These explorations are so much about the astonishing variety of ocean life — and they’re an attempt to bring the magic of the beach and the ocean into regular life indoors. If you can’t make it to the beach, maybe this will do.
What Kids Will Do
In these explorations, kids might…
- learn about a wide range of undersea life and collect creature images in a special Ocean Book
- listen to whale song
- build a life-sized aquarium fort
- sample seaweed
- learn about a variety of ocean jobs
- make sea turtle cookies
- ice skate around the house
- have a beach day at home
- and more
(Designed for kids preschool-1st/2nd grade, though many materials and activities might be of interest to older children and adults, too.)
- Big Book of Blue, Yuval Zommer [Amazon | Bookshop] — You could do all of the exploration activities with only this book; it covers about just everything. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have a ton of text, so you’ll only get about six facts about each animal in the book, though accompanied by lovely illustrations.
- My Very First Seas and Oceans Book, Matthew Oldham and Jane Newland [Amazon | Usborne US] — A quite comprehensive guide to the ocean, suitable for children even as young as 2 but not too boring for 5-year-olds either. It doesn’t break animals down into groups much, as I’ve organized all of this here, and instead has pages on topics like kelp forests or the deep sea or the seashore.
- Under Water, Under Earth, Alexandra Mizielinski and Daniel Mizielinski [Amazon | Bookshop] — A giant book filled with amazing facts and impressive illustrations and informational graphics. Most of the written content is geared toward slightly older children (5+), but my 3-year-old loved looking at it and was absorbed for ages by the spread on diving suits throughout history.
- The Sea Book, Charlotte Milner [Amazon | Bookshop] — Another great book from children’s science author Milner. It’s beautifully illustrate, with loads of interesting information (including a lot of content on conservation).
- Extraordinary Things to Cut Out and Collage, Maria Rivens [Amazon] — A great source for collage materials, perfect for collaging Ocean Books. The paper is quite thin and the images somewhat intricate, so you might find it useful to cut out images beforehand.
- I Saw It First! Oceans [Amazon] — This is a game, not a book, but you can learn so much from it. Pick a tile from a box, and then everyone has to search for the animal on the tile on the game board. The player who finds it first gets to keep the tile. The selection of animals is so varied and interesting that we find ourselves stopping to look up the fascinating animals. My 5-year-old has played with this solo, too, for a year.
Intro to Oceans
Read: Our Blue Planet, What Does the Bottom of the Sea Look Like?, Why Is the Sea Important (The Sea Book 4); OR How Deep? (Big Book of Blue 54)
Watery World, Who Lives in the Sea? (My Very First Seas and Oceans Book 1)
Ocean Families (Big Book of Blue 6)
Watch: Oceans 101
How Big Is the Ocean?
This Incredible Animation Shows How Deep the Ocean Really Is
Activity: Decorate Oceans Book
Collage ocean pictures onto blue folders with brads, to be used throughout the explorations to collect images of animals they learn about, as they learn about them. Many sea images can be found in Extraordinary Things to Cut Out and Collage [Amazon] , which is useful for all sorts of projects with children. The paper is quite thin, however, and the images intricate, so if working with younger children, you might cut out the images well beforehand and then let them choose the ones they want, design their scene, and glue them.
These are handouts for many of the animals explored below, which children can label, color, and put in their Oceans Books, as they learn about each one. If you have ocean animal figurines (like from Safari Ltd. Toobs), you can also give those to them as you explore different creatures and put them in a cardboard box aquarium.
Coral (or here) | Seahorse | Puffer Fish | Hammerhead | Great White Shark | Whale Shark | Basking Shark | Manta Ray | Sand Dollar | Moray Eel and Wolf Eel | Horseshoe Crab | Octopus | Squid | Seal | Emperor Penguin | Puffin | Blue Whale | Humpback Whale | Bottlenose Dolphin | Orca | Narwhal | Jellyfish | Japanese Spider Crab (a little cartoonish but perhaps the best available) | Mantis Shrimp | Giant Isopod | Angler Fish | Sea Turtle | Hermit Crab
Watch: Continental Drift 101
Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor
Read: (Optional, for kids 5+ only) Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharpe Maps the Ocean Floor, Robert Burleigh and Raul Colon [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Make an oceans map
Label a map with names of the ocean, then put in the Oceans Book. We used these free and blank printable maps:
Ocean depth guide, to print and put in the Oceans Book.
Ocean Jobs 1:
Read: Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, Jennifer Berne [Amazon | Bookshop]
Read: Fins and Flippers, Gills and Blowholes (Big Book of Blue 8)
Read: Coral Reef (My Very First 9)
Coral Reef Fish (Big Book of Blue 42)
Watch: Coral Reefs 101
Why Are Coral Reefs So Important?
