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Today we're participating in the Spectacular Summer Science Series, hosted by Share It! Science News. Follow the link to eight weeks of super summer science activities for kids.

spectacular summer science

Summer is a perfect time to study fish because we are often near or in the water where fish live.

What are fish? Fish are animals with fins and a backbone. Most breathe with gills. Bony fish have scales covering their body.

Activity 1. Fish Anatomy

Learning about the names of the external structures of fish can help with identification and understanding of fish behavior.

Fish-anatomy(Public Domain Photo via

The fins help fish move through the water, steer, and also to stop. The position and types of fins vary with different kinds of fish.

Water carrying oxygen passes into the mouth, over the gills where some of the oxygen is removed, and then out from behind the operculum (gill cover).

The mouth shape varies depending on what kind of food the fish eats.

The nostrils detect odors or chemicals in the water, important for finding prey and avoiding predators.

Reinforce learning by having the children draw or make their own fish and then label and talk about the different parts.


  1. Gyotaku fish print activity (Growing with Science post)
  2. For young children, look for Rainbow Fish crafts, like this one.
  3. California Department of Fish and Wildlife has fish anatomy posters and worksheets to download, especially useful for older children.
  4. Look for instructions for how to draw a fish, like this one.
  5. Read the beginning reader Fish Body Parts by Clare Lewis

(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Age Range: 4 - 7 years
Publisher: Heinemann (August 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1484625633
ISBN-13: 978-1484625637

Activity 2. Fish Identification

The major groups of fish are jawless fishes (eels), bony fishes, and cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, skates).

The jawless fishes' skeleton is made of cartilage like the cartilaginous fishes, but they don't have jaws or paired fins. Their gill is a single opening in the top of their head. They don't have scales.

Bony fish have scales, jaws and their gills are on either side of their body. They have a skeleton made of bone.


lionfish(Public Domain Photos via Visual hunt)

Cartilaginous fishes also have a skeleton made of cartilage, but unlike jawless fishes they do have jaws and some paired fins. They have gill slits on either side of the body.

rays(Public Domain Photo via VisualHunt)

Pop quiz:  To which of the above groups do seahorses belong? (Answer at bottom)

seahorse(Public domain photo by Lisa McCarty,

To reinforce learning, try some fish identification games. You can either print out prepared games or make your own. Try fish flash cards, a fish concentration game (make two copies of each fish card for making pairs), or make a board for fish bingo. Have your children create cards with different types of fish on them. Look for realistic fish stickers or images to download from the internet.


  1. The Texas Fish and Wildlife Service has printable flash cards of 24 different kinds of fish (direct link to .pdf)
  2. Monterey Bay Aquarium has critter cards and game suggestions with fish and other underwater creatures.

Activity 3:  Fish Behavior

We often think of fish simply as little robots swimming around, but they can exhibit many fascinating behaviors. Take for example the "fishy fireworks" produced by this cardinal fish feeding on ostracods. If the ostracods light up, then the fish spits them out to avoid attracting predators.

Take some time to watch fish in a tank or pool. You might discover fish playing, schooling (TED lesson), or fish defending themselves. We recently found out there is some evidence fish can suffer from motion sickness.

Record your observations in a notebook. If you have any questions, plan an experiment to test your ideas.


  1. Discussion of bony fish behaviors (SeaWorld)

Further suggestions:

  1. To learn more about fish, take a field trip to one of the many commercial and public aquariums nationwide. Wikipedia has a list to get you started.
  2. Read a book. See our growing list of children's books about fish for ideas.


Answer to pop quiz:  Seahorses are bony fishes.











Sometimes rather than focus on a certain kind of animal, children want to investigate the groups of living organisms found in a particular habitat. This approach allows for a bigger picture of nature, from similarities and differences between animals found in specialized habitats, to how they all fit together into a food web.

Today we are participating in STEM Friday (see below) by featuring two new children's books  published this month that highlight habitats. Both these books from Animal Planet are loaded with big color photographs and plenty of entertaining sidebars, sure to entice young readers. "Just Like Me" sections highlight how the featured animal and humans are similar, further bringing the child into the book. The back matter of both is also impressively robust. They have suggested activities to accompany the book, an extensive list of resources, a large glossary, and a comprehensive index.

The first is Animal Planet Polar Animals (Animal Bites Series) by Laaren Brown, which focuses on the polar regions.

As you can see from the images on the cover, this books deals with animals in cold places from polar bears in the Arctic to penguins in the Antarctic. In fact, maps of the two poles are included, as well as a sidebar with the average summer and winter temperatures in both regions.

Do you know what a bergy bit or a growler are? Not only does the book cover animals, but also other unique aspects of the habitat. (Bergy bits and growlers are different types of ice that can be found floating in seawater.)

Polar Animals is an enjoyable introduction to the animals in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. It has something from everyone because it offers both a fast facts and breathtaking photographs for the casual reader, and sufficient in-depth information for the more serious reader.

