Marine Life with Preschoolers: Fun Ways to Teach Your Child about Coastal Eco-Systems

June 9, 2010

Dodge Caravan asked for our Savvy-est ideas for having fun outdoors with our kids. And, of course, the great outdoors is right up our alley. Our preschoolers love bugs and butterflies; flowers and dirt; parks, bike trails and the beach. For families in the summer, there's no better place to be than outdoors. Dodge will be bringing you four articles from us on this topic. This is our third one.

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For many of us, summers mean a family trip to the beach. Towels, pails, shovels, food, umbrellas and the rest are usually packed for a restful break at the seashore. But did you realize you could also be introducing your child to a fascinating plant and animal habitat? Your preschooler will be entertained for hours while learning about marine wildlife at the beach. Here are some suggested ways to teach your child about our oceans and the creatures that live in them.

Our oceans have created a complex and unique eco-system. The animals living along our shorelines must transition between a salt water habitat and a dry, sand habitat. The adaptations these plants and animals have made have resulted in a variety of fascinating species unlike anything we usually see in our neighborhoods. It is no surprise that our preschoolers want to learn, touch and discover this new world. There is certainly a lot to teach them but keeping their learning fun and interactive will turn a regular trip to the beach into an educational marine life eco-tour.

Know Before You Go

Before you head to the beach, find and read a few books about the beach. Find books relevant to the types of beaches you visit so that your children become familiar with your beach's indigenous creatures. Or you might want to check out a few kid-friendly marine life websites ahead of time. This way your child recognizes and looks forward to what they are going to find at the beach.

National Geographic

American Museum of Natural History

Enchanted Learning

Sea Scavenger Hunt

After reading about ocean creatures, you might want to make a list of items you expect to see during your visit to the beach. Be sure to keep the list age appropriate and realistic (a seagull feather, five different kinds of shells, a hermit crab, two types of seaweed, etc.). Bring along a special prize as a reward for your preschooler once they have found everything on the list.

Hide & Seek

Animals at the beach love to play hide and seek. Using camouflage or their environment, animals will do their best to hide from predators or remain unseen while looking for food. Pretend to be the "seekers" and see if you can find any hiding animals on your shoreline. Then be sure to point out the different ways animals keep themselves from being seen. Does your animal hide in a shell or behind some sea weed? Do the scales on a fish blend perfectly with the sandy bottom? Take the time to explain why it is important not to disturb each creature too much and why we should put it back where we found it.

How Do They Move?

There is a wide spectrum of animal species at the beach: hermit crabs, fish, dolphins, jellyfish, birds, all kinds of mollusks, you name it. How do each of these animals move around the ocean's edge? Is the animal you found a walker? A swimmer? A flyer? Children will amazed by the various ways animals get around at the beach. And can your child imitate that animal moving around? Now might be the time to have a good laugh teaching your preschooler how to crab-walk.

How Many Kinds?

You won't just find one type of shell or bird or fish at the beach. You'll find dozens of kinds.  See how many different kinds of shells you can collect at the beach or see how many types of birds there are flying by. Maybe there are a few varieties of seaweed for collecting too. Be sure to point out how many types of animals call the ocean their home.

Where Is Its Nose?

Animals breathe in all sorts of ways. As you come across each animal, point out how it breathes: gills, a nose, a blow hole, a beak. Explain how some animals can breathe underwater and some can breathe the air just like you.

Marine Life Pictionary

Once you've discovered all of the interesting species found on our shores, take turns drawing your favorite animals in the sand. See if the other person can guess what you are drawing. For your older children, have them create sand sculptures instead of drawings.

What Belongs Here?

As you discover new plants and animals at the beach, you might come across some litter. Keep a bag with you and ask your children what belongs on the beach and what doesn't. Pick up anything that doesn't and then throw it away together at the closest trash can. Teaching kids to value a clean beach will ensure that they preserve these shorelines in the future.

Preschoolers are naturally curious beach creatures themselves. They will ask questions and discover it all without much prodding. But by taking the time to point out the incredible marine life that you value- even with fun, interactive games -- you will stand as an important example. You will instill a love of learning and guarantee that your child values our fascinating and delicate coastal eco-systems for years to come.

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