Preschool Ocean Unit Study

We finished up Jameson’s first year of homeschool preschool a few weeks ago (hooray!) but we were only done for a few days before he was begging me to do “more school” haha! I’d been planning on doing a unit on the ocean for a few months now, sometime in between preschool and the start of his pre-k year. I thought I’d give us a couple of weeks of break before diving into the ocean (heh. get it?) but Jameson was adamant about starting ASAP as possible (The Office reference. Anyone? Anyone?). I wasn’t about to deny that so I quickly gathered some last minute supplies and forward we charged!

Some evidence of a very fun time with this unit! 😊

It turned out to be such a fun two weeks that I decided to write up a whole post about the topics and activities we covered. The nice thing about planning your own unit study is that you can choose activities specific to what you know your kids will enjoy and specific to what you know they need to work on. Some homeschoolers choose to teach primarily through the unit study approach, but I see our unit studies as a way to expand upon on our structured curriculum and/or go deeper with specific things that spark curiosity. The planning process can take some time up front but I’ve found that interspersing the unit studies throughout our usual curriculum gives us the chance to explore those certain topics more thoroughly while also giving us the chance to enjoy a change of pace. One of the beauties of home education! We’ve done a unit on farms, a unit on bees, a unit on France, a unit on trees, and now a unit on the ocean! I’m hoping that by writing out my lesson plans for this unit, it’ll help take some of the planning out for someone else.

We did seven days total, three the first week and four the following. Each day centered on a specific ocean topic (coral reefs, tide pools, cool critters, etc.) with fun activities planned around those topics and chosen to target the major preschool subjects and areas of development:

  1. Read Alouds
  2. Phonics
  3. Math
  4. Fine Motor Skills
  5. Gross Motor Skills
  6. Science/Art/Sensory (rotated or combined depending on the day)
  7. Practical Life Skills
  8. **Morning Time, which we do over breakfast, includes Bible, music, poetry, and calendar work

I made sure to label each activity in the lesson plans below so you know exactly which area you’re targeting! Although most of the time, one activity will naturally help your child work on several different skills at once. 😊

This is a mostly complete photo of the books we used for this unit! There were a few others I added to the stack as our requests came in from the library, and as I found them from amongst the hordes of other books in our home. πŸ˜…

We used the Usborne “Big Book of Sea Creatures” (which was sort of an impulse buy at the Homeschool Convention a few weekends ago) literally every single day. We also used “Nature Anatomy” by Julia Rothman frequently to look up specific facts.

And I really can’t say enough wonderful things about “A First Book of the Sea” by Nicola Davies! I picked it up from the library on a whim, not really knowing what it contained but figuring we could find some use for it during the unit. Oh my! We used it every single day during our morning time for poetry! It’s an absolutely gorgeous collection of short poems/stories and the loveliest illustrations that truly captured our hearts and delighted us to no end! You’ll see it listed in each morning time section below. I would flip through it the night before and find a few selections that pertained to our daily theme and we’d read those, and usually several others because they were just so lovely. I will likely add this book to our permanent collection!

We also enjoyed a variety of YouTube videos on specific topics, watched “Finding Nemo” for our family movie night the first week, and watched all of the original Magic School Bus episodes (via Netflix) pertaining to the ocean throughout those two weeks as part of the kids’ 25ish minutes of daily screen time.

Anyway, enough blabbering from me. Let’s dive on in, the water’s fine!


Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics/Practical Life Skills: Find the names of the major oceans in our map book and then label them on our large world wall map.

I had Jameson look at the names of each ocean and tell me which letters to write on the Post-It. Then we found the right placement for them on the wall map above us.

Math: Sort and count ocean animals; identify numerals.

We used our Safari Toob ocean animals, plus a few other ocean animals we had lying around the house, and worked on sorting them into categories (marine mammals, fish, etc.). Then Jameson counted how many animals were in each category and assigned the correct numeral card to them.

Fine Motor: Place ocean animal stickers in the ocean zone they are typically found in.

