Let children feel the hide of a bear (borrow from local hunter or taxidermists). Have the children observe and feel the thickness of the coat. Are all hairs the same? Feel the outer coat. Feel the undercoat. Is it softer? Why would the animal need a thick coat? Does a bear’s fur turn a darker or lighter color fur (like snowshoe rabbit)? Why not? Compare samples of different animal fur, if available. Collect hair samples from different animals and examine under a microscope.
Size and Appearance
Using a document camera, or overhead projector enlarge a picture of an adult black bear, or cub to realistic size. Make a tag board model that can be cut apart and reassembled. Let children put the bear puzzle together and discuss the function/purpose of the different parts. Compare the tag board models to actual objects to compare sizes.
Activities and Characteristics
View video clips and ask the students to pay close attention to the daily activities of the bears: walking, swimming, foraging etc. Do you think you have an accurate picture of the bear’s behavior? Why or why not? Remind students that they do different activities in the morning, at mid-day and in the evening. If cubs are available in the video clips, how closely do their activities compare to the adult bear’s activities? Discuss how they share common characteristics.
Changes in Nature
Take a digital camera with you as you and the children go outside to look for changes in nature during fall, winter, and spring. Look for changes in animals, insects, trees, plants, color, and smells. Use photographs to compare each season. Discuss what the bears are doing during that season and why. Draw and/or write a description.
Getting Ready for winter
Take a walk in the fall to find insects and other animals getting ready for winter. Discuss Monarch and bird migration. Look for insect eggs in masses that look like cotton, praying mantis eggs in sticky-looking blobs on a branch, swollen enlarged parts on plant stems called galls, where some larvae spend the winter. Where are the frogs and turtles? What are squirrels, chipmunks and woodchucks doing? Discuss what bears do to get ready for winter. Compare observations using Venn Diagrams.
Digging a Den
Construct a den in the classroom. Put a teddy bear in the den to help children understand the amount of time that the bears spend in their den. Take a walk in your local area to find sites that might be future den sites.
Getting to Know a Tree
Get to know trees by their bark, leaves or needles. Find a variety of trees by locating different bark coverings. Describe each tree by its bark color, texture, smell, and feel. Collect a sample of the leaves or needles. Make bark and/or leaf rubbings. Play ‘Guess My Tree’, exchanging bark/leaf rubbings. Discuss characteristics of trees and whether it would be a ‘good’ tree for bear cubs or adults to climb. Make a collage of bark and leaf rubbings.
Listening to the Wind
Look for signs of a windy day such as tree branches moving or fallen leaves and dirt blowing along the ground. Go outside with a tape recorder. Stand in a windy location. Be very still and record sounds made by the wind. Whistling, howling and blowing. Discuss why bears would feel nervous on a windy day.
Take the children on a walk and look for ants and ant pupae under rocks or in rotten logs and tree stumps. Allow children to carefully dig under the bark with a spoon to see what can be found. Use a magnifying glass to look for insects and insect homes. Discuss and dramatize how bears would overturn rocks, and rip logs apart to get at the nests.
Animals have body parts suited to their way of life. Discuss: How do you use your _________ (hands, feet, etc.). What would happen if __________? Act out tasks such as trying to pick up something without using your fingers, moving across the room without using your legs and feet, sitting without bending at the knee or hip joints. Use pictures or videos to discuss: frogs legs are adapted for hopping, webbed feet for swimming, snail and turtle shells for protection, duck bills for straining food from the pond, webbed feet for swimming, bat ‘sonar’(echolocation), for flying in the dark, beavers’ sharp teeth for cutting down trees, bears’ strong claws for ripping open logs to find pupae and grubs. Discuss other ways in which bears’ bodies are well adapted. Make a class chart with pictures of common forest animals’… noses, ears, eyes, feet, etc.
Animals and Their Young
Discuss names of animals and what their young are called. Make a chart matching animal mothers and their young. Explain the differences between female bears and their cubs. Do mother bears and their young ever become separated? Role-play a situation of a cub being lost from its mother. Compare and contrast the ways in which a mother bear cares for its cubs and the way in which a mother cares for her baby/children.
Identify bear tracks. Describe differences and similarities in various animal tracks. Make a picture dictionary. Using informational diagrams, identify animal tracks in a real setting. Make plaster casts. What can we tell about an animal’s physical characteristics by observing its tracks?
Identify and name various animal homes. Create riddles about animals and their homes, or make a mural. Explain differences in bear dens, and why they might be located in different places. Dramatize a bear sleeping and caring for its young in its den. Explain why some locations might be better than others. Discuss what would happen if the bear’s habitat were changed.
How Animals Protect Themselves
List ways animals protect themselves. Dramatize through a skit. Explain how a black bear protects itself then compare and contrast it to the way other animals protect themselves.
Name foods that black bears eat. You are the owner of the ‘Hungry Bear Restaurant’. Plan a menu for a black bear. Discover the bears place in the food chain. Construct a food web to display the interrelationships. What would happen if one animal or plant in that chain were to disappear? Write an article for Ranger Rick telling what would happen.
Discuss the difference between qualitative and quantitative data. Compare the life cycle of black bears to that of other animals. Record observational data at the same time each day.
Prepare a picnic with some foods that bears might like, such as berries, nuts (watch for allergies), and sprouts.
Sense of Smell/Hearing
A black bear’s smelling ability is extremely good, as is their sense of hearing. Use film canisters with cotton balls dipped in various smelly items such as vinegar, coffee, chocolate, blue cheese, pepper, etc. Have the children try to guess what the smell is. Fill canisters with items that would make a sound when the container is shaken, such as popcorn kernels, small bells, nuts and bolts, etc. Have canisters contain matching items and have children try to find match. Have children try to smell/hear the same canisters 1 foot, 5 ft, 10 ft, and 15 ft away. Why is the bear’s sense of smell/hearing more developed than ours?
Compare the preferred food of the black bear with the food types of a grizzly, and a polar bear. Make predictions about why the bears’ diets may be different.
Do You Eat Like a Bear?
Compare food of a bear with the food pyramid that we use. How is it different? How is it the same? How and why are nutritional needs different?
Compare and Contrast
Compare and contrast features of black and brown bears. Put data into Venn diagram.
Heart Beats and Hibernation
Have the children listen to their heartbeats with a stethoscope, while in a resting state. Graph results. Discuss what a “normal” resting heart rate is, and if appropriate, determine the average resting heart rate for the class. Then, have children exercise. Take heart rates again. After charting data on resting and active heart rates, discuss the black bears’ heart rate during hibernation. Use drums to recreate the bear heart rate. Use drums to recreate the human resting and active heart rate. Record the heart rates on a tape recorder.