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Classroom Activities About Hibernation

Janelle Cox

These cold winter months are the perfect time to teach your youngsters about hibernation. Let students in on the wonders of dormancy as they learn about how animals conserve energy and food for the long winter months. Here are a few fun facts and cross-curricular classroom activities that will meet the curiosity of any of students.

Classroom Activities: 5 Fun Facts

Start your unit off by describing a few fun facts about hibernation. Write these facts on the board and have students copy them into their notebooks.

  • Hibernation is when an animal becomes inactive, or "sleeps," during the winter.
  • Animals prepare for hibernation by eating to gain weight in the spring and summer. This extra fat helps keep them alive during the winter months.
  • Some hibernating animals wake up for short periods of time during hibernation to eat and relieve themselves, while others sleep all winter long.
  • Hibernating and dormant mammals include bears, squirrels, groundhogs, raccoons, skunks, opossums, bats, frogs, toads, turtles, lizards, snakes, snail, fish, shrimp, and even some insects. They all hibernate, or are considered dormant during the winter months.
  • During hibernation, the heart rate for many animals slows down to less than 10 beats per minute, and their breathing slows.

Freezing Food

During the winter months when the temperature is cold, food becomes quite scarce for animals. To help students understand this concept, try this experiment.

  1. The night before the experiment, fill a few ice cube trays with water and place one grape (or any piece of fruit) inside each section.
  2. On the day of the experiment, pop out each ice cube and give one to each student. Ask them to smell their cube and challenge them to try to get the piece of fruit out of the ice cube.
  3. Ask them how difficult it was it for them to try and get the food that they could smell out of the ice cube?
  4. Explain that in the winter months, animals have a hard time finding and getting food because of the icy conditions. Then explain that hibernating animals eat all spring and summer long to gain weight so that in the winter this stored fat will help them survive.

Conserving Energy

To help illustrate that hibernating animals need to conserve energy by slowing their heart rate down, try this activity. Have students take their pulse as you time them for one minute, then write their findings down. Next, have students do as many jumping jacks as they can as you time them for one minute. When they are done jumping, have students take their pulse again as you time them, then have them write those results down. Next, have students compare their findings. Ask them how their results differed, and which activity required them to conserve more energy.

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Bear-ing the Cold

During hibernation, an animal’s body temperature can go to as low as 43 degrees Fahrenheit. This lower temperature reduces the amount of energy an animal uses so that they can stay warm. To give students an idea of how cold this really is, try this experiment. Fill a glass jar with warm water. A mammal’s average body temperature is around 99 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can try and make the water close to that. Next, have students use a thermometer to measure the water. Then, have one child drop an ice cube into the water, then take the temperature. Continue to do this until the water is at 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have hit your mark, have students take turns touching the water to see how cold a hibernating animal is during the winter months. Students will be quite surprised at how cold it really is.

Student Hibernation Day

To end your unit on hibernation, have a class hibernation day! Tell students just as the animals reserve time in the winter to slow down and rest, they too will have a special day of hibernation. On this day encourage students to bring in their sleeping bags and pillows. Assign each student to bring in a special snack as well as a favorite “quiet” game, book, or puzzle. Then, on this day, allow students to find a space in the classroom to build their “nest” and quietly hibernate with their games, books, and puzzles. Younger students can put their heads down for a winter nap.

What classroom activities do you teach your students about hibernation? Do you have any fun, new ideas that you would like to share? Please comment in the section below, we would love to read your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.