All kids love babies—although big kids might not want to admit it. This makes oohing and aahing over leggy lambs or tiny tadpoles and other baby animals a perfect segue into several related science topics, including life cycles, survival strategies, and inherited traits. Since babies really need no further introduction, we’ll jump right into the activities!
All living things on earth have one thing in common—a life cycle that starts with birth, continues with growth and then reproduction, and ends with death. What I like about this topic is that it can be accessed by very young children, who might explore very simple life cycles like puppies and ladybugs, but it can be made very challenging for older students, who can explore the unusual life cycles of creatures like cicada and jellyfish.
Activity: Baby Matching
You will need:
• Photo cards of animal babies and parents, enough for each student in your class to have one card (if you have an odd number of students, count yourself too!) OR
• Photo cards of life cycle stages (ranging from young/adult for most vertebrates to egg/larvae/pupa/adult for many insects).
1. Mix up the cards.
2. Pass out the cards, one per student.
3. Have students move about the room until they locate their match(es). You might want to designate an area for students to go after they have located their matching card(s).
4. Have students share their sets, giving their classmates an overview of that animal’s life cycle.
Note: Tailor these to your audience—easy matches for young students, harder ones for older students. See links at the end of the article for image resources.
Activity: Life Cycle Posters
Assign each student an animal or have them choose. Invite them to create a poster showing the life cycle of that creature. Younger kids can tackle the classics, like frogs and ladybugs. Have older students challenge themselves a bit and choose a less common animal.
Among animals, there are widely ranging levels of parental care, from fretting over them for 18+ years before launching them into the world to laying eggs and leaving young to fend for themselves.
Some animal parents have unusual or extraordinary strategies for protecting their young. For example, Arowana (fish) fathers are mouth brooders. They protect their young from predators by holding them in their mouths.
Baby animals also have ways to signal their needs to their parents. Many baby birds have bright spots in their mouths that scream “place food here” to the parent. Some baby animals have to be scrappier than others to survive. Baby komodo dragons climb trees to avoid predators that may include their own parents!
Activity: Protective Parents, Tough Babies
Discuss the ways that humans protect and care for their young and the signals human babies/children use to communicate their needs to their parents. Have students choose either an amazing protective parent or a surprising tough baby and share about it in a short report, a poster, or a presentation to the class. You might want to have a list of possible choices to direct students to some of the more interesting creatures.
Most babies are not exact copies of their parents, which means they have some differences, however slight. This conversation can begin at the earliest elementary levels with conversations about the fact that children do not look exactly like their parents or that the new kittens in the house don’t look like their mom or dad. By the middle of elementary school, students can begin to tackle more challenging topics, like dominant and recessive genes.
Activity: “Do I Look Like Mom & Dad”
You will need:
• Photos of animal parents and their young
1. Have students study the pictures of animal babies and their parents.
2. Ask “what is different about the babies and the parents?”
3. Extend the exercise by discussing how students look the same and different from their parents/guardians. (Be sensitive to kids who don’t live with biological parents.)
Note: You could pair this activity with the Baby Matching activity. The focus of this activity is inherited traits, not stages in a life cycle, so limit the photo selection to young that do look like their parents, just not exactly alike (e.g., the young are smaller, have different markings, have slightly different features, etc.).
Online Resources for Life Cycles Activities
• Baby Animals Preschool Pack, a free resource from homeschool blogger 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 you can use to make animal babies/parents cards.
• “Color the Animal Life Cycles” worksheets, from education.com (This site requires you to sign up, but it’s free.)
Online Resources for Survival Strategies Activities
• “Father’s Day Pictures: ‘Best’ Animal Dads,” from National Geographic
Online Resources for Inherited Traits Activities
• “Genetics Beginner,” an activity for Grades 3-4 from Scientist Teacher Education Partnership Program
• “An Inventory of My Traits,” a classroom activity for Grades 5-7 from University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center