My first grader is naturally inclined to math and history and if it was up to him I would only ever create games with numbers or facts about past wars. I am happy to have him learn about those things but as his mom I need to stretch him to learn about other things as well. This is an science for kids game that asks players to classify each animal into omnivore, herbivore or carnivore. The hands on aspect of the game is great of young learners and can encourage later imaginative play as well. I like to keep activities like this short since my son attends school full time and my goal is to use these bite sized activities to spark interest and further investigation. For more check out our other Learning After School activities.
Gather your materials. You will need some card stock ( I use the back of sentence strips), marker, and a mix of animal figurines. I like these Safari Ltd North American Wildlife Toob from amazon ( that’s an affiliate link ).
When I invited my son to come do the activity I first had him answer a question on the chalkboard. This isn’t a must do but I will explain why I do it with my son. He loves to know the answer so by starting the activity with a question he can answer it starts him off on a strong confident foot. Then I challenge him with the sorting.
Some were not . After he made his final decision he asked ” Can you Google it to see if we are right?” I loved that he wasn’t looking to get the answer but to check if he was right. This also let me slip in a quick lesson about using reliable online sources. He won’t be searching online without me for a while yet but it’s still a good lesson to start cementing.
For more quick but meaningful learning for after school or any time check out our Learning After School series.
My daughter loves matching things and has done well with simple pattern match activities like this one so I decided to make it a little more complicated. These animal print puzzles for kids are quick to make ( they honestly took one minute to make all four) but for young kids matching the patterns up so the prints line up can be a challenge. This is a great activity to develop attention and concentration but because there are only two pieces to each puzzle it shouldn’t create too great a challenge and end up frustrating your child.
- Gather your materials. We used animal print foam sheets but you could use scrap book paper instead just make sure that the pieces are sturdy enough for your child to handle. If they get crinkled or ripped it will be harder to match up . You will also need some scissors.
- Cut your foam into squares and then cut the squares into two halves using different cutting patterns. I made 4 puzzles for my daughter who is just 3. For older children try 2 in each pattern to create a bigger challenge.
- Present the puzzles to your child and ask them to put the squares back together. If they are struggling you can also make a square out of painter’s tape on the table to give them a guide. When I make puzzles like these I pop them on a tray and leave them out for a few days after our initial play and then pop them in a ziploc and into storage for a while. After a trip to the zoo or when we read one of our favorite books about the zoo I pull them out and we play again.
Books About The Zoo
Inside a Zoo in the City by Alyssa Satin Capucilli is a rebus read along , so children who can’t read words yet can help read this with pictures put right into the text! The story is repetitive and builds with one animal and page at a time. Preschoolers love these books and the repetitive nature of it makes it interactive and fun!
Peek-a-Zoo! by Marie Torres Cimarusti is a vibrant lift the flap book that goes through sounds different animals make while playing peek a boo with the reader. What I like about this book is that the flaps offer a chance for your baby or toddler to anticipate what animal it hiding as well as the sound , so it grows with them. Also the flaps are large enough that little hands can grab them and won’t get frustrated.
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann is simply one of my favorite books ever. I love it and love that my daughter doesn’t fuss when I read it to her because it was a special book for my son when he was little and it’s a book he will still curl up and read quietly with us, making it fun cuddle time for all three of us. If you aren’t familiar with this book it’s all about a sneaky gorilla who unlocks all the animals at the zoo and they quietly follow the zoo keeper home and climb into bed with him, until his wife wakes up! I love this book cause I relate to the zoo keepers wife , when I wake up there is always a sneaky 3 year old gorilla in my bed!This post contains affiliate links.
The battle against screen time is a constant struggle with my kindergartener so when I find an activity that he loves and keeps him engaged for a long time I feel like I’ve won the lottery. This build your own zoo pretend play hit all the right notes for him. I intended it to be for both kids but my daughter was not so excited about his vision for the zoo so we read zoo animal books while he crafted his very own zoo. I loved how involved he was from start to finish and that I could work in some writing practice ( every little bit helps) that didn’t feel like practice at all.
- Gather your materials. You will need some craft paper ( get it at the dollar store and save!) , blocks, animal toys/ puzzle pieces , crayons, some painters tape and scissors.
- Start by cutting a large piece of craft paper and taping it ( using the painter’s tape ) to the floor. Only do this on hard surfaces or the paper will rip and tear when you try to write and draw on it.
- Talk about the design for a zoo. My son and I have made up worlds we tell stories about all the time ( Mine is called Mommyland … original eh?) and we decided to base the layout on the zoo from his imagination. I drew the outline as he explained it to me but the rest was up to him.
