Category: Fish

Spectacular Summer Science: Fish Activities for Kids

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.










Gyotaku Fish Print Activity for Kids

Today we are going to continue with our ocean science-themed activities for kids, with a fish printing activity based on the Japanese art form, gyotaku.

Gyotaku is wonderful because it incorporates both art and science into a combined learning experience. While making colorful prints, children observe the fish closely. In the process they learn about fish external anatomy, and also details useful in identification of individual species. See this index for an extensive list of examples of gyotaku fish prints by artist Joe McAuliffe.

fishprint- gyotaku

Gyotaku started in Japan as a way for fishermen to record their catch. Traditionally, gyotaku prints were made by applying inks to an actual fish and then pressing thin, but tough paper onto it. Today you can buy rubber or plastic replicas to use for printing. You can print on paper or cloth as you choose. The fish example above is printed on cloth.

You will need:

  • Fish or fish model
  • Block printing inks
  • Cloth or paper
  • Plates or trays for holding the ink
  • Brayer (hand roller for loading and applying ink)
  • Newspapers, old tablecloths or sheets to cover printing surface
  • Fish external anatomy illustrations, such as at South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

The process is relatively simple, but may require practice to achieve the desired results. If you are using actual fish, you will need to wash it with water to remove mucous/debris from the surface. Dry the fish. Place some block printing ink into the plates or trays, and ink up the brayer by rolling it through the ink. Apply the ink evenly to the fish. Now you may either press the paper onto the fish or press the fish onto the paper, as evenly as possible. Play around with the technique to see which way works best for you and how much ink is needed. Set the paper or cloth aside and allow to dry.

Traditionally not much else is added to the print, but you can use your imagination. This gyataku print includes seaweed.

There are loads of places to learn more about gyotaku on the Internet, just load up your favorite search engine and go.

Where to get supplies:

Acorn Naturalists sells a number of gyotaku supplies.


Models to use for printing are also available on Amazon (photo is affiliate link).


This post is part of our ocean science series. Visit the landing page for links to all the related posts.


Sea Horses and Other Fish

Our family finally made it to the beach and had a lot of fun. We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and saw the “Secret Life of Sea Horses” exhibit. It was awesome, take a peek (the aquarium was packed, so excuse the noise):

What kind of creatures are sea horses? Are they fish? They have an exterior that looks rather hard, so some people might wonder if they are crustaceans. The tiny fins and gills give it away though, sea horses are fish! If you replay the video, look for the tiny gills and fins moving.

Sea horses and their relatives, the pipefish and seadragons, are called gasterosteiform fish because they lack scales and have bony plates instead. They are poor swimmers and often rely on camouflage to hide from predators. The seadragons in particular have so many leafy flaps on their bodies they look like floating seaweed instead of animals.

Sea horses are carnivores and eat small crustaceans, such as tiny shrimp and planktonic invertebrates.

This pretty silly video from National geographic gives more fun facts.


1. Gyotaku and fish anatomy

Are you familiar with the Japanese art of gyotaku, making prints or rubbings from fish?


Traditionally, prints were made by applying paint to actual fish. Today you can buy rubber or plastic replicas, including those for sea horses. You can print on paper or cloth as you choose. This particular fish is printed on cloth.

Our instructions for making gyotaku (previous post).

2. Moving Through the Water.

Different fish have different shaped bodies. Do some move through the water more easily than others?

Check the CDAS website or the Catalina Island Marine institute for an introduction to fish body types.


  • modeling clay
  • string or yarn
  • scissors
  • sink with water

Cut a few pieces of string about 18 inches long (at least two). Form a few golf ball-sized lumps, the same number as pieces of string. Take a small lump of clay and wrap around one end of the string, so the string is embedded. Form the lump into a rough sea horse shape (perpendicular to string).

Now take another ball of clay and wrap around another piece of string. Form this into a typical fish “tube” shape wrapping around the string.

This shape is called fusiform.

Put each shape into the sink and drag across the water. Does one shape move more easily than others?

Try some other fish shapes as well. Which shape moves through the water most easily?


Now it is time to finish our summer beach science series and get ready for fall. We’ll miss the sand between our toes (although I think I still have some in my hair), but look forward to a brisk change of pace and some autumn foliage.


To check the rest of the posts on beach science, follow these links:

Shore Birds

Tide Pool Invertebrates

Beach Science- Boats

Beach Science Algae

Beach Science-Sand

Beach Science-Seawater