As cooler temperatures arrive, my boys have been enjoying watching the squirrels scurry around outside, collecting whatever food they can find. This has prompted some questions from my oldest about why the squirrels are gathering up food. With those questions and the seasons changing, it seemed like the perfect time to explore the topic of hibernation. We used some common household crafts, a few picture book resources, and we created 4 different sensory activities that were centered on our Safari Ltd. animal figures. Next, the play began and the boys were learning about hibernation!

 

Hedgehog Craft Tray 

3 Sensory Activities to Learn About Hibernation

From our reading, we learned that hedgehog’s prepare for winter by eating as much as they can to store in their bodies. They often eat foods like worms, caterpillars, and slugs but they will also eat supplementary food that people set out for them. Many hedgehogs also build nests out of materials like leaves, moss, hay, and grass. 

Supplies you'll need:

My boys enjoyed feeling the materials in the nest, helping the hedgehog to “eat” some food, and having him snuggle down in the nest! 

Bullfrog Craft Tray

3 Sensory Activities to Learn About Hibernation

I always thought that bullfrogs hibernated by burying themselves in mud, but it turns out that this is actually not true! As we read together, we discovered that being buried in the mud wouldn’t give bullfrogs enough oxygen. Instead, they spend the winter at the bottom of the pond, on top of the mud. They prepare for winter by sending more glucose to their organs so that their organs won’t freeze when temperatures drop. Because of this, bullfrogs can actually spend part of winter frozen within ice and still survive! 

Supplies you'll need:

I filled the bowl with water and placed the frog inside (it will float, so I flipped it upside down and put the lid on top to keep the frog in place at the “bottom of the pond”). I froze this overnight and it was ready to go the next day! We talked about why the frog was frozen and my boys worked on “thawing” the ice by pouring and spraying the warm salt water on. Eventually they freed the bullfrog and were so excited! This is such an engaging sensory activity with so much learning mixed in! 

Chipmunk Craft Tray

3 Sensory Activities to Learn About Hibernation

We also explored how chipmunks prepare for hibernation. Chipmunks spend the fall months gathering up as much food as possible (like nuts, seeds, and fruits). Instead of eating them, they store them in underground tunnels where they will spend most of the winter. In these tunnels, they have specific places for sleeping and storing food. My oldest thought these tunnels that chipmunks dig were so interesting! 

Supplies you'll need:

  • Safari Ltd. Chipmunk figure
  • Acorns from a game (real acorns or anything else that could represent their food would work too!)
  • Two wooden craft sticks
  • DIY brown play dough (I used a Pinterest recipe)

I rolled the brown play dough out into a tray, and then used a knife to cut out tunnels and places for food storage and sleeping. Then, I added toy acorns and two craft sticks with the chipmunk figure. My oldest helped the chipmunk get its food into storage by picking up the acorns with the two popsicle sticks and transferring them. This was such a great fine motor challenge! Tongs or something for scooping the acorns could also be used. Later into their exploration, my boys enjoyed playing with the chipmunk and using it to “dig” more tunnels in the ground. This was such a fun way to learn about how chipmunks get ready for winter! 

Grizzly Bear Craft Tray

4 Sensory Activities to Learn About Hibernation

We learned that grizzly bears also prepare for winter by eating and drinking as much as possible in the early fall months. They eat a wide variety of things, but their diets usually include berries. To stay warm, most grizzly bears prepare a “den” to hibernate in- sometimes in a rocky crevice in the mountains or by digging out a den under a tree’s root system. 

Supplies you'll need:

The dried peas were a great sensory experience and my boys loved scooping the berries out to bring to the bear so he could eat them. They also used the grizzly bear figure to do some digging under the tree to make a den.

These are some of the amazing book resources that can be used for exploring hibernation:

  • Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
  • Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft
  • Winter Sleep: A Hibernation Story by Sean Taylor and Alex Morss
  • The Snowy Nap by Jan Brett
  • Why Do Animals Hibernate? by David Martin
  • Hibernation by Robin Nelson
  • Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming
  • I Don’t Want to Go to Sleep! by Dev Petty

My boys really enjoyed these sensory activities as a way to explore hibernation and animals preparing for winter. These craft activities are an excellent way for kiddos to learn as they play, which is always the best way! Now my boys will have some experiences to connect to as we continue to watch animals get ready for the cold season.

 

Katie Menko was a Special Education teacher for 10 years with a master's degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders. She now blogs about play, learning, and child development. Follow along at teacherandthetots.com

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