Here’s a combination of hibernation activities for your preschoolers that fit nicely together for a story time or large group activity.
Bear With Me. Start out by getting the children’s attention. Bring them to your story area or large group area by telling them they have to be very, very quiet (whispering yourself, of course). Using a bear puppet or toy bear, tell them that the bear is sleeping and we do not want to wake him up. Once everyone has settled in, tell them very briefly about hibernation.
The Deep Sleep. Hibernation can be a very complicated science topic, but preschoolers just need the basic concept. When I present it to a group of young ones, my explanation would go something like this (still whispering, of course, so you don’t wake up the bear):
When it gets cold outside, we put on our snow clothes, like coats and mittens and hats. Many animals do something similar by eating more food and having more fat and fur grow to keep their bodies warm. It’s kind of like wearing a coat! (This could be a topic of exploration for quite sometime, in and of itself. If you’ve already explored that, make some quick connections there.) Some animals, like bears, eat lots and lots of food, and then they go into their caves or “dens”, the places where bears live, and they curl up and they just sleep. All winter long! It’s called, “hibernation”. Can you say “hibernation”? It’s a big word, isn’t it? We use the word “hibernation” to describe when an animal sleeps all winter long. They don’t even wake up in the day time! They just sleep and sleep until the snow starts to melt and it’s warm outside again. Their bodies are designed to hibernate as a way to survive the winter when it’s so cold and the food is hard to find. Isn’t that crazy? Do you hibernate? No, people don’t hibernate. In the winter, we go to sleep at night, and then we wake up every morning. These animals that hibernate, they don’t wake up until spring time! That’s a long time to be asleep! I have a song about a hibernating bear that I want you to learn with me!
Here’s the song. I usually have the words written on a song chart or sentence strips and point as we sing, so that the children can make the association with the written word to increase langauge and literacy skills.
Mr. Bear (Tune: If You’re Happy and You Know it)
Mr. Bear says all he wants to do is sleep!
Now that winter’s here and snow is cold and deep!
He is curled up in his den,
And we won’t see him again,
‘Till the spring when all he wants to do is…eat!
It’s fun to hesitate as you sing this song, to allow the children to come up with the rhyming words. Recognizing those rhymes helps build phonological awareness, a critical pre-reading skill.
I’ll often talk about why the bear wants to eat when he wakes up. I ask the children if they ever wake up in the morning and they’re so hungry for breakfast. Then, I challenge them to imagine that they’ve been asleep for one hundred days. How hungry would they be then?
Bear Snores On. After this discussion and song, I love to read the book, Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson. It’s written with such great rhythmic and rhyming text, a perfect combination for preschoolers. It’s about a bear sleeping through a winter storm while several animals seek shelter in his den, turning it into a big party. The bear sleeps through the raucous gathering until a tiny fleck of pepper lands on his nose and he sneezes. He’s angry, and then sad, to realize that he wasn’t included in the fun. The animals comfort him and assure him that the party’s not over, and they have a great deal of fun together. That is, until morning when the bear is still wide awake, but the other animals fall asleep!
Sleeping Bears. As you finish these activities, you can use the same concepts you’ve just covered to make a smooth transition to your next activity. Have the children curl up like sleeping bears. Really get them into it. Have them yawn and curl up, and encourage them to snore (some will imitate the bear in the book, and feign a huge sneeze). Tell them that when you tap them they can stand up and move to….wherever the next activity is. This is particularly useful if you need to divide into smaller groups, or put on coats to transition outside or home. By keeping the children busy and sending one at a time, there’s usually less chaos in the transition. Usually.
Enjoy some or all of these activities as you explore animals in the winter time with your little ones!
For more wintry activities, click here!
Top bear photo by cece.