Monday, November 5, 2012

Preschool Mini-unit on Whales

The twins are 3 years old (39 months).  Yesterday I found some science goggles for the girls in our costume basket and they pretended that they were diving masks and had an underwater adventure playing with the whales.  Today I decided to extend on their interest in whales and put together a mini-unit on whales for our morning Homeschool Preschool session.  We had a great time and learned a lot.  Here are the activities I included..

Early Literacy

We read The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson which is a favorite for me and the girls.  It's about a humpback whale who takes a snail sailing all around the world.  He gets beached in a bay and is rescued by his little friend.  The kids already know a bit about humpback whales from the show Go Diego Go.

We talked about how whale starts with the letter W (and I also mentioned the "WH" blend, which I'm not sure they'll remember).  The girls have really been interested in writing letters lately, so we practiced writing out Ws:

L really has it down, and E is not far behind (making fantastic zigzags).  We also discussed the difference between M and W and how to tell them apart (M looks like mountains and W looks like it can hold water).


To learn about whales, we watched a lot of online videos showing whales in action.  Some topics we covered included:

  • Different types of whales - we looked at photos of Belugas, Narwhals, Orcas, Sperm Whales, Humbacks, and Blue Whales and discussed the differences in their size and appearance.
  • Parts of a whale - tail, blowhole, dorsal fin
  • What do whales eat? - we watched a video showing humpback whales using a bubble net to hunt as a group
  • Whales are mammals - fish lay eggs while whales give birth and nurse their young
  • Whale communication - the girls enjoyed listening to various whale sounds.

Most of the videos where from YouTube and National Geographic, which also had this fantastic application for learning more about blue whales.

My dad is an oceanographer who recently gave the girls this wheel for identifying different species of whales.  They enjoyed spinning the wheel and learning more facts about these whales:

They were retaining a lot of this information because I would ask them questions like "Which whale has a square-shaped head?" (sperm Whale), or "find the whale on the wheel that does not have a dorsal fin." (Northern Right Whale) and they either knew the answer or how to look it up.


We painted whales:



E tried to copy my whale and it turned out really cute.  Then she had a good time filling it in with blue all over.  L described all the parts of the whale as she drew them.


Part of the National Geographic interactive blue-whale demonstration included comparing the length and weight of a blue whale to different objects:

For example, a blue whale is the length of 3 school buses and weighs as much as 40 elephants!

Then the girls measured themselves:

(Here L is putting a piece of blue painter's tape down so we could see how long E is (3 feet).  Then we used the tape measure to see how big a small Beluga whale might be:

I tried to demonstrate the length of a blue whale, but we didn't have enough room even going from one end of the house to the other.  I'm not sure the kids really understood what I was doing, but they did get the concept that whales are really really big.

It was L's idea to draw a real-sized whale.  I told her we didn't have paper large enough, so she asked if we could make a small whale.  So we did - out of painter's tape:

The girls helped me make it, and have been playing with their "whale friend" all morning.

If we repeat this whale unit at a later time, I'll probably add more activities - like printing out different types of whales and letting the kids classify them.  I think that for 3-year-olds the amount of different activities we did was just right.


  1. I love how you use painter's tape with your kids! This taped whale in particular is a great concrete experience with scale -- how many 3 year olds equals the length of the whale? It's one thing to know that something is *really big* but it's another to have some sort of idea about *how much bigger* (or smaller) something is to your own body. I'll be sharing this post on the Math in Your Feet Facebook page. Thanks!

  2. Love the measuring activity! Puts their size into perspective. Thanks for sharing at Mom's Library.

  3. Featured this on Mom's Library Link-Up. Come on over a grab a featured button and add something new this week!

    Thanks and Be blessed,
    Julie @ Hey Mommy, Chocolate Milk

  4. I love your whale! What fun! My son would love to play and explore it. I am going to pin it.

  5. I love this! Thanks for sharing. We used painter's tape once to measure out how far a kangaroo can hop. It's a great concrete way to show kids size and distance in a way they can understand!


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