Bear Series: Science

I annually include a Hibernation/Migration/Adaptation (H/M/A) subunit to my larger Winter Unit. 

  • Hibernate equates with animals placing themselves into a sleep-like state.
  • Migrate means that animals travel to other places where food is available and usually the weather is warmer.
  • Adapt means animals remain in their usual environment staying active during the winter, because of adaptions they have made.

Hibernation is a sleep-like state that animals can place themselves in so they are able to survive during the winter because their food source is scarce. Scientists define varying degrees of hibernation. In my unit we include animals showing this variety. “Light sleepers” store food to eat periodically when they semi-awaken, or are seen as animals that are easier to wake up from the sleep-like state. “Light sleepers” are sluggish in the winter. “Deep sleepers” store body fat from heavy Fall eating so they can sleep all winter. “Deep sleepers” are hard to wake up from their sleep-like state.

The H/M/A unit is a favorite of mine and every group of children I’ve had in my program enjoys this unit. I’ve found it provides so many opportunities for expanding learning across mixed ages. I live in a rural area of my community. My program is surrounded by fields worked by a local dairy farmer that lead onto acres of woods that includes a nice size stream. All this provides a very wealthy natural environment that my neighbors allow the children and myself access to. I take full advantage of that…

We have a variety of animals present year round in our immediate area, get to watch Canadian geese flying overhead in the spring and fall and have Mallard ducks that come onto the flooded dairy field each spring as the ice on the lakes not far away is going out. These same ducks visit the bird feeders year after year.

I think it makes sense to have a Winter Unit on Hibernation/Migration/Adapation, not just Hibernation. Children here love learning about what is happening in the natural environment around here. I think having concepts and vocabulary/language mixing through different units/lessons is important for children to gaining real knowledge. For me the H/M/A unit mixes into our learning throughout the year. Think about the lessons many of us do on monarchs, the birds we feed, or lessons on nests and eggs. Even think about those seedlings more and more providers are growing. Not to mention the seasonal changes we are lucky to experience here in Maine. All this mixes into the learning I think happens within my H/M/A unit. 

While my H/M/A unit covers many animals common to our area, bears are an easy go to for hibernation. They are the major characters in many of the books on hibernation I use. While many children have not seen a live bear in their natural habitat, bears are an animal most children seem to have strong positive feelings about. Type “hibernating bear cam” into a search for videos and today you get tons of opportunities to share realtime videos of bears with children. Be sure you preview any of these videos you plan to share, just like you preview a book for sharing.

I first read “Bear Snores On” as part of my H/M/A unit. It is not the lead in or primary book, but a supporting book. In building my H/M/A unit, while I took into consideration language and math, this is one unit where I really focused on the science. 


“Young children are born investigators. Children are curious problem-solvers, seeking to understand the world about them every day. Through early science experiences, these young learners explore, invent, investigate, question, discover and note changes in their environment. In doing so, they learn new words to describe and classify the world they experience, apply math knowledge, and use these tools to deepen their understanding of the world about them.” 

Earth Science:

  • Using simple tools and guided investigation, explores differences in soil and water in different weather conditions and temperatures
  • Describes temperature, weather and seasons using words such as rainy, cold, warm, sunny, and identifies items used for protection, safety, and enjoyment in different weather conditions
  • Organizes weather related items (real objects or symbols) used in different weather conditions
  • Makes simple observations about the sky and connects observations to what we do outside 
  • Begins to understand the relationship between litter and cleaning up the earth 

Life Science:

  • Uses senses to observe and describe properties of familiar plants and animals
  • Begins to use vocabulary for naming plants and animals moving beyond generic labels (e.g. “bug”) to names of specific creatures (e.g. “ant”, “beetle”) and use symbols or icons to identify where they see such creatures
  • Compares properties and needs of similar and different life forms using increasingly advanced vocabulary
  • Cares for plants and animals in the classroom and surrounding area and describes the needs of organism cared for 
  • Begins to identify problems affecting the lives of plants and animals (including themselves) and, with teacher support, generates possible solutions
  • Creates solutions, with teacher support, for classroom-based problems (e.g., staking up plants that grow tall)
  • Uses and names a variety of tools 

You will find a variety of ideas and resources on the FCCAM Pinterest Board: Winter Seasonal Themes: Hibernation/ Migration/ Adaptation 

Here’s a simple free worksheet from First Grade and Fabulous on Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) for Hibernation/Migration/Adaptation.

Sorting animal figurines is a good hands on activity for young children to help them begin to understand ways in which animals both around them and found in the wider world are different. A good substitution for the animals figurines, are the animals picture cards available at MPS: Animals in Winter. (cost less than $5)

Little Giraffes Teaching Ideas shares images of what their classroom looks like during their H/M/A unit.

