Our Penguin Unit

Throughout this post there will be a variety of links.  Some will be to other websites or files for you to download.  All sources are credited where necessary.  There will also be affiliate links which will be denoted with (aff link).  When you choose to click on these links to purchase items, I make a tiny % of the sale profit off of that item.  That goes to helping keep this blog alive.  Thank you for your purchases.

So of course this blog post wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of back story.  I’ve said previously that I’m great about setting goals, but not so great about putting the nose to the grindstone and actually making them happen.  But this year that is going to change!  Because I’ve switched my focus from super long term objectives, so short term monthly objectives.  Especially when it comes to school at home.  Becca’s love for learning is voracious. She keeps me on my toes at all times.  She constantly is begging for more activities, more books, and asking more and more and yes, more! questions.  Since having her own dictionary and LOTS of other non-fiction reference books in her room the questions have backed off a little bit, but not entirely.  She just can’t learn enough, fast enough.

I used to stress out thinking that homeschool needed to look like me sitting down with her all day and actually doing instruction time.  All day.  Boy doesn’t THAT sound like a nightmare with a child who has SPD and has to move ALL. THE. TIME.  Except when she doesn’t because she needs to be wrapped tightly in a blanket and suck on her finger.  But then this fall I read a book that truly changed the way I think about homeschool.  I realized that what it looks like for somebody else isn’t going to be what it looks like for us.  And that is OK!  (Thanks again to Alicia Michelle from Your Vibrant Family for your encouragement and support every step of the way!  I believe I CAN do this homeschooling thing as long as I have to!  Which I not-so-secretly hope is not very long!!)

Anyway, I discovered that I can plan a STACK of activities for Becca and we can sit down and do them in an hour, or an hour and a half.  And then we are done.  I’m now realizing – that’s ok!  We go at her pace, I tell her what activities we’ll be doing, and she selects which order we do them in.  She gets to take breaks between them if she so desires, and play with learning games, engineering materials, etc.  (All of her breaks are STEAM breaks of some sort.)  When she is done, we take a STEAM break (want some STEAM activity ideas?)…  Then we get back at it.  All the while, Brother can play in his room on his own, and is perfectly content since it’s no more than an hour and a half time block.  (Yes, I am blessed!)

So back to those goals – I decided that it was time to do a thematic unit from start to finish.  And actually finish.  So I gave us two weeks.  Which was a perfect time frame.  She goes to Mother’s Day Out a couple days a week, and we often don’t do “school work” on those days, though sometimes we do.  Just depends.  I like having the flexibility to let her be three and a half, while also letting her brain be whatever age it happens to be that day.

learning about penguins

So the past couple of weeks we have been learning about penguins.  I first told her we were going to make a mystery picture to find out what we were learning about.  Granted, this took a little bit longer than her attention span, but I kept it exciting for her by asking her which block to color next, and we traded off who colored and who read the letter/number combos, and who found the right block to color.  We got to a certain point on it, and the light bulb came on!  “We’re gonna learn about penguins!  Like in my Magic Treehouse Book Eve of the Emperor Penguin!” (aff link)  She was so excited she was literally jumping up and down in her chair.

We sat together (she often sits in my lap while we do school) and talked about all she already knew about penguins (which was actually a good deal) and then we both came up with some questions we wanted to answer about them.  I wrote down what she dictated to me on one of the graphic organizers, and then we talked about another way to organize our thoughts – with flaps.

graphic organizers

She really enjoyed the flaps, which I cut from one file and attached onto another.  (Hey, teaching is all about getting creative, right?)  All of the files I used will be linked in a list below.  All were found on teacherspayteachers.com as freebie files.  Later in our study, we talked about how we can also organize our thoughts into a web format.  She decided that for her, she prefers flaps as her method of thought organization.  She especially liked having the definitions of the penguin vocabulary words behind a flap, so that she could easily just flip and see the one she wanted to see.

coming soon

You might have seen this picture if you follow my page on Facebook.  This was one of her favorite parts of the unit of study.  I modified her old Antarctic Habitat Box to be just rock salt and white rice (less messy), and she not only got to have free play time with the penguins and their blue activity tray (aka water), but she also used the penguins (want to get your own set? Click here – aff link) and her penguin word bank sheet to sort and classify them.  We pulled a few prey and predators from our ocean habitat box as well.  She enjoyed acting out the food chain in her habitat, pretending the penguin ate a fish, and then a leopard seal ate the penguin.  Morbid?  No.  Not at all.  She is fully immersed in how the animal kingdom functions.

penguin reference guide

Then, we took all of the worksheets we completed and compiled them into a book.  She drew her version of a penguin on white card stock paper for the cover, and I even stapled onto the back cover her story book that she dictated to me.  Not only does it serve as a mini-portfolio of her work, it’s also a great reference guide for her in the future.  She is so proud to have it on her bookshelf in her room.  (And she took it to Mother’s Day Out to show her teacher and coordinator!)  We also wrote on the back cover the title and author of the two reference books we used (Penguins by Emily Bone, and Nat Geo Kids Reader – Penguins aff link).  We also listed the YouTube video we watched to learn more about a crèche, and the fabulous online resource of the New England Aquarium, where we saw amazing penguin pictures (we found them when searching for “molting”) and learned more about penguins in captivity.  It was important to me that she start learning the importance of sighting her references when she does research.  We didn’t go into formal sighting rules, just listed them so they are credited and we could go back to them in the future.

And now, to give more credit where credit is due, here are the links to the files that I used from TPT.  Again, they were all freebies, so I can share them with you, but please realize that these are NOT my creations – each creator has a page within the file that gives her credit for her work.  And each of these files is WONDERFUL!  I’m so thankful for a resource like TPT to find fabulous content for our projects!

Penguin Mystery Picture Graph

Penguin Word Bank 

All About Penguins

Flip Flap Fun

Penguin Pre-Writing Fun

Did you like this post or find it helpful?  Please comment and feel free to share on social media!  I’d love to see how you’ve used these ideas to help your own students!  Follow my Facebook page here.  Check me out on Pinterest here.  And now also on Instagram!

Author: travelwchristy

I am a work-at-home travel agent who is mom to two beautiful children, a wife to a fabulous man, and blessed beyond compare!