We looked at “Wish for a Fish” for this one and tried our best to put the animals in the correct zones, although we didn’t have too many for the Dark Zone or the Abyss. Jameson loved this one and Nora loved putting stickers all over. 😊

Gross Motor (not pictured): Ocean animal actions. I called out the name of an animal and an action it might do and we all ran around the house attempting to do it haha! (Ex: dive like a dolphin, chomp like a shark, slither like an eel, wiggle like a jellyfish, etc.)

Science: Ocean zones in a jar.

This was a fun one! We followed this tutorial. I do wish we had used just a bit less food coloring for the Abyss because it was hard to see, but it was still cool to learn about density and water temperatures and sunlight levels in the ocean. Plus another fun way to learn about what types of creatures live in each zone. Again, we used “Wish for a Fish.”


Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics/Fine Motor: Starfish letter match.

I drew a few little starfish guys with different letters on each arm (mostly letters I thought Jameson should review) and wrote the corresponding upper or lowercase letters on clothespins. Then Jameson matched them up.

Math: Crab claw game (identifying numerals).

I wrote out numerals 1-10, placed a shell on each one, and then had Jameson flip over his numeral cards one by one. He would identify the numeral, locate that same numeral on his sheet, and then use some salad tongs (aka a crab claw) to pick up the shell that was on top.

Gross Motor (not pictured): Tide pool actions. Like with the ocean animal actions, I called out the name of a sea creature (ones that like to hang out in tide pools) as well as an action it might do and then we had fun trying to act it out. (Ex: stretch like a starfish, crawl like a hermit crab, snap like a clam, etc.)

Art: Seashell discovery and paint.

The kids just loved this one! I set up a little discovery station for the shells and we had so much fun trying to classify the types we had and enjoying all the pretty designs and patterns that God has created! I let the kids try pressing them into kinetic sand and later we got out the paints and the kids went to town creating some lovely shell art.

Practical Life Skills: Tide pool sensory bin. (I classified it as “practical life skills” because #1, they were learning together about tide pools and the creatures that live in them and #2, a certain toddler had to learn some self-control and remember to not splash water all over the kitchen).

Did you know the the epaulette shark can come ashore and β€œwalk” across the sand and through tide pools?!

This was a favorite activity for both kids! I did the work of setting it up using sand, plastic plants, some rocks, sparkly gem stones, shells, and of course tide pool creatures. Then I added water and the kids had a blast exploring!

Additional activity: Wise Man vs. Foolish Man experiment.

I got this idea from my sister who recently did an ocean unit with her kids! In the story we read during our morning time from Matthew 7, we learned about the foolish man who built his house on the sand and the wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the rains and the floods (and maybe the tides?) came in, the foolish man’s house sank into the sand and was destroyed but the wise man’s house stood firmly on the rock (the Lord!). We had a great discussion about this and I think it helped Jameson to see it for himself.


Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics: Feed the Shark Game using letters and sounds.

This wasn’t in my original lesson plan but I thought it would be a fun addition! The kids had a blast with it! I printed and cut out a shark (which you can find for free here), glued it to a cardboard box we had lying around the house, and then set out our letter flashcards and gem stones. Jameson and I took turns rolling the letter ball from Scattergories and identifying the uppercase letters and their most common sound(s). Then we found their corresponding lowercase magnetic letters and fed them to the shark!

Math (not pictured): Play “Go Fish.” What a great game for practicing math skills!

Fine Motor: Coral Reef Sensory Bins.

I gave each kid a little container with kinetic sand and set out some cut up pipe cleaners (to represent the coral), some shells, and some sea creatures who might live in a coral reef. I watched as they created their own coral reefs! Corals come in so many gorgeous shapes and colors so I encouraged the kids to get creative with how the bent and twisted the colorful pipe cleaners.

Gross Motor: I didn’t really have a specific gross motor activity planned for this day, but that’s okay! Kids get tons of practice with these skills just by playing and being kids. πŸ™‚

Art: Coral reef blow painting.

