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In another in our series of STEM story times, let's explore reptile-themed books, learning centers, and activities.

The Books:

To start story time, I began by reading an older picture book from my bookshelf, Lizard in the Sun by Joanne Rider and illustrated by Michael Rothman.


Although this book works well when read one-on-one, it was a bit long for a group of preschoolers. They began to distract each other.

After talking about what reptiles are and visiting the activity stations, we finished with their choice from a pile I provided, Get to Know Gila Monsters (Get To Know Reptiles) by Flora Brett.

STEM Activity Station 1. Lizard in the Sun (Under a lamp)

Explore the concept of "cold-blooded" or ectothermic (having a internal temperature determined by-and-large by the external environment.)

Gather:

  • Two lizard shapes cut from black construction paper
  • Small desk lamp

Place one lizard shape directly under the lamp and one at least three feet away, preferably in a shaded or dark area. Have the children compare the temperature of each.

(Older children could record the temperature difference with a thermometer.)

Optional:  Added graphic of temperature vs. lizard activity on page 3 from Sonoran Desert Museum's Leaping Lizard's handout.

 

STEM Activity Station 2. Box of Reptiles (Sorting activity)

Gather:

      • Toy or model reptiles:  snakes, alligators, lizards, turtles
      • Box or bin
      • A few toy or model animals that are not reptiles:  mammals, birds, insects, fish, or frogs

Mix the animals in the box or bin. Prepare a sign that reads:  Some animals were put into the box of reptiles by mistake. Can you find the ones that aren't reptiles and take them out?

STEM Activity Station 3:  Senses Learning Station

Gather:

  • Images of snakes with prominent heat sensing pits (sense heat)
  • Images of snakes tongues and Jacobson's organs (smell)
  • Point out the eyes (sight)
  • Hearing- although reptiles don't often have obvious ears, they can hear

Place this station near the lizard in the sun station so can compare how we detect heat with how a snake detects heat.

(I included this station because we had previously learned about human senses).

STEM Activity Station 4:  Make a macaroni snake craft (fine motor skills)

Gather:

  • Chenille stems (pipecleaners)
  • White glue
  • Pasta shells
  • Penne (red lentil for color)
  • Marker
  • Red craft foam cut into tongue shape (Y)

Make a loop in one end of the chenille stem to form the head. Feed the penne onto the chenille stem to cover the body. Bend the end back to hold the penne on. Add eyes to a pasta shell and slip over the head loop. Glue into place (do this after the body so it doesn't get dislodged). Glue on the tongue. Allow glue to set before playing with the snakes.

See our previous snake craft using paper beads and a more detailed pasta version at The Pinterest Parent.

STEM Activity Station 5:  Make a reptile book

Gather:

  • reptile book PDF - print out number of copies needed
  • Scissors
  • Markers/crayons/colored pencils to decorate

For instructions how to fold the book, visit the Making Books website or watch this video:


Note:  This project was a bit too difficult for preschoolers, but their parents seemed to enjoy it. The children will color/decorate them at home.

Mini field trip:

The center where the story time was held had a timely exhibit of snakes and lizards, so we made a mini field trip to see it.

The information about Gila monsters probably sparked the children's interest in reading the book about them at the end of story time.

The exhibit included an actual shed snake skin to touch. Cool!

Pointed out the different sizes and shapes of the scales on the bottom versus the top.

This unit was a hit. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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Visit our Pinterest Board for more reptile STEAM ideas.

Want to read more children's books about reptiles? Try our growing list at Science Books for Kids.

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Our information and activities about turtles today were inspired by A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond, the newest picture book in the A Place For... series. In a sequence of two-page spreads, Stewart explains an environmental threat to turtles and then reveals what humans can do about it. For more details and a complete review, see out sister blog Wrapped in Foil.

(Affiliate link)

Let's learn about turtles!

