Photo of a Bull Shark courtesy of John Moore
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It’s our favorite week of the summer; shark week! This is the second year we’ve done a shark week unit and we had so much fun and learned so much about sharks.
What is a shark?
SciShow Kids has a great video to provide an introduction to sharks! Sharks are fish. Their skeletons are made entirely of cartilage rather than bone. We felt our ears and nose and compared them to the way our fingers and arms felt to understand the difference between cartilage and bone. Shark Academy is also another great series of free videos to learn more about sharks. Each day of shark week we watched another Shark Academy video to learn more about sharks.
Why are sharks important?
Sharks are apex predators which means they are at the top of the food chain with few natural predators. As the top of the food chain, they play an important role in keeping prey beneath them in the food chain at healthy, balanced levels. Unfortunately, commercial fishing kills upwards of tens of millions of sharks each year. Shark populations are dwindling, putting our oceans ecosystems at risk. As shark populations decline, the balance of the marine ecosystem is put at risk.
Sharks have been on this planet for over 400 million years, predating even dinosaurs but if we don’t change our ways, our shark population will continue to dwindle to the point of extinction.
Why are shark populations dwindling?
Silky Shark with a fishing hook. Photo courtesy of John Moore
One word, humans. Throughout our shark week, we discussed the importance of sharks and tried to dispel the popular belief that sharks are bad, vicious man-eaters. In fact, we’re more of a risk to sharks than they are to us. Shark populations are dwindling as a result of several types of human activity.
Bycatch: Bycatch happens when fishermen unintentionally catch other types of fish and marine animals in their nets when they’re attempting to catch a specific type of fish. Turtles, dolphins, sharks and other types of marine life are hauled up with a catch and then discarded overboard dead or dying. There are ways to limit bycatch through modern fishing technology but it would take the cooperation of policymakers and the fishing industry.
Overfishing: Overfishing is another cause of dwindling shark populations. There is a growing market for shark fins for a delicacy known as shark fin soup in some parts of the world. Millions of sharks are caught each year for their fins and the rest of their bodies are often discarded.
Pollution: Pollution is also impacting shark populations. As apex predators at the top of the food chain, they are prone to bioaccumulation of plastics and other environmental pollution. Bioaccumulation occurs when toxins build up in a food chain. As marine life lower in the food chain ingest plastics the levels of plastics in their bodies and bloodstreams accumulate in the marine life that feeds off the lower species in the food chain.
Hammerhead Shark Photo courtesy of John Moore
Why would I explain any of this to my kids?
We need public buy-in to help save the world’s sharks from extinction. But sharks have a bad reputation. By teaching our kids about sharks and dispelling the myths that they’re man-eating vicious predators, they’ll hopefully grow up to respect and not fear sharks. Fear is a powerful emotion and our fear of sharks can overshadow all their important benefits to our world and can hinder conservation efforts.
Putting Our Knowledge to Practice
Letter Sound of the Week:
Our sound of the week was “sh” as in shark ship, shell, and shrimp.
Shark Species Study
Each day of the week, we took a deeper look at a “shark of the day.” I printed coloring pages for the shark of the day which the kids would color as they watched a Shark Academy video about the shark. We looked at the Great White Shark, the Bull Shark, and the Whale Shark. For our “Dino Tuesday” we studied the Megalodon.
Photo courtesy of John Moore
We also had the privilege of actually knowing someone who swims with sharks so we also spent some time looking at our friend Captain John Moore’s photos online and trying to identify the sharks we saw in his photos. John graciously allowed me to use some of his photos for this blog post. Thank you, John!
Montessori 3-Part Shark Matching Cards
To build on our shark species study, I created 3 part shark matching cards that I printed and laminated. Both kids love 3 part cards and often use them every morning of a unit to help reinforce their memory of subject. You can use 3 part cards with or without added props. We used ours with Wild Republic Shark figures but the matching cards I created can be used with Safari Ltd Shark Toob as well! You can download the cards here and you’ll automatically receive my parts of shark printable below as a bonus!