We followed this tutorial for the coral painting, used the book “Swimmy” as inspiration for adding some lace watercolor seaweed (it didn’t work too well), and then finished off the project with stickers of animals who might live in a coral reef. I had fun painting up a quick copy of Mister Seahorse from Eric Carle’s book. πŸ™‚

Practical Life (not pictured) : Watch a YouTube video on the Great Barrier Reef, locate the reef on the wall map, and label it. We learned that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world (also it’s where Nemo is supposed to live haha!) and that it supports life for a huge variety of sea creatures.


Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics/Gross Motor: Fishing for letters.

This is a tried and true way that we review letters and their sounds! I set up the laundry basket and gave Jameson the trusty salad tongs as his fishing pole and then set out the letters (aka fish) around his “boat.” His job was to catch a “fish” and then tell me its name and its sound. He loves any kind of phonics review that involves gross motor skills as well. And Nora made a good first mate. πŸ˜‰

Math: Hungry Shark Math.

I used this free printable and slipped it inside one of our reusable dry erase sleeves. I wrote out a few math problems for him and we used goldfish as our counters. I was expecting it to be more for practice with identifying numerals and as a brief introduction to written subtraction problems, but he caught on shockingly quick and ended the game by writing out a problem for me to solve! Then we snacked on the yummy fish. πŸ˜‹

Science: How sharks float experiment.

So much fun!!! We followed this tutorial and learned that one of the ways sharks can float so easily in the water is that they have very large, oily livers. Since oil is less dense (aka lighter) than water, the sharks are able to float more easily. I filled one balloon with dish soap (to make it more obvious that it would sink) and one with canola oil. I also drew some very artistic sharky faces on each of them. I asked Jameson what he thought might happen when each was placed in the water and then we tested his hypotheses.

Art/Fine Motor: Rainbow Fish paper plate craft.

We used our beloved Crayola Washable Tempera Paints to paint our fishies and stamp on rainbow scales with a cut up paper towel roll. We glued on googly eyes, fins, and a shiny tin foil scale to finish them up.

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Act out “The Rainbow Fish” story and list ways to be kind to others. Narration and list-making are both important skills throughout life so we practiced both using “The Rainbow Fish.” We acted out the story with Jameson as the Rainbow Fish and then came up with a list of other ways to show kindness to others and treat them as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).


Morning Time

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics (not pictured): Practice rhyming. This wasn’t necessarily ocean-themed (although we did rhyme with the word “fish”) but rhyming is a very important precursor to fluent reading so I like to sneak it in whenever I can.

Math/Fine Motor: Jellyfish bead stringing (identifying numerals and counting).

I made a couple of silly jellyfish using a paper plate and some pipe cleaners and then encouraged Jameson to identify the numerals above each “tentacle” and string the right number of beads for each. He got tired of this after the first few tentacles so I helped him finish and he counted along with me.

Gross Motor (not pictured): Play octopus hide-and-seek. One of the coolest things we learned this day was about how octopuses can change their colors and textures to blend in with their surroundings. We practiced this skill by trying to camouflage ourselves around the house in a game of hide-and-seek.

Art: Ocean salt process painting.

This was a super cool one. Jameson made a design using liquid glue on some cardstock and then I sprinkled it with salt. He used watercolors to drop on the salty glue and we watched as they spread and blended together.

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Look up jellyfish facts. I always like to encourage Jameson to look in a book when he has a question so we used our “Nature Anatomy” book to discover some facts about jellyfish.

Additional activities (not pictured): Look up videos on cool critters that sparked interested (octopuses, jellyfish, etc.) and complete our Jonah and the Big Fish Floor Puzzle (always a hit!).


Morning Time

Read Alouds

I had some trouble finding good sea turtle books from our library for some reason! But we filled in the gaps with a couple of YouTube videos. πŸ™‚

Daily Activities

Phonics (not pictured): Trace the alphabet. Not ocean-themed but I wanted to work this into our schedule since Jameson enjoys it.

Math: Count turtle eggs from sensory/fine motor activity (see below).

Sensory/Fine Motor:Life Cycle of a Sea Turtle Sensory Bin.