- Next sort the animals and build their enclosures. He started with snakes. These stretchy snakes are adored in our house for some odd reason . He wrote the sign, the built the house and arranged the snakes. It took a lot of patience to arrange them just so.
- Arctic animals were next. Starting with the sign then building the structure and adding the animals.
- Africa and the petting zoo were next followed by the whales. No he didn’t write those words , after a few he asked if I could do it and I did to keep the momentum of the play going. The goal wasn’t to force him to write it was to play so I was happy to help.
- I think the most interesting observation for me watching my son do this was how he really wanted a specific design. I loved seeing him sit back like this to take it all in.
Check out our favorite books about the zoo here! I like to include books with activities to deepen the learning and extend the interest in the topic.
I love when I set up an activity with one child in mind and the other ends up completely into it. I love the addition of small items to playdough not just for the extra kick of fine motor development ( playdough all by itself is great for it) but also for the extra kick of creativity. My toddler took to this activity very literally decorating her butterfly but my son experimented with decorating as well as using the materials as tools. I love watching the gears turn in their heads!
- Gather your materials. You will need some playdough ( I love the commercial stuff but have some great recipes if you want to make your own) , animal shaped cookie cutters, googley eyes, beads/bits of straws/buttons and other embellishments.
- Start by choosing a color of playdough and pressing it down flat.
- Choose a cookie cutter and cut out.
- Start decorating. I love how a simple googly eye transforms the playdough. My daughter was totally into it but it was my son who surprised me. He was far more focused than I expected him to be. He quickly discovered that the beads made cool prints and that he could make it look like scales and fur.
- After she was done her butterfly my daughter found our plastic scissors and joined us at the table to do some playdough cutting.
- My son just kept creating. He couldn’t wait to show his dad what he made and his new techniques when he got home from work.
Sorting is a common preschool activity that you may notice your child doing all on their own. Sorting helps make sense of the world but it’s also a great way to talk about attributes and differences in the items you are sorting. In this case sorting pets vs. wild animals gave us a chance to talk about how we care for pets and observe local wildlife. It wasn’t super simple for a 2.5 year old but when we hit road bumps a few questions lead to the final decision. After sorting we played and played and played which is exactly what I’d hoped for.
- Gather your materials. You will need a doll house ( or a picture of a house ) , some animals and if you want a basket and container to represent the wild . We used a square vase and some pine cones it doesn’t have to be perfect just enough to be separate from the house pets. Make sure that you have some animals that are clearly pets and others that are clearly wild animals and if you think it won’t frustrate your child add in a few iffy ones. Our iffy ones were the budgie, lizard and turtle.
- Place the house, animals and “wild” on a table and invite your wee one to start sorting. Let them know that all the animals need to be put in their home either in the house or wild.
- Help them sort if need be. My daughter took great care in placing each pet in the right spot. When she got to the lizard she was not sure. Eventually she decided that it should be in the wild. You and I know that people have lizards as pets but I wasn’t going to go into that if she decided it shouldn’t. Don’t get hung up on these technicality on the less obvious animals if it breaks the flow of the game but if your child will understand explain exotic pets and let them decide if they think they should or should not be pets.
- After all the sorting is done you can count the animals, ask your child to pick which pet they would like to have in their own house and to pick out the wild animals that they have seen around their neighborhood/zoo/aquarium.
- Then play! Can you tell she is potty training right now? We played and played mostly potty training each of the house pets. If only it were that easy!
Books About Pets
Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennet is a story about a little boy and his disappointing pet fish Norman. All great children’s books slip a lesson between the pages and this one is about how our first impressions aren’t always right. Friendships can take a while to grow but once they do they are solid, even with a pet fish named Norman.
My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel is a perfect book for this activity. In this story a little boy writes to Santa and asks for a very specific gift, a real live penguin! It’s not long before he realizes that a real live penguin is not as much fun as he thought it would be. He is very responsible though and sacrifices a lot for Osbert. He is thankful to Santa for getting his gift exactly right but writes a follow up letter explaining how it would be ok if Santa sent a replacement. Very cute story, it’s not short though but my 3 year old listened to it happily for a bedtime story. Laughing at the funny parts and pointing out that he wrote a letter to Santa too, but he didn’t ask for a penguin… thank goodness!
McDuff Moves In by Rosemary Wells will pull at your heart strings and make your child beg for a dog! McDuff escapes from a dog catcher’s truck and tried to brave the world alone only to be met with unfriendly animals until he meets Fred and Lucy! They take him in initially just for one night … but who can resist this Westie? My son loves this series of books and I do too. They are calm, sweet and I love the illustrations by Susan Jeffers.This post contains affiliate links