Where animals live and why they live there.
Habitats are the places living things live.
This is a foundational concept for the study of biology, environmental science, conservation... some of the most important stuff our kids need to learn. Best to start young and instill a love for our planet.
Currently, my habitat is on the desert nation of Bahrain. There isn't a lot of cool native wildlife easily observed because it is so dang hot. However, there are the desert dogs that have overrun this tiny island nation, and they have adapted to the harsh environment. We rescued two of these dogs as orphaned puppies. They are a mix of saluki, Arabian wolf, and sometimes other things.
We have come to learn that they are very hearty. They can withstand high heat on the pads of thier feet, unlike common domestic dogs, and they have iron stomachs. Our dog Aly once ate an entire cooked chicken carcass whole. She was completely unphased..
Perhaps this wasn't the best example to begin a post on animal habitats, but it sounded good in my head.... here is a picture of Aly as a puppy.
Back on Task: Habitats
Let's try this again. First and foremost, habitats are best learned outside. If you have a backyard, start there. Otherwise, take a walk around your neighborhood, go to the park, take a trip to the zoo, or better still, go visit as many national parks as possible, and travel.
Do your best with what you have. As someone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest, along the shores of the Chesapeake bay, and in the Middle East, I can confidently say, habitats can be taught in any habitat. Even if your focus is limited to the birds and bugs, they still provide a wonderful learning experience.
Most places have a zoo, so if nothing else, make a point to visit a zoo because they usually break up their animal exhibits into their respective habitats. So maybe your child will never go to Antarctica, but if your zoo has penguins, then there will be a learning opportunty.
Habitat Scavenger Hunt
The idea is to get your child to begin to connect animals with certain environments. Next, is to get them to recognize how the animals look, behave, eat is related to the environment in which they live. There are bonus points if they notice that all of it is connected, and that animals actually work together in a habitat (i.e. food web).
The Scavenger Hunt is a staple of experiential learning tools, and if you read this blog, you will inevitable note that they are referred to a lot. That is because they are fun, engaging, get kids thinking, spark great conversations, and require very little prep-time. I hate cutting, gluing; organizing papers and all that stuff that classroom teachers must do to hold the attention of 30 students. Homeschoolers have the luxery of not having to subject themselves or their kids to all that crap. It's time consuming and completely unnecessary if homeschooling.
On a sheet of paper, in a learning journal, or on the back of an old envelope, it really doesn't matter; write down 5 - 10 things for your child to find. In this case, habitat realted.
Find an animal that lives in a tropical climate.
Find a meat eating (carnivorous) animal. Name 2 things this animal eats.
Find a vegetarian (plant eating) animal. Name 2 things this animal eats.
Find an animal with feathers? Name 3 way feathers help this animal.
What habitat do penguins live in? (Feel free to substitute penguins with any available animal at your local zoo). Name 1-3 physical features that help them survive in that habitat. In the case of penguins, their black and white coloring acts as camoflouge.
You could also have your child pick 5 different animal exhibits to visit. Use the zoo map to help decide which exhibits to visit, and plan the path. Stop and take the time to observe the animals closely. Using the posted exhibit information, discuss what habitat the animal is from. It's ok to tell them what habitat it is.
Note the climate, the features of the animal (size, coat, teeth, diet, etc.), the flora and fauna. Also note if it is endangered. What are some reasons why the animal might be endangered. There are no wrong answers at this point, except idunno. The point is to get them to think.
While habitats are best learned outside, it doesn't hurt to supplement with books and videos. They can even make your trip to the zoo more enriching.
Books About Habitats
Videos on Habitats
A note about CrashCourse Kids: I love the CrashCourse franchise, but sometimes, they spoon feed information that in my opinion is much better learned in the field. I cannot blame them. Their market is largely classroom-based, so I understand where they are coming from. While I don't think this is the best way to learn about habitats, I cannot deny that their content is still high quality and well presented. Since it is good and since everyone learns a bit differently, I could not exclude it.
Above: CrashCourse Kids
If you have older students, or if your child is crazy about animals and nature, studying habitats is a great excuse to break out the Planet Earth series by the BBC. If you aren't familiar with the Planet Earth series, here is a trailer for the latest edition. It is amazing. My kids have seen both a zillion times, and still watch them, and they are nearly grown.