Parts of a Shark
Throughout the week we studied the anatomy of a shark using a printable I created which you can download here but for the best value, I suggest you purchase my 3-part shark matching cards listed in my new Etsy shop and receive both printables in one bundle!
We learned that different types of sharks have different types of teeth depending on what their prey is. We also learned that sharks have many rows of teeth and lose thousands of teeth in their lifetime.
To learn more about shark teeth, I bought a fun shark tooth excavation kit from National Geographic and it was one of our favorite activities of the week. The kit contained three shark teeth to dig out.
Mr. J was especially excited to learn that two of the shark teeth were from extinct sharks. The kit contained a booklet with lots of great information about sharks in general, as well the specific sharks whose teeth were in the kit. The dig was a bit messy so definitely a good outside activity to minimize the mess. I’ll also note that these are shark teeth so they’re sharp. This activity should be supervised and the teeth perhaps put in a safe place for exploration only with the help of an adult.
We read National Geographic Readers: Sharks! on day one of our shark week. It’s a short, solid introduction to sharks with great pictures and lots of good information.
On our Dino Tuesday we read Megalodon (Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals) by Janet Riehecky. Mr. J enjoyed the book but since we already had some knowledge of the Megalodon, we didn’t learn anything new from the book. It’s a nice book to introduce the Megalodon but don’t expect a deep dive into this prehistoric creature.
Big Shark, Little Shark (Step into Reading) by Anna Membrino was a fun, beginning reader storybook. Both kids enjoyed it and actually asked that we reread the book several times.
The Big Book of the Blue (The Big Book Series) by Yuval Zommer was by far the best book of the week and we’re actually still reading through it as we explore more ocean topics. The book is an absolutely beautiful kids-appropriate reference book, with lots of great information and stunning illustrations. I highly recommend this book. I know it’s a book we’ll get a ton of use out of so well worth buying to keep in your home library!
We used sea shells and starfish as math manipulatives this week! Collect some at your local beach or if you don’t live near a beach, you can purchase some online!
Model Magic Clay Shark
On a whim a few months ago I had bought and held onto a Model Magic Shark kit from Crayola. It ended up being a fun art project for our shark week! The kit contained everything we needed to make a shark sculpture.
We started every day of the week with a bin full of water beads on the front porch with our Wild Republic sharks hidden underneath them. The kids had fun rescuing the sharks and mom got to enjoy a relatively peaceful cup of coffee until on the 5th day, Ms. S dumped the entire bin out… everywhere. I was glad that I’m a firm believer in water beads as an outside only toy. Pro Tip: I was able to allow them to dry out and sweep up for a much easier cleanup!
Feed the Shark Activity
My friend Darien over at Just Okay Mom, shared a simple “feed the shark” activity during her ocean theme week to help teach her preschooler letter recognition. I decided to create a similar game inspired by her game with numbers and sight words for Mr. J and colors for Ms. S.
Black, White and Red Tempera Paint
Sketch out a shape of a shark head and mouth on a cardboard box. A long narrow box is best for this. I used a box I had from a small bookshelf I just bought for the playroom.
Use a boxcutter or scissors to cut out the top of the shark shape and mouth. Since I had a nice narrow box, I was able to leave a backing and bottom on the box to allow the game to stand on its own and catch/store the fish.
Mix up some gray paint to paint your shark. I added some red around its mouth and painted it’s stomach a lighter color since we had learned that sharks have a lighter underbelly to help them blend into their surroundings when viewed from underneath!
Sketch and cut out fish from the cardstock. Write letters, numbers or words onto the fish.
How to Play:
I laid all the fish, one pile for Mr. J and one for Ms. S. I then would say “Sharkey is so hungry. He wants a “me” fish to eat.” The kids would find a corresponding fish to feed the shark. You could also make a spinner or use a dry erase dice block! I was surprised by how much the kids enjoyed this simple game. We’ve since played the game several more times.
Stay-tuned for a separate post on this week’s art lesson featuring the work of British artist Damien Hirst.
Shark Week was a hit once again and it’s something I think we’ll continue each summer. Do you celebrate shark week at your home? What’s your favorite shark?
-School of Mommy