Spring is the perfect time to do an animal study with your kids. The increase in activity after the winter months provides opportunities to see more animals in nature than at any other time of year.
What better way to begin an animal study than picture books? Sure, picture books tend to personify animals, but good ones also provide insight into where animals live, what they like, and what behaviors we can expect from them.
Using Picture Books for Animal Study
Have your kids ever wondered why bears hibernate or how they make such good fishermen? Perhaps they’re interested in where frogs and toads go in winter. Maybe they’re curious about the habits of rabbits and squirrels, or wonder why owls are nocturnal. Planning a nature study that begins with a picture book can help answer their questions.
Engaging your kids with a story about an animal can spark their interest in actually learning about the animal. It can make them avid to learn more and help them make connections they might not otherwise make.
You can then add in nonfiction books, living books, printables. and unit studies to teach them more. Then take a nature walk and look for clues that could lead to sighting the animals you’ve discussed.
Not keen on sighting a bear in the wild or don’t live in an area inhabited by the animal you’re studying? Take a field trip to a zoo or local farm and see the animals safely. But always start out with a cuddle and a read. It’s not only good for learning, it’s good for your relationship with your kids.
Frog Animal Study
My favorite thing about March is that the spring peepers start singing down at the fishing hole. Their song lets me know winter is finally over and all the fun of warm weather and gardening is about to begin. Spring is the best time to study frogs and toads because they. are. everywhere and many of their predators don’t have their spring game on yet. It’s also the perfect time to find tadpoles in just about any pool of water you come across.
Here are some great books to get you started:
If you’ve never met Frog and Toad, you must live under a rock. These characters just slay me. They always have. I owned all of these books before I even had kids. This one is my favorite because it not only celebrates friendship, it celebrates the turning of the year. Both things are sacred to me. They should be sacred to everyone. Your kiddos will love Toad’s silliness and Frog’s willingness to rescue him from himself.
This classic tale of Jeremy, a frog who lives at the edge of a pond and is determined to catch 5 minnows in order to have his friends over for dinner. He doesn’t catch any fish, and his experiences lead him to decide he will never fish again, but he still has dinner with his friends.
This one is great for learning about the types of predators frogs face.
Two frogs are hanging out on a lily pad and one has a stick. And the stick is for beating off the dog. But there is no dog. So his buddy thinks he’s foolish. But is he?
Brilliant illustrations set off this hilarious cautionary tale that will have your kids wanting to know more about how frogs live.
Grab some free printables to go with the books!
Don’t forget to grab these fun free printables for your frog unit study.
Bear Unit Study
Bears are waking up from their long winter naps right now, and it’s a perfect time to learn more about them. Some of my favorite picture books feature bears, and one of my favorite Story Times is based on Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell.
Here are some other great bear books:
This book is not just about the bear, but about the things he sees in the woods. So it can be used for all different kinds of animal studies or even just a general study. Plus, it’s Brown Bear. I mean…
This book. I remember it inspiring me when I was little. I still kind of believe stuffed animals come to life behind our backs, thanks to Corduroy and the Raggedy dolls. This one fed my imagination, and it fed Big’s imagination, and it fed the Littles’ imaginations in turn.
Corduroy comes to life in the department store after it closes at night and climbs down from his shelf to look for his missing button. He has a series of adventures before he’s discovered by the night watchmen and put back on his shelf. The next morning, a little girl buys him and takes him home to be her friend. It’s a great bear book, even if it’s about a stuffed bear
Bear sleeps through all the woodland animals coming into his cave to get warm, making tea, and having a party. This is a great way to begin a hibernation unit or a study of bears.
Grab free printables for this study, too!
Get your free Learn About Bears unit, a Learn About Hibernation unit, and more!
Rabbit and Squirrel Animal Study
Is there anything cuter than a fuzzy little rabbit nosing about in your clover patch? Or a squirrel carefully checking out his surroundings before burying a nut under a pile of autumn leaves? If we think they’re cute, imagine what your littles think. These adorable rodents give us so many things to teach about: life cycles, mammal diets, winter habits, finding food in spring, saving up for winter. You could easily combine a study about squirrels with a harvest lesson and have a week’s worth of interesting projects and discussions. Because we associate rabbits with spring (thanks to that whole Easter/Ostara thing) you could do the same with rabbit and planting studies.
Here are some great books to include:
Miss Suzy was one of those books that transcends time. It is a wonderful tale about a grey squirrel the most adorable house in a tree. But a bunch of red squirrel come and run her out, so she winters in a dollhouse in the attic of an old house. There she meets a band of toy soldiers who eventually help her get her tree house back. What I loved about it as a child was the acorn cups and twig broom and firefly lamps in Miss Suzy’s tree house. I wanted to have That Kind of House. The boys loved it as much as I did, though they were more engrossed with the toy soldiers. I think it will spark your littles’ imaginations just as much.
Leo the Lop is another book I remember well from my childhood that the boys also enjoyed. I loved the Serendipity Series for Robin James’ amazing illustrations, but this particular story is a wonderful reminder to littles to love themselves for who they are and not try to be someone else. I have a female lop-eared rabbit now who is called Leo. Because you can’t have a lop and not name it Leo. It’s in the rules.
This is high adventure with plenty of fantasy thrown in. When a girl takes her stuffed fox to the playground, it is snatched by a real fox. She and her friend, the boy, chase the fox into the forest and find a miniature village inhabited by woodland creatures. Talk about imagination. And lots of animals to learn about.
Are you kidding me? Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Squirrel Nutkin… Lots of wonderful and beautifully illustrated stories here about squirrels and rabbits both. This would be an amazing addition to any library, let alone any unit study. I still call all the wild rabbits Peter when I catch them in my garden. Because they are just as wily and persistent as Peter ever dreamed of being.
Free printables? Why, yes.
Owl Animal Study
So elusive that even if you live in the country mostly all you get is a ghostly hoo-hooo in the very late evenings or very early mornings, owls make for a great study. There are so many books about them, so many characters based on them… you can even purchase owl pellets to examine in your homeschool.
If you don’t know what those are, they’re the clump of bones and fur an owl spits back out after it eats an animal whole, keeping only the good stuff to digest. There are so many amazing things to do when studying owls.
Here are a few really good books to include in your owl study:
Jane Yolen is one of my favorite authors. She writes so man different things for children, she can’t be put into a genre. Owl moon is about a father who takes his child ‘owling.’ That is, looking for owls under the moonlight on a clear winter night. One of the things I love about this book is that it is told from the child’s point of view in the first person, and it never reveals the gender of the child. So whether you have a boy or a girl, he or she can relate to the child as his or her own gender. A cool touch to a truly lovely book. The story is told in free verse, and the imagery is there even without the simple, haunting illustrations by John Schoenherr. Just don’t be surprised if your little asks you to go owling. So dress warm.
This cute book, told in rhyme, has perhaps the most expressive owl I’ve ever seen. The grumpy guy hates being the only person up at night. He wants a friend. But the is moon only other thing awake all night like he is. Thing is, he’s stuck down here, and the moon is stuck up there. What’s an owl to do? I think your littles will enjoy looking at illustrations as much as they will enjoy the story, and this book definitely reminds them how different life is for nocturnal animals.
This beautiful book is one of our favorites. The Littles made me read it to them over and over for years. Not that I minded. It is a slow-paced, sparsely worded poem set against a backdrop of gorgeous illustrations. It’s actually a great bedtime story because of its pace, but don’t doubt that it will engage your littles any time of the day. It makes the owl even more mysterious than we already think it, and a little mystique is a good thing.
Yes, there are free printables
You can find owl printables here.
I’m betting as you read through this, about a thousand other wonderful picture books occurred to you. That’s okay, grab several. Cuddle up and read them with your kids. Let it lead you into discussions and other books. Take a walk and see what you spot outside. Mostly, just have fun.