Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

Polar Bears!

I’m Annamarie, another youth librarian at Westerville Library, guest-blogging on Cultivate Wonder! I presented Wonderworks while Robin was at ALA Midwinter. We talked about Polar Bears!


This topic was particularly pertinent because our local zoo recently hand-raised an adorable polar bear cub named Nora. This background information was a great starting point for conversation about polar bears.

After kicking off storytime with “Energy” from Nancy Stewart’s Sing a Song of Science, we talked about polar bears, particularly Nora from the Columbus Zoo. After talking about how Nora moved to the Oregon Zoo, I showed a video of the three new polar bear cubs at the Columbus Zoo (not yet available for viewing).

This led to our first book, Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear Rescue by Jennifer Keats Curtis and photographed by John Gomes. This true story chronicles a baby polar bear that was rescued in Alaska after his mother died. We watched another quick video of the real-life, grown-up Kali playing at his new home at the St. Louis Zoo.


We got up and stretched with a music break. We swam around the room while the music played and jumped on an iceberg as soon as the music stopped.

After getting some wiggles out, we talked about the color of a polar bear. Polar bears are not white—their fur is clear and reflects all colors of light (making it appear white). This led to a discussion about a new vocabulary word—camouflage. We looked at six different animals on a white background and recognized that the polar bear was the hardest to see.

Then, I projected the iPad onto our Smartboard to show the Endless Alphabet app. This app shows vocabulary words and scrambles the letters across the screen for the user to drag back to the main word one at a time, helping practice letter recognition and phonological awareness. After attendees correctly identified each letter and found it on the screen, a short animated video played, displaying the definition of camouflage visually before a definition was also spoken aloud. This was my first time using this app with a group, and I was thrilled at how much the group seemed to enjoy this unique activity.


Sample screenshot of Endless Alphabet from iTunes App Store

After a quick stretch break (Polar Bear, Polar Bear Turn Around), we talked about where polar bears live using a globe. Since Kali, the polar bear in our book, was from Alaska, we quickly recognized that Alaska was a polar bear habitat. We talked a little about north and south and identified some other animals that call the Arctic Circle home. We also talked about how penguins do not live with polar bears and why that might be.

jacket-1As a last literacy activity, I used the discussion of other Arctic animals to transition into my second book, Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North by Eileen Spinelli. I read aloud a few poems from this book, including “Polar Bear Family.”

After that, it was time to break up into our stations:

  • Size Comparisons: I displayed a life-sized polar bear (10 feet long) and four life-sized polar bear paw prints (12 inches long). Attendees compared their size to a real polar bear and used rulers to practice measuring skills.
  • Craft: Attendees practiced their cutting and gluing skills while making a polar bear craft. Many attendees decorated their polar bear and its habitat during this process.
  • Blubber Experiment: Small groups of 3-5 preschoolers at a time visited me at the blubber water station. We put our hands in a big tub of ice water. As expected it was very cold! No one could keep their hand in the water very long. We then tested three pre-packaged insulators: Styrofoam packing chips, cotton balls, and shortening. When we put our hands in these bags, and then put the bags in the water, our hands stayed warm—similar to how blubber keeps a polar bear warm in freezing temperatures. You can find instructions for this experiment here.

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