I have always had an indoor climbing gym which is great for building forts. It was easy to change that up to be a bear’s den. Whether you have a climbing gym like me or not you can probably figure out an option for an inside bear’s den. Start by providing a dark colored sheet or piece of fabric to suspend in your program to make an area a bit darker. Add a variety of animals figures (stuffed, plastic or blocks with images glued to them) and items to make winter homes with. Encourage the children to make winter homes, either large enough for them or smaller for the play animals provided. My groups always use our blocks in this activity. I include large paper tubes, crumbled newspaper or butcher paper, recycled boxes and cylinder tubes. I had one child ask for scissors so they could cut holes in the paper tubes to make a tree den. I love seeing children using their imaginations to take knowledge gained into their play. 

In “Bear Snores On” the first character that enters Bear’s den is a mouse. Mice around my program are another favorite character, so I have multiple mouse activities as part of my regular resources. The following activity is one we use throughout the year, but it fits the H/M/A unit really well and can be adapted for different development levels. 

Where is Your House?: For this activity I have a laminated mouse photo and multiple house shapes. I use different colors and house shapes. I have 6, but you could have more or less. The mouse is smaller than the house shapes, as it needs to hide under them. This activity works for any group size and even individual child play. Each child gets a turn. It doesn’t matter if mouse is found each time or not. 

For the H/M/A unit tell the children they need to help find the hibernating mouse. They will cover their eyes while you hide the mouse under a house. Once done tell the children to uncover their eyes. Ask them to join you in saying: “Little Mouse, Little Mouse, where is your house?” Then ask one child which house you should look under. Encourage them to name the color, not just point, reinforcing color recognition. My space and small group allows me to have each child lift the house to see if the mouse is there. I have everyone say: “Little Mouse, are you under the _______ house?”, while the child whose turn it is lifts the house. If no mouse, the group says “NO! Where could mouse be?” If yes, the group says quietly “Yes, there is mouse.” (We don’t want to wake a hibernating animal.) You can do this same game with different animals that hibernate. All you need is a small image.

I use a chipmunk image as we have a “Mr. Chips” outside that the children are very familiar with and I read “Chipmuck Song” by Joanne Ryder as part of my Fall Unit: Leaves. This story is about a chipmunk preparing for it’s hibernation.

With laminated houses you can write on them with dry erase tools, add velcro dots or use post-its to change up the houses to be more than color. Or you can make a good number of these house that allow you to have permanent houses for lots of the normal concepts we find children needing practice with. This is where you can expand what is reinforced like Capital or small letters, numbers – dots for numeric symbol, or maybe shapes, like star, oval….

Discuss winter animals that hibernate through the winter. They eat a lot in summer and fall and the fat they build up keeps them warm. Place an ice cube in each child’s open palm. Discuss what they are experiencing. Have a bowl ready to drop these ice cubes into fairly soon as the ice held too long can cause injury to the skin. Then prepare sealable plastic storage bags slightly larger than the hands of the children by flattening a good amount of Crisco into a layer in the bag and sealing. (Make several of these bags for a group activity.) Lay a prepared bag flat on each child’s open palm. Place an ice cube on top of the baggie. Discuss what they are experiencing now. They should not feel the ice. This is similar to how animals’ fat keeps them warm from the cold weather. There are other options for this type of lesson, but I’ve found this version to be less messy and more agreeable for most children.

I have always gathered bird nests blown out of trees and hives that we have removed from our home’s eaves. In the past we used magnifying glasses to investigate. If I had enough examples the children were able to get more hands on in their exploration as I didn’t care if the items were destroyed. Our magnifying glasses were a mix of hand held and stand magnifiers. A few years back another provider told me about a digital microscope they had. This was new to me, but after checking it out I got a plugable USB 2.0 Digital Microscope/ 250x magnification/versatile observation stand (under $40). It is the favorite way to explore natural items in my program today. There are other options both cheaper and more expansive, but this one offered what I was looking for with good reviews. I’ve been very pleased with it.

I was introduced to using a “chit-chat” message as part of reinforcing information from a lesson from reading posts by Mrs. Jump’s Class. I do not use “chit-chat” for a morning message, but adapted it for use with stories I read for lessons. I think of a “chit-chat” as being a way to pull together key points I want the children to take away from a unit. In a chit-chat you decide what to have missing for children to fill in. I do not use it all the time, but it’s another option to have in the toolbox, so I’m able to meet the developmental needs of the children here. Here’s an example from Welcome to Room 36 Hibernation unit that shares information, but their missing parts were words and letters.

“Bear Snores On” is definitely a story I use within the H/M/A lessons, but I’ve also found “Bear Wants More” to have a place in reinforcing my H/M/A lessons. In “Bear Wants More”, Bear is coming out of hibernation and is hungry. I like using this book in the early Spring when hibernating animals would normally be becoming active. I like that this book allows me to reconnect to past lessons to reinforce learning. I will again say, that children need to be continually exposed to information to really develop their understanding. The more variety we can provide in those experiences the broader their learning. Being familiar with the characters the children are able to get right to the idea of experiencing waking up after a long sleep. There’s Just One Mommy has a simple activity that demonstrates how/why Bear got stuck. 

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