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Publisher: Animal Planet (March 1, 2016)
ISBN-10: 161893161X
ISBN-13: 978-1618931610

Animal Planet Ocean Animals (Animal Bites Series) by Laaren Brown explores the unique creatures found in oceans.

In this case, the habitat is organized by depth of the water where the creature occurs. Most of the ocean creatures are found in the "Sunlight Zone" near the surface, but Brown also introduces what she calls the deeper "Twilight Zone," and the deepest "Midnight Zone." She also discusses the specialized organisms of hydrothermal vents.

In addition to introducing interesting animals, like the whale shark, the author also introduces important concepts. For example, many animals form large groups to help them survive in the vast oceans. Fish form schools, dolphins gather in pods, and sea birds fly together in flocks.

Ocean Animals makes a large and complex topic manageable for children to understand. In addition to being a resource for libraries, it would also be a good gift book to accompany a trip to the beach or an aquarium.

We'll be adding this to our growing list of ocean-themed children's books


Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Publisher: Animal Planet (March 1, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1618931628
ISBN-13: 978-1618931627

Disclosure:  The books were provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.


For STEM Friday, we have four new children's books about ocean animals that were nominated for the 2015 Cybils award in the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category, each with its own unique voice and intended audience.

Hungriest Mouth in the Sea, The by Peter Walters explores ocean food webs.

Follow the animals in the ocean to find out who is at the top of the ocean's food web. Young children will be intrigued by this mystery told in rhyming text. The collage illustrations have interesting textures to explore, as well.

The best part of the book is that it has four pages of learning activities in the back matter, including a predator and prey matching game, plus food web cards to copy and cut out.

Hungriest Mouth in the Sea is a lively introduction to the concept of food webs and the interactions between ocean animals.

Related:  Be sure to visit the Arbordale Publishing website for a link to a free 35 page .pdf Teaching Activity Guide to accompany this book (download at link in the right sidebar).

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Arbordale Publishing (September 10, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1628556366
ISBN-13: 978-1628556360

Could a Shark Do Gymnastics?: ...and other questions - Hilarious scenes bring shark facts to life! (What if a) by Camilla de la Bedoyere and illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff is a fun picture book that compares what a shark can do with some common human activities, allowing children to easily relate to the information.

This factual book dances on the edge of fiction with cartoon illustrations of sharks in funny situations. A shark with 240 teeth going to the dentist? At its nonfiction core, however, the child will also learn many current facts about sharks, such as the fact that sharks don't need a dentist because they continually grow new teeth. The facts are repeated to reinforce learning in a “Fact File” in the back.

Looking for a book to entice a reluctant reader? Could a Shark Do Gymnastics? is a perfect choice because it has all the elements needed to capture and hold a child’s attention. It would also be a wonderful choice for budding marine scientists, to accompany a trip to an aquarium, or of course, to accompany a trip to the beach,

Age Range: 3 - 5 years
Grade Level: Preschool - Kindergarten
Publisher: QEB Publishing (August 3, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1609927710
ISBN-13: 978-1609927714

The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond is a whimsical picture book about blue whales that draws the reader in with relatable information.

The illustrations make this book shine. Desmond contrasts the relatively realistic forms of the whales in swimming in dark blue waters with children wearing bright colors doing fantastic things, like riding in a whale's mouth. This is the type of book that children will want to spend time exploring every illustration and are likely to discover more with each reading.

The informational text shares fascinating facts, starting with how large an adult blue whale actually is, what whales eat, and what they sound like. The tone is just right, not only giving the information, but also keeping the reader's interest.

The Blue Whale is delightful! Share it with a budding ocean scientist today.

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool - 4
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books (May 26, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1592701655
ISBN-13: 978-1592701650


Extreme Animals: Sharks by Ben Grossblatt is essentially a field guide to sharks for the middle grade set.

After introducing sharks with a few pages of general information about things like their anatomy and teeth, the book continues with a series of two-page spreads on different species of sharks. In addition to the familiar great whites and hammerheads, the author has included less popular species, such as the banded wobbegong and the goblin shark. Of course, no book about sharks would be complete without the largest fish in the world, the whale shark.

Each two-page spread includes facts about that particular shark, several color photographs and sidebars with fast facts, as well as maps where those sharks are found throughout the world. The tone is even and informational, not sensational at all.

Extreme Animals: Sharks is a good, solid introduction to shark identification and diversity. It would be perfect to accompany a trip to an aquarium or to the ocean, as well as units on ocean habitats.

Age Range: 8 and up
Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books; Har/Pstr/T edition (July 14, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1626863822
ISBN-13: 978-1626863828

Want more books? See our growing list of children's books about oceans (organized by age of reader) at Science Books for Kids.



Disclosure:  The Blue Whale was provided by my local library. The books were provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.