With the current state of the COVID-19 crisis it’s more important than ever to educate our children in fun, engaging ways. Whether your kid was practically born on the beach or has never set foot on cool, white sand, marine biology is an exciting experience for everyone. Children can learn all about the wildlife, the landscape and how it impacts the world around them.
It’s more than just teaching kids about a new environment. You can also give them a visual, auditory and tactile experience unlike any other.
What Is Marine Biology?
Technically speaking, marine biology is all about marine life and the organisms at sea. It can also encompass their environments, like the water, sand and weather that influence life. When we teach kids about marine biology, we usually give a broad overview of ocean life and talk to them about the different creatures you can find out there. We may also talk about what people do in the ocean, like fishing and submarining. For children, marine biology is about everything ocean!
Since there’s so much to it, it is sometimes easier to start with an overview. The oceans of our planet make up a massive area, about 6.5 times bigger than all the land that’s on it! There is a lot we don’t understand about the ocean, and much of it remains unexplored.
Try going over the different types of animals you’ll find in the ocean, including the fact that there are many different classifications of animals there, like reptiles, crustaceans and mammals. You can also separate them into the depths of the water you might find them in. Here are a few cool creatures to discuss.
- Sharks: You can teach them all about sharks , like how there are over 400 species and how they have been around for millions of years — about 400 million, to be exact. Some, like the frilled shark, haven’t changed much since prehistoric times. Sharks are a predatory creature, but most species don’t attack humans. They can be much better-mannered than you think. You can even talk about their status as vertebrates, like us, and how they have a skeleton made of cartilage.
- Deep-sea life: One way to get them excited is to talk about all the weird and unique wildlife that’s deep down in the ocean. Show pictures of the grotesque-looking fish that live far beneath the water with their creepy eyes, like the fangtooth fish, the blobfish or a giant squid. You can even let them see real footage of the anglerfish that they know from “Finding Nemo.”
- Whales: These mammals are massive. Blue whales are probably the biggest animal that has ever lived — and yes, that includes the dinosaurs. It can be up to 105 feet long ! That’s as big as several school buses.
It’s easy to get kids excited about the ocean when you talk about all the weird, gigantic and famous animals that live there. Kids love sharks, and they’ll get a kick out of all the gross-looking creatures you can show them.
Like animals, the water is full of unique plant life, such as algae and seaweed. Algae uses photosynthesis to get its energy, like plants above the water. They can also make a ton of oxygen, helping us breathe. Astronauts could even use them to help create oxygen in space. You can show pictures of a giant seaweed forest and talk about how we use it in everything from makeup to fertilizers and plenty of foods and medicines.
It can be hard to get into the nitty-gritty of an ocean atmosphere with little ones, but you can still stress how it impacts the creatures in the water. When we litter, we can hurt animals by getting them stuck in our garbage and putting harmful things in the water. It’s crucial to keep our oceans clean so the wildlife can continue to live and grow.
After all that information, it’s time for a little fun. Here are a few activities you can set up for your kids to teach them all about the ocean.
Print off pieces of paper with a picture of the creatures you talked about or unfamiliar ones, if you haven’t done a proper “lesson.” Put paperclips on each and spread them around in a large bucket or just on the floor. Create a fishing pole with string, a pole and a small magnet on the end of the string. Kids have to use the fishing pole to pick up a “fish.” When they do, they have to do something like name the creature or tell you something about them. Alternatively, you could take the printout from the fishing pole and talk about the animals in this way as a more interactive lesson.
2. Wave Bottle
With a wave bottle, kids can see the flow of a wave. They’re also good for students who benefit from sensory activities. Fill up a clear bottle about two-thirds of the way with water and a few drops of food coloring. Then, fill the rest of the bottle with oil. Leave some room to drop in extra items like plastic fish and glitter. Be sure to super-glue the bottle closed, and kids can watch the oil split up into waves as they rock the bottle side to side.
3. Matching Fish
Have kids work on arts and crafts alongside their math skills. Give each one a paper plate, markers and whatever other materials you like, such as pipe cleaners, glitter glue, craft paint and pom-poms. Have the kids create an underwater scene on their plates. Then, give them a set number of goldfish snacks and have them glue them on. Take all the finished plates and create a matching game with the class, counting the number of fish on each plate.
4. Beach Exploration
Set up a tarp and a big, shallow bucket. Fill it with sand and hide seashells, plastic animals, fake plants and more under the surface. Kids can dig and discover new species. You can even add another bucket with water on top of a thin layer of sand to create a deep-ocean exploration. Make sure you have towels on hand, because this activity can get messy.
5. Gummy Bowls
This activity won’t work in a classroom setting, but if you’re with kids at home, you can create a tasty ocean-themed treat while working on their skills in the kitchen. Alternatively, you can make some ahead of time and offer them up to kids in a classroom. You’ll need blue Jell-O, gummy fish, clear plastic cups and a few basic cooking supplies.
Make the blue Jell-O according to the directions and pour it into the clear plastic cups. This recipe also works with one large bowl. Let the Jell-O partially set, about one hour. Then, place your gummy fish in the mix and let it finish setting. You can also add licorice for coral. Once they finish setting, you can decorate the cups with crushed vanilla wafers for sand, whipped cream for foam on the waves and even little gummy octopuses. Have kids snack on their ocean cups while you teach them about everything in the deep blue sea!
Try an Ocean-Themed Summer Camp Session
While learning about the ocean is incredibly exciting, hands-on experience can be so much more rewarding and genuinely spark a child’s interest. At our “Take a Dive” summer camp, kids get to take part in awesome activities, like dissecting a real shark, creating a kelp forest, meeting undersea creatures, dissecting a squid and painting with ink, making a submarine and much more. Look at the full schedule for all of the activities.
Our summer camps take place in a variety of locations, empowering young minds and offering hands-on science programs for them to develop a love of learning. If you want to teach kids even more about marine biology, consider a week with Science Explorers. Check out our topics page for more information about the “Take a Dive” program!