The kids love any sensory bin and this was no exception! I used our kinetic sand and blue gem stones (for the water) to set it up and added in our turtle figures as well as some white beads to represent the turtle eggs. We learned about how sea turtles come ashore to lay and bury their eggs and how the babies make their way back to the ocean to grow up and then start the process again later in life by laying their own eggs on the same beach where they were hatched. The kids had fun acting this out and Nora kept shouting “CUUUUUTE!!!” at the baby turtle. πŸ˜‚

Gross Motor (not pictured): Act out the life cycle of the sea turtle. Similarly, we acted out a sea turtle’s journey ourselves! We pretended to be sea turtles hurtling through the ocean on currents to get places faster, then pretended to crawl ashore and bury some eggs. Then we pretended to be the baby turtles hatching and following the moonlight to the sea, battling seabirds and crabs and other enemies in the sand along the way. Once we made it back to the big ol’ blue, we pretended to zoom around the house on ocean currents again as adult sea turtles.

Science: Ocean Current Experiment.

This was kind of a bust, but you can try it for yourself using this tutorial. The warm red water (representing the currents) was supposed to created swirly current patterns when poured into the cold blue water (representing the rest of the ocean). But maybe our temperatures were a bit off because we got a few little swirls but not enough see some real currents. Jameson still had fun playing with his ocean current animals though. 😊

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Find the East Australian Current on wall map and label it. I wrote this activity in mostly because we had watched “Finding Nemo” that week as part of this unit and we all love the sea turtle scene on the EAC. πŸ™‚


Morning Time

  • Read the story of Jesus walking on water in children’s Bible
  • Song (“Peace like a River“) – my kids loved this one and requested to listen multiple times!
  • Poetry from “A First Book of the Sea
  • Calendar work

Read Alouds

Daily Activities

Phonics: “If I lived in the ocean…” writing prompt.

I love any chance to encourage story telling and critical thinking in kids so this was a must! I saved it for the last day of the unit so that he’d have some good information to center his thoughts on. I asked him the question, had him dictate his answer to me while I recorded it on my phone so I wouldn’t miss anything, and then wrote it down for him. Then I read it back to him. He LOVED hearing his thoughts read aloud from the paper by me!

Math (not pictured): Feed the Shark using numerals. Like the first day we did this I set up our cardboard box shark, but this time we used numeral cards and our gem stones. Jameson and I took turns flipping over the cards, identifying the numeral, and then feeding the shark the correct number of gems.

Fine Motor/Gross Motor: Arctic Sea Animal Rescue.

Old faithful right here, folks! My kids ADORE this activity! The night before, I grabbed some of our arctic animal toys and froze them in containers filled with water. Then I gave them some play tools and we went outside to try and “rescue” our animals from their frozen captivity. I encouraged the kids to try a variety of methods for rescuing the animals (smashing the ice, dropping the ice from different heights, and using warm water to melt the ice). This activity is really so good for so many concepts and kids just love it!

Science: Salt Water Egg Float.

Nora made an appearance. πŸ˜‚

Pretty standard but still fun as a visual! We learned that the ocean is made up of salty water, and the salt makes the water more dense than freshwater. We filled one glass with regular tap water and the other with tap water/salt added in and predicted what the egg would do in each. Then we tested!

Practical Life Skills (not pictured): Act out “The Three Snow Bears.” Another great opportunity to recall and retell a story (aka narrate it). This story is a take on the classic “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” but with polar bears in the Arctic! I set up stations around the house (three soup bowls, three pairs of shoes, and three beds) for Jameson to try out, just like Aloo-ki from the book.

Additional Activities (not pictured): Look up YouTube videos on animals that sparked interest (for us that was polar bears, penguins, and beluga whales. Nora once again kept screaming “CUUUUUTE!!!” at all the animals).

To finish up the unit (as we do with most of our unit studies) we had a little themed snack party at the end! We worked together to make sugar cookie dough and then cut the cookies out using ocean animal cutters. Then we enjoyed our treat along with our current chapter book read aloud, β€œCharlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl. 😊

I hope you enjoyed perusing our journey through the sea with this unit! We sure had a blast learning and playing together! Have you ever done a unit study? Which of these activities might you try with your own kids? I’d love to know! 😊

Happy sailing!

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