Corals: Builders of the Reef
What Happens When You Zap Coral with the World’s Most Powerful X-Ray Laser? (about using coral to determine weather in the distant past)
The Smart, the Strange, and the Dangerous: Life on a Coral Reef
Caribbean Coral Crusaders (about Nikita Shiel-Rolle’s coral crusaders program in the Bahamas, training kids to monitor coral reefs to aid conservation): watch until 5:00, then 6:00 on (other parts also good but a bit long for little kids)
Ocean Jobs 2:
Read: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs, Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Coral reef cut-outs
You can paint sheets of paper with patterns several days beforehand, but plain, unpainted construction paper would also be beautiful, Matisse-like. Cut out big coral shapes and fish and put them in the aquarium for kids (see below).
Activity: Aquarium for kids
Using furniture or fort-building rods (such as these), make a rectangular fort and then drape it with repurposed bubble wrap, a sheet, or whatever you’ve got around. Tape your coral cut-outs to the interior (and feel free to conduct all explorations from within the aquarium).
Activity: TV aquarium: coral reef observation window
The Coral Reef: 10 Hours of Relaxing Oceanscapes
Read, for independent readers: Science Comics, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, Maris Wicks [Amazon | Bookshop]
Read: Harry by the Sea, Gene Zion [Amazon | Bookshop]
Kelp Forests (My Very First)
How Roasted Seaweed Snacks Are Made
Snack: Eat seaweed!
Read: Seahorses: Is a seahorse a horse? (Big Book of Blue 16)
Watch: Pygmy Seahorses: Masters of Camouflage
Watch a Seahorse Give Birth to 2,000 Babies
Ocean Jobs 3:
Ocean Explorer: Katy Croff Bell (mapping the sea floor, exploring with machines)
Read: Pufferfish (Big Book of Blue 48)
Watch: Puffing Up a Puffer Fish
What’s Inside a Puffer Fish?
Read: Sharks (Big Book of Blue 28)
Watch: Sharks 101 [Some gruesome images of shark fishing at the end; this link makes the video stop before that part plays]
Hammerhead Sharks 360
Massive Hammerhead Shark Filmed in Bahamas!
Massive Hammerhead Shark Swarm
Entering Kill Zone with Great White Sharks!
Shark cage videos (some peril, of course):
18-Foot Shark Attacks Cage
Gigantic Shark Breaks Into Ghost Cage
Swimming with a Whale Shark
Breaching Basking Sharks
Activity: TV Aquarium: sharks
Relax and Watch Sharks Swim for 10 Hours (sound off)
Read: Rays (Big Book of Blue 40)
Watch: Skates and Rays! (A longer video, played for as long as it’s of interest)
Ocean Jobs 4:
Swim with Manta Rays, the Ocean’s Peaceful Giants (Dr. Andrea Marshall)
Activity: TV Aquarium: sharks and rays
Whale Sharks [and rays]
Watch: Moray Eels Are Straight Out of Alien (a little long, so quit at any time; she uses the word “badass,” if you mind)
Moray Eel vs. Whitetip Reef Shark
Meet the Intimidating Eel that Mates for Life
Snack: Make sand dollar cookies with sliced almonds
(Note: Cookie dough preparation should be done the day before. This recipe uses slivered almonds, but it looks better with sliced ones. Also, be sure to used salted butter and know that if you halve the recipe, you’ll still get about 15 cookies. We added “edible sand” on top, which we made by mixing sugar and cinnamon. And we experimented creating holes in our sand dollars by using cut-up paper straws as cookie cutters, then pushing out the holes with toothpicks. This was delicate work, but it looked cool and we enjoyed the process. These cookies are quite good and taste like shortbread.)
Horseshoe Crabs (a little long, can stop at any time)
Why Do We Harvest Horseshoe Crab Blood?
Read: Octopuses (Big Book of Blue 20)
Octopus’s Garden, Ringo Starr and Ben Cort [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Octopuses 101
How Brainy Is an Octopus?
If Your Hands Could Smell, You’d Be an Octopus
Octopus Escaping Through a 1-Inch Diameter Hole
Extraordinary Octopus Takes to Land
An Octopus’s Coconut Home
Mimic Octopus: Master of Disguise
You’re Not Hallucinating. That’s Just Squid Skin
Strange Transparent Squid Filmed in Ocean Deep
Raw: Giant Squid Makes Rare Appearance in Bay
Ocean Jobs 5:
Two Weeks Under the Sea (Aquanauts living in the Aquarius Reef Base, the only underwater lab)
Activity: Make shells
Use play-dough or air-dry modeling clay to make shells. We used silicone sea-themed molds to make ours. With modeling clay, you can let them dry for a few days and then paint them. With play dough, shape them in molds or simply by hand and create a temporary shell garden.
