In honor of World Polar Bear Day on February 27th, this month’s activity calendar features these sweet ways kids can learn about, move and play like polar bears!
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Learn about polar bears.
Polar bears are amazing creatures! The largest species of bear on earth, they are perfectly adapted to survive and thrive in the coldest parts of our planet. Watch a video from National Geographic Kids to learn more about these Arctic friends!
Though polar bears are excellent swimmers, they prefer to spend their days on top of the ice that covers the Arctic seas most of the year. The sea ice provides polar bears with a platform for them to hunt, live, breed, and create dens.
To create a frozen playspace for polar bear play, freeze a sheet of ice on a cookie sheet. Then, invite kids to use objects from nature or from around the home as pretend polar bears, moving, hunting and playing on top of the icy sea. To explore the movement of glaciers, freeze water in a cake or pie tin or yogurt container and place the ice chunks in a bin or large bowl of water. Experiment with using fingers, tools and even breathe to move the ice across the water. Use objects from nature as pretend polar bears. How do the polar bears dive into and out of the water from their frozen platform?
Follow the scent.
Polar bears have an amazing sense of smell and can sniff out a seal on the ice up to 20 miles away! They can even smell prey under snow and up to a half a mile underwater! Hide bundles of cinnamon sticks or other herbs around your outdoor space for kids to sniff out and discover. Try out our Follow Your Nose DIY for more ways to explore scent through play.
Roll in the snow.
Polar bears roll in the snow to keep themselves clean and to preserve the insulating properties of their fur. Rolling in the snow also helps cool them off when they get too hot. If you have snow, take a snow bath by rolling back and forth on your back. What shapes can your child make in the snow with their body? Kids can also walk on all fours to make polar bear “tracks”. Don't have snow? Place a white or light-colored bed sheet on the ground and enjoy a good roll (bonus: rolling on the ground is also a super way to stimulate kids’ vestibular and proprioceptive systems)!
Polar bears sometimes create dens for their young by digging into snow banks. Try out our secret hideaway DIY to turn a blanket or bed sheet into a cozy den for a polar bear. If you have snow, try out our Build a Snow House DIY to make a cozy, frozen space for imaginative play.
Be a Water Protector.
Polar bears need our help! As a family, talk about how you can help protect oceans and habitats for polar bears and other creatures. Try ourCut Out PlasticorOne Bag of TrashDIYs or try some ofthese simple ways kids and their grown-ups can take action to conserve water in their homes and make a positive impact on water supply in their community.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Polar bears are super creature teachers for persistence, grit and adaptability. When kids play and move like other creatures, they activate their creativity and imagination while also building empathy and a deeper connection to animals.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is Imagination?
Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!