1. What is a turtle? (Identification and classification)

 

turtle-at-gilbert-riparian

Turtles are reptiles, which means they are cold-blooded, have scaly skin and lay eggs. Some other reptiles are snakes, lizards, and crocodiles. Because they are "cold-blooded" they often bask in the sun to maintain their body temperature.

turtle shell

Turtles are known for their shells or protective outer covering. In hard shelled species, the top shell is called the carapace and the bottom shell is called the plastron.

Many species, like the one in the photograph above, are found in or near freshwater, especially in lakes and ponds.

sea-turtle-water
(Photo from National Park Service)

Sea turtles, such as this Kemp's Ridley, spend virtually all of their lives in the oceans.

eggs-turtles-lay

Tortoises are turtles that are not associated with bodies of water. Some species can even survive in hot deserts.

To learn more about how to identify different types of turtles, try a field guide or website. For example, Discover Life has an interactive turtle identification guide. Ocean Ambassadors has an extensive page about turtle biology and how to identify sea turtles.

2.What do turtles eat?

Which of the following do at least some turtles eat?

  1. Jellyfish jellyfish
  2. Earthworms
  3. Fruit
  4. Leaves of plants
  5. All of the above

If you said all of the above, you are correct. Many turtles eat a variety of foods.

One exception is the desert tortoise. They do best if fed only the leaves and flowers of native plants, such as wildflowers and grasses.

3. Laying eggs

Turtles lay their eggs in nests of loose dirt or sand. Finding a suitable place to lay their eggs can be a difficult and dangerous business for turtles. When turtles lay their eggs on the land they are often vulnerable to predators not found in the water.

Why did the snapping turtle cross the road?

snapping-turtle

This snapping turtle is in danger of being hit by cars because she is crossing the road to lay her eggs in a bank along the roadside. Perhaps the warm pavement seems like a good place to incubate eggs?

In A Place for Turtles, Melissa Stewart describes how people in Alabama built a fence to keep turtles out of the road.

4. Turtles as pets?

Keeping turtles as pets is being discouraged for a number of reasons.

First of all, small turtles are likely to carry Salmonella bacteria, which can be fatal to susceptible humans.

Secondly, people who don't realize how much work it is to keep a pet will often dump their unwanted turtles into a nearby park or natural area. This is a problem because the pet store turtles may kill local turtles or infect them with diseases, or the area might simply not be suitable for their survival.

My family recently found a tortoise that had been dumped in a park. It was so cold out that the tortoise couldn't move. It needed to be in a safe place to prepare for its hibernation, not tossed into a park.

Did you know a desert tortoise may live to be over 100 years old? That is a long time to be responsible for a single pet!

Related Activities:

1. One great way to learn more about turtles is the build a model.

An easy craft for the youngest set is making a turtle using a paper bowl. There are instructions all over the Internet, but here is a good example at About.com. A cute variation is making a turtle using a section of egg carton at the National Wildlife Foundation.

turtle-model

For older children, encourage more elaborate models, like this one using Model Magic.  Create an appropriate diorama to study the habitat a particular turtle is found in.

2. Look for citizen science projects involving turtles, like this one in Arizona looking for ornate box turtles, Leatherback Watch in California, or one from the Piedmont Wildlife Center about box turtles.

turtle-in-the-road-DC

3. Letter, Numbers and Books has a cute sensory activity to explore turtles laying eggs in sand for young children.

4. Learn how to draw a desert tortoise and investigate its life cycle.

5. Back to our featured book, A Place for Turtles has a section about the hazards of plastic grocery bags. Find out more about how plastic bags harm sea turtles with this coloring page.

A Place for Turtles and others in the series would be a perfect choice for an Earth Day celebration. Unlike some books about threatened and endangered animals, this book remains positive by explaining what can be done to help mitigate threats. What a great way to learn more about turtles and help them at the same time.

Ages: 6-10
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1561456934
ISBN-13: 978-1561456932

Book was provided by publisher for review purposes.

More books by Melissa Stewart and Peachtree Publishers.

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