Read: Seals (Big Book of Blue 26)
Watch: The Harp Seal’s Race Against Time [This video is fascinating but also potentially upsetting, so if you have sensitive children be prepared to have a talk about “seal culture” and how different animals live, how animals might not have the same thoughts we do, etc.]
Underwater Recording of Seal Calls
How Are Seals Different from Sea Lions?
Listen: Energy Field, Jana Winderen (2010) [Spotify]
From the New York Times:
‘In the depths of the oceans there are invisible but audible soundscapes, about which we are largely ignorant, even if the oceans cover 70 percent of our planet,’ the Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen said. On her breakthrough album, ‘Energy Field,’ she uses hydrophones and omnidirectional mics to capture the darkly ambient sounds of the freezing Arctic: ravens, winds, fish, thunder, crustaceans, the insides of glaciers and all sorts of alien strangeness.
PENGUINS AND PUFFINS
Read: Penguins (Big Book of Blue)
And Tango Makes Three, Richardson and Parnell [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Go Inside an Antarctic “City” of 400,000 King Penguins [start at my marker here, as the beginning is a little dramatic and possibly upsetting — but everything from this point on is great for kids, though with some mild peril]
How Does a Penguin Launch Itself From the Sea?
Penguin Chicks Rescued by an Unlikely Hero
Puffins Pick the Perfect Home
First Time Cute Baby Puffin Sees the World
Live Puffin and Penguin Cams you can check in on:
Puffin Burrow Cam Exterior View
Audubon Puffin Burrow
Audubon Puffin Burrow (Highlights)
Audubon Puffin Loafing Ledge
Also: Penguins, on Disney+, is a lovely documentary for kids (though it does feature some peril)
Read: Flora and the Penguin, Molly Idle [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Wax paper ice skating on rugs or carpets or sock ice skating on wood floors
Put down squares of wax paper and move carefully across a rug or carpet or put on socks and skate on wood floors.
But use caution! The wax paper is very slippery, so move furniture out of the way or drape blankets over hard surfaces.
Activity: Whale size estimation and measuring game
Guess the lengths of whales and dolphins, write down the guesses, and then find the true lengths and measure them out (use washi or painters tape to mark the start and end of the whales on the floor).
We picked these cetaceans: Blue whale, humpback whale, narwhal, and bottlenose dolphin
Cetacean size chart from the Smithsonian here. (Bottlenose dolphins, not included there, can be from 7-13 ft. long.)
Read: Whales (Big Book of Blue 22); Krill (Big Book of Blue 30)
The Storm Whale, Benji Davies [Amazon | Bookshop]
Whales: An Illustrated Celebration, Kelsey Oseid [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Blue Whales 101
Blue Whale Lunges for Krill
Whale Bubble-Net Feeding Documented by UH Researchers
Whales Give Dolphins a Lift
Humpback Whale Breach
Giant Whale Jumps Out of Nowhere — Incredibly Close Whale Encounters! (7:00 of whale breaches)
Close Encounters of the Giant Kind
Why Do Whales Sing?
Activity: Whale Song Exploration with Pattern Radio: Whale Songs
Listen to whale songs and take guided tours of ocean recordings by marine biologists, composers, and students (select a tour and then click the forward arrow by their names to skip to their next highlights and commentaries).
Read: The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler [Amazon | Bookshop]
(A fantastic short film of the book is available streaming in the UK, and you can also find clips of it on YouTube.)
Activity: The Snail and the Whale color-by-numbers sheet
Ocean Jobs 6:
How Do You Become a Marine Biologist? (Rachel Butler)
Listen: Songs of the Humpback Whale, Roger Payne (1970) [YouTube]
From the New York Times:
“This state of every new age-friendly home in the ‘70s and ‘80s was actually a pioneering work in field recording. Using underwater hydrophones, the biologist Roger Payne recorded the beautiful communications of these mighty mammals. The album sold 100,000 copies and helped kick-start the ‘Save the Whales’ movement that helped end much of deep-sea whaling worldwide.”
Read: Dolphins (Big Book of Blue 50)
Watch: How Smart Are Dolphins?
Dolphins Create Sponge Armor
Super Smart Dolphin Answers Questions
Just How Smart Are Dolphins? (Mirror experiment and self-directed behavior)
Why Do Spinner Dolphins Spin?
Dolphins Play Catch with a Pufferfish!
Dolphins Take a Morning Swim with Submarine
Sardine Feeding Frenzy: Whale, Shark, Dolphin and Sea Lions
Watch: Inside the Killer Whale Matriarchy
Meet the Orcas
Read, for older kids: Whales: An Illustrated Celebration, Kelsey Oseid [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Narwhals: The Unicorns of the Sea!
Our Planet, Narwhals
Read: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Ben Clanton [Amazon | Bookshop]
Read: Jellyfish (Big Book of Blue 18)
Watch: Jellyfish 101
How Does a Jellyfish Sting?
This Adorable Sea Slug is a Sneaky Little Thief [how sea slugs use the sting from jellyfish and jellyfish relatives to defend themselves]
Activity: TV Aquarium: Jellyfish
Activity: Egg carton jellyfish
I replaced googly eyes, which always fall off, with some mini-brads I had in colors — the painted ones work best, and you can draw an eye on them with a permanent marker.
Mnemiopsis leidyi, a rainbow-like comb jelly, and pleurobrachia, sea gooseberries
Watch: Iridescent Comb Jelly
Weird Ocean Predators Feed on Plankton
Glowing Neon Jellyfish Floating Through the Water
Sea Gooseberry Jellies Feeding!
Read: Crabs (Big Book of Blue 24)
Chris Haughton Reads Don’t Worry, Little Crab
Watch: World’s Biggest Crab: Japanese Spider Crabs
Army of Spider Crabs Shed Their Shells
The Giant Japanese Spider Crab (might be slightly scary for little children; mentions death)
Watch: The Snail-Smashing, Fish-Spearing, Eye-Popping Mantis Shrimp
Mantis Shrimp Packs a Punch
Watch: Pistol Shrimp Superheats Water!
Pistol Shrimp’s Cavitation Bubble
Watch: Giant Isopod: Gulf of Mexico 2017
Roly Polies Came from the Sea to Conquer the Earth
Ocean Jobs 7:
Lessons from Jeju (freedriving women, haenyeo, in South Korea)
Look: More on the haenyeo here, as well as photographic portraits of them.
Read: Creatures of the Deep (My Very First)
Deep-Sea Fish (Big Book of Blue 36)
Watch: If photosynthesis can’t power the food chain at the bottom of the sea, what does?
How Giant Tube Worms Survive at Hydrothermal Vents (more in-depth information about how chemosynthesis was discovered [by a woman] and how it works)
How Do Scientists Explore the Deep Sea?
Ocean Jobs 8:
Into the Deep Unknown (exploring 1000m below the surface in a vessel)
Watch: Why Do Deep Sea Creatures Look So Scary?
Weirdest Animals of the Deep Sea
Illuminating Biodiversity of the Ningaloo Canyons
The Brilliance of Bioluminescence (only until 2:16)
Deep Sea Creatures Exhibit Bioluminescence
Macropinna microstoma: A Deep-Sea Fish with a Transparent Head and Tubular Eyes
The Mystery of the Barreleye Fish
Activity: Bioluminescence play with glow sticks
Activity: The fascinating I Saw It First! Ocean! game, a seek-and-find game with hundreds of ocean creatures — great for even children as young as 3.
Read: Sea Turtles: When is a turtle a sea turtle? (Big Book of Blue 12)
Follow the Moon Home, Philippe Cousteau [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Sea Turtles 101
The Survival of the Sea Turtle
Meet the Team Protecting Costa Rica’s Sea Turtle Mecca
Snack: Make sea turtle cookies (We used packaged peanut butter cookie mix with green food coloring. We pressed down each cookie with a fork, making a hash pattern for the shell, and then added pea-sized balls and one slightly larger ball for the legs and head. The important part of this baking activity, as with any baking activity, is to involve the kids in reading and interpreting the directions and also in measuring and mixing.)
Activity: Make fruit and yogurt popsicles in preparation for beach day (following unit)
We pureed mangos and strawberries separately, with a tiny bit of pineapple juice. Then we layered them in popsicle molds with flavored, high-fat yogurt.
Read: What Lives in a Shell?, Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld [Amazon | Bookshop]
Swashby and the Sea, Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Amazing Crabs Shell Exchange
The Amazing Life of Sand
Sand Bubbler Crabs Making Sediment Balls on an Australian Beach
How Seashells Are Made (a very complex video, for older children)
Watch: Piper (Pixar short film)
(On Disney+, but there are plenty of shorter, slightly altered versions on YouTube)
Activity: Beach day!
Sand play with outdoor or indoor sandboxes (for example, a plastic tub with a latching lid, filled with sand and figurines/gems), kinetic beach sand, or Mad Matter; beachballs; beach-themed music.
Activity: TV Aquarium: big and beautiful
Kuroshio Sea Aquarium (2nd largest aquarium tank in the world — put it on the TV and sit up close!)
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