on each tooth and practice letter sounds.
  • Write sight words on each tooth and review them.
  • If your child is reading, write simple words your child can sound out.
  • Let your child pick words that describe a shark—you can also then practice writing them with a moveable alphabet or paper and pencil.

Activity 2: Has your child ever seen a pufferfish? Review details about the pufferfish from The Big Book of the Blue on pages 48-49. Next, do this craft.

Activity 3: Here’s a pearl of an idea for Tea + Poetry! 🦪 🦪 🦪 Try a new version of ice tea and these dessert “oysters” while you enjoy some summer poetry. The Sing a Song of Seasons poetry book has some great selections in their August calendar. Skip ahead to pages 190, 191, 194 and 195 for some seashell- and ocean-inspired poems.

Activity 4: For our last activity today, let’s go deep! Deep-sea fish are described on pages 36-37 of The Big Book of the Blue. Next, watch this video and listen to the song.

Lesson 4:

Coral reefs are amazing animals. (Yes, they really are animals!) Review page 42 and 43 in The Big Book of the Blue book for an introduction to coral reefs, and then watch this video to learn more. Next, using your globe, atlas, or Google Earth, find Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.

Activity 1: Let’s build a own coral reef STEAM project. (Note: This one takes about 36 hours for full results!)

Activity 2: Read The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs. We hope this true story inspires your child to learn about and protect the environment! Next, let’s do a coral reef art project. Once your reef dries, add some animals to the picture by using stickers or by drawing them in. Using the Sharks book, identify the sharks that live near coral reefs.

Activity 3: Sea turtles are a favorite sea creature for many of us—and they also have one of the most challenging starts to life in the animal kingdom! Review sea turtles on pages 12-13 of The Big Book of Blue and then click here to watch a brief video about the sea turtle’s first dash to the ocean (along with a few other fun turtle facts). Next, download our turtle rescue worksheet here to get some fine motor skill practice. Using a turtle figurine, their finger, or a pencil, have your child trace each turtle’s path to the ocean to help them get safely to the waves.

Lesson 5:

Yesterday, we read the story of Euginie Clark in Shark Lady. Euginie Clark became a marine biologist, or a scientist that studies ocean life. Listen to this interview of another woman scientist who works at the Museum of Natural History in NYC before learning about some ocean art + music.

Activity 1: Many artists have been fascinated with the ocean and sea life, but one of the most famous modern artists is Wyland. He is known for painting murals, or large painting that can cover a whole wall or building, of whales and other underwater scenes. Let’s examine some Wyland art. You can watch him draw an octopus in this video. Then click here to take a closer look at this picture of one of his famous pieces. If you live near one of his galleries, see if you can plan a trip this summer!

Activity 2: Next, let’s make this Wyland-inspired craft. After painting your watery circles, print these sea animal pictures on black paper (or you can freehand your own!). Cut them out and glue onto your water painting to create beautiful ocean animal silhouettes.

Activity 3: Many animals use the water to communicate over long distances. How does sound travel through water? This experiment will help us find out. (This one can also be done in the bath if you don’t have a big bucket.)

Activity 4: To end the week, let’s learn about a new kind of music: calypso! Even if you have never heard of this type of music, you have probably heard it before. Click here to listen to a popular song written in a calypso style. (Told you that you had probably heard Calypso before! 😉) This post has more details to share with your child about this fun style of music, but here are some key points:

  • Calypso is Trinidadian folk music that most likely derived from a West African musical/narrative style called Kaiso.
  • Do you remember when we learned in our Quilts Unit how enslaved Black people would use quilts to communicate secret messages? In a similar way, Calypso became a way for enslaved people to communicate in a secret way using the French Creole language.
  • Calypso music is highly rhythmic and vibrant sounding and typically played with traditional folk stringed instruments (like guitar or banjo) and steel pan drums. [source]
  • The style originated in the 1830s and was well-known throughout the Caribbean but only became internationally popular in the 1950s when Jamaican-born Harry Belafonte brought it to America with his song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” You can listen to it here!

Now let’s make our own steel pan drum with this simple craft!

Optional field trip: If you have a local aquarium, this would be a great week to plan a trip!

Family movie night idea: PBS’s Wild Kratts has a full episode on sharks. Watch it here. Or check out What Sam Sees on the Disney+ app!

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