To begin your study, draw a large whale on chart paper and record some facts that children know about whales. Then dive into the following activities.
Whales of the World
Many whales migrate each year between cold and warm climates. Most spend the summer in cold-water feeding grounds, such as the Arctic. Then they move to tropical waters to give birth to their young. To learn about gray whales' migration, share Whale Journey by Vivian French (Zero to Ten Limited, 1998). After discussing the story, ask children to research the route of other migrating whales, such as the blue and humpback. Then invite them to cut out the Whales of the World Mini Reproducible (PDF), below, and list the migration dates and routes on it. Then have students mark the route on a large world map with tacks, string, and their cut-outs.
Breaching Whale Masterpieces
A whale doesn't just swim — it performs amazing acrobatics in the water, too. Have children research, describe, and discuss reasons for the following whale behavior: breaching, spyhopping, lobtailing, and logging. A whale "breaches," for example, when it leaps through the surface of the water. Invite students to use a crayon-resist technique to create a breaching whale masterpiece. Have them draw a realistic-looking whale on tagboard and cut it out. Then have them draw waves across the bottom of a large sheet of white construction paper. Next, have them trace the tagboard whale three times above the waves, overlapping the head and tail each time to represent the motion of a breaching whale. Then they can color the whales with crayons and paint two or three layers of watercolor wash over the paper. Finally, have them attach chunks of masking tape under their tagboard whale, overlap it with the last of the traced whales, and stick it so that it "swims" slightly above the construction paper for a 3-D effect. This technique can also be used to create masterpieces of spyhopping, lobtailing, or logging whales.
Benefits of Blubber
Help children understand how blubber protects whales from cold water temperatures with this exciting experiment. To make a blubber-insulated glove, gather a pair of rubber gloves and a latex surgical glove. Fill a zippered, quart-size freezer bag with shortening, seal the bag, and cut off a lower corner. Use this to squeeze shortening into each finger of one rubber glove. Next, put on a latex surgical glove and slip it into the shortening-filled glove (the shortening will ooze between the gloves). Add more shortening so the entire hand is insulated with "blubber." Then fill a container with icy water. Have children take turns putting the blubber-insulated glove on one hand and a plain rubber glove on the other, then submerging both hands in the icy water. They should remove each hand when the temperature becomes too uncomfortable. Record the length of time each hand was held in the water. Afterward, compute the average time in water for both the insulated and the non-insulated hands. Have children compare and discuss the results. Did the blubber keep them warmer?
A Whale of a Poem
Let students set their whale knowledge to poetry. Introduce the phrase "A whale of a tale" and explain that the phrase implies exaggeration. Then have children select whale facts and transform each one into an exaggeration. For example, "Whales can swallow other whales whole." They then write the poem by alternating the fact-based lines with the statement "That sounds like a whale of a tale!" to create a non-rhyming poem. To finish, have kids create their own statement about a whale, such as "A whale joined me for plankton pizza last night," and then add the last line "Now, that is a whale of a tale!" Students can display their poems on construction-paper whale cutouts.
Some whales are gigantic; others are small. By creating wall graphs, students can easily compare the sizes of different whales. Separate students into groups of four and have groups research and list the sizes-rounded to the nearest five feet-of a variety of whales. Write each whale name and length on a long strip of paper. Invite student groups to select a paper strip, then measure and cut yarn to equal the length of their whales. In a large open area, have children extend and sequence their yarn from shortest to longest to compare the whale sizes, attaching their informational paper strips above each yarn length. You can also include corresponding whale facts next to each length of yarn, whale pictures, and whale poems to share as part of a "whale information center."
Download our Whale Challenge Reproducible (PDF) below and invite students to prove how much they've learned about whales.