Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

How do penguins stay warm in winter?

It’s all about the feathers . . .

I began by showing the children a globe and asking if they knew what it was. The verbal response was “the earth!” and I supplied the word “globe.” I asked where they lived and showed them Ohio on the globe and pointed out that Ohio is in the Northern Hemisphere, or top half, of the globe. Penguins live in the south, and though we usually think of the south as warm, penguins live soooo far south that it is cold. I pointed out the southern tips of Africa and South America where some penguins (like the one in today’s story live) before showing them Antarctica at the bottom.

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Then I read the rhyming, nonfiction picture book Pierre the Penguin: A True Story by Jean Marzollo (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010). This story is full of a child appeal — a penguin who loses his feathers and so can’t swim and is shunned by other penguins, until a female biologist thinks of creating a wetsuit to help Pierre. There’s even a video of Pierre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=293bHffb4QE.

Next it was time for our experiment. We made a circle and then passed around a cube of ice — brrr! it was cold. Then I passed a cube of ice in a dish and a sandwich size plastic bag filled with feathers. They used the feather-filled bag to pick up the piece of ice . . . and discovered it wasn’t cold! So that’s how birds keep warm in the winter . . . feathers!

We hopped around to Johnette Downing’s “Rockhopper Penguin” song from Fins and Grins, with kids choosing to swim, glide, dive, or even slide on their bellies, in addition to much hopping.

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Then we “read” Molly Idle’s Flora and the Penguin, a wordless book. Children took turns describing the action and the mood (very important in this one) of the story.

The art activity was creating penguins out of different shapes of construction paper I provided: black and white ovals, orange and black triangles. I also provided a sheet with different kinds of penguins — we talked about how small Pierre is (African penguins are 18″ tall) and compared his height to that of an Emperor Penguin (up to 48″ tall). We looked at how some penguins have a few distinctive feathers or markings — like the Rockhopper Penguin in the song. I love the variety of details that the children came up with, all starting with the same few materials:

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Pierre the Penguin is on the RIF’s STEAM Multicultural Booklist for 2012-13, which is a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, and librarians. Books on the list have activities suggested (including the ice one I did today) and great handouts for parents.

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