Montessori Endangered Species Unit Study: May 2019


“We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”

Stephen Jay Gould

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Endangered Species Day is on Friday, May 17th and since our preschooler is now enjoying unit studies, we are taking advantage of this opportunity to learn more about a select group of endangered species around the world.

We decided to build our unit study around one book in particular that our preschooler is really enjoying.  Don’t Let Them Disappear by Chelsea Clinton is brand new, published on April 2nd of this year, and it has served as the inspiration for this themed unit.  My parents were fortunate to come across this book as it was being released and immediately thought of our little animal lover.  It combines beautiful illustrations with unique and relatable information to discuss 12 endangered species across the globe.  

Our preschooler really seems to enjoy the vivid illustrations that accompany each page and often asks for this book at bedtime.  My husband and I especially enjoy that they have included the vocabulary that refers to a family or group of each species.  It’s good for a giggle as we wrap up our nighttime routine.  Most importantly, you also learn what threatens each species and what we can do to help.  Also included for reference is a world map depicting where these animals are located.

In addition to learning about our select 12 endangered species, we will be incorporating activities that focus on animal tracks, scat, and food chains for the endangered set of animals and as well as some that are native to our ecosystem.  Our preschooler spends a lot of time exploring outdoors and naturally her interest in these topics has peaked as she observes evidence of wildlife.  The weather is mild and sunny by us recently and this is an excellent time to dive into these topics.  We also have an assortment of Schleich animals and other resources in our home that are very useful when learning about tracking a variety of animals. 

So I thought I’d first share some background info about how we are planning and constructing unit studies in general.  We like to build our unit studies around child-led interests and activities.  We initially plan based off of what our preschooler seems attentive to, knowing that we may need to shift gears along the way if her curiosities change.  By using some materials that can be applied to broader studies, we account for those potential changes in focus.  It also allows us to cut down on the number of new items we need to procure for each unit.  It’s very easy to get carried away with excitement and go down a rabbit hole over a specific unit study whose materials don’t lend themselves well to many other topics.  As minimalists, we try to be mindful of the materials we select, operating under the assumption that they should, for the most part, be useful to more than one unit study or activity throughout the course of an academic year.  For example, the games and puzzles being used for our endangered species activities and shelf work are made up of subsets of what is included in the products you’ll see listed below.  

We also try to vary the type of materials used by our preschooler from one unit to the next if we observe a change in the type of work she prefers at any given time.  For example, our spring-themed unit was heavy on printables for shelf work, art, and “games” or activities.  That was where her focus was at that time so we accommodated those learning preferences.  Our daughter really enjoyed her spring shelf work and both her and our son are now gravitating more towards art and their traditional Montessori materials.  There is usually always a consistent interest in reading material, both reference materials with realistic images and read aloud picture books.  A unit study can look very different from one learning environment to the next, depending on where a child’s interests lie and that is, in my opinion, the most impactful advantage to homeschooling.

Keeping all of that in mind, our endangered species unit this month is heavy on reading, outdoor activities using field guides as desired, art, and nature journaling.  Most of the resources can be enjoyed by our children indoors and outdoors in order to adapt to whatever type of work they are engaged in.  Below is a quick list of categories of what we look for as we plan our units, along with examples what we’ll be using this month that pertains to each category:

Main Topic or Inspiration
(seasonal, holiday, etc., interest-based)
Endangered Species Day – 5/17/2019
Don’t Let Them Disappear – Chelsea Clinton
Vocabulary Words

Names for families/groups of each species

Parts of the animals 

Habitats

Food webs

Life cycles

Reference Books/Field Guides
(Additional background, realistic images)

African Savanna
Animalium

Bears:  Amazing Pictures and Fun Facts

Curious Kids Nature Guide:  Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific NW

The Field Guide to Safari Animals

The Practical Naturalist

Tracks, Scats, and Signs

Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest:  Tracking and Identifying

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth

 
   
 
Read Aloud Books
(Picture books or Poetry)
Alphamals A-Z
The Blue Whale
Lovely Beasts
Sea Bear
Whose Tracks Are These?
Activities/Shelf Work 
Animal Tracks
Into the Forest:  Nature’s Food Chain Game
Magnifying Glass
Self-Correcting Sequence Puzzles
Music
Amazon Echo
The Carnival of the Animals Book & CD

Arts & Crafts
Free-hand Drawing
Coloring Pages*
Animal Masks*
Materials for binding artwork – twine, twigs
Animalium Activity Book Pages
Animalium Postcards
Nature Journaling with crayons, pencils, and watercolors
Drawn to Nature
The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling
The activity book has pages that focus on drawing technique, puzzles, mazes, etc. and the postcards are great for wall decor as well as some of the matching activities that are part of our art curriculum.  They also serve as great subjects for our nature journaling.  Below is an example of the coloring pages our preschooler is enjoying right now.  This is an elephant two ways, using a mix of 3-in-1’s and colored pencils.

Imaginative Play

Puppets
Animal Hats
Schleich Animal Figures

Below is an example of a lion cub hat/mittens from Grand Canyon National Park that our preschooler and toddler enjoy using in their pretend play.

Places to Visit
Aquarium
Zoo
Pond
Wildlife Refuge

Our daughter visits the pond and local wildlife refuge quite frequently and is already hot on the trail of some elk and other wildlife using knowledge gained about tracks and scat.  I imagine we will probably round out this unit with a trip to the zoo or the aquarium in support of endangered species.

*Online Resources to Check Out
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Endangered Species
National Wildlife Federation – Endangered Species
Endangered Species Coalition

This is a lot of information and resources so I’ll end this post here.  We have more than enough to keep us actively engaged in learning about endangered species and signs of wildlife.  As we wrap up this unit, I can share some observations and pics regarding how our kids worked with these materials, an evaluation of whether or not they were useful for our purposes, and how our preschooler felt overall about her endangered species unit study.
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