The ocean is a fascinating topic among young kids and is one of the most popular preschool themes.
Depending on where you live and what bodies of water are found near you, you could also connect this theme with topics like creeks, rivers, bays, and lakes.
How do you introduce the ocean to preschoolers?
Here is a list of fun hands-on activities that tie in with the ocean.
The busy environment found in and around the water provides opportunities for many different types of ocean-themed gross motor activities for kids.
Move Like a …
Make cards to draw from or a wooden cube to be thrown as a die. On each card or side of the cube, draw symbols to represent the action kids must perform. Here are some possibilities:
- Swimmer (rotate arms and head)
- Crab (walk on hands and feet with face toward the ceiling)
- Jellyfish (wave arms)
- Anchor (slowly sink to the ground)
- Turtle (swim or walk slowly on the ground)
- Dolphin (jump out of the water)
- Boater (row a boat with arms)
- Clam (open and shut arms like a clamshell)
- Seal (clap)
- Eel (slither)
- Starfish (stretch arms)
- Shark (open mouths wide)
Offer a selection of blue and white scarves for children to hold while dancing. Play background music or ocean sounds.
Give children time to try each of these movements to the music:
- Up high
- Down low
Play this fun ocean movement activity video for kids to dance along to with their scarves.
Here are two ocean games to play with your kids.
Charlie Over the Ocean
This game is played much like “Duck, Duck Goose,” except that players must name things they could find in or near the ocean.
It can be played indoors or outside and gives kids each a turn at getting some exercise.
Here’s a demonstration of the game Charlie Over the Ocean.
Make simple fishing poles out of dowels, string, and magnets. Cut felt or coloured paper into fish shapes, attaching magnets.
Children “fish” to see who has the biggest catch of the day. For an extra challenge, add a number or letter of the alphabet to each fish, to be named when it is caught.
Kids love the feel of water or sand slipping through their fingers (or toes). Offer these materials as loose parts, to be experienced in a variety of ways.
Fill your sand/water table and other large containers with sand or water, along with a selection of natural ocean materials and plastic sea creatures to be manipulated and enjoyed.
Sand Play Dough
Make a batch of your favourite homemade playdough and add some sand for texture. During play, children can flatten the dough and press a variety of shells into it to make prints.
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Rainbow Fish Mobiles
Trim plain paper plates into large fish shapes. Supply a variety of bright materials, such as tissue paper, foil, sequins, and glitter, for kids to decorate their fish.
Connect several together with string to hang from the ceiling.
Offer a variety of materials, cutouts, and markers for children to make an ocean scene on large rolled paper or on a large expanse of cardboard.
Include sand to be glued on for texture and interest.
Books About the Ocean
From fantasy to non-fiction, books for kids about the ocean are a great way to dive into this theme.
Although you can find a multitude of titles on your own shelf, at the library, or on YouTube, here is a list of the top 10 ocean books to include in your plans.
- Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae is a rhyming alphabet book.
- The Mermaid by Jan Brett is the beautifully illustrated story of a Japanese mermaid, Kiniro.
- Mr. Seahorse by Eric Carle is a charming tale of fathers in the sea who take care of their young.
- The Snail and the Whale, a rhyming book by Julia Donaldson about a snail who hitches a ride on the tail of a humpback whale and sets off on a trip around the world.
- In One Tidepool by Anthony Fredericks is a rhyming book that introduces crabs, snails, and many other sea creatures.
- The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark by Ken Geist is a retelling of “Three Little Pigs.”
- National Geographic Kids First Big Book of the Ocean by Catherine D. Hughes introduces kids to many high-interest ocean animals.
- Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta tackles the topic of food webs in the ocean.
- At the Beach by Anne Rockwell is a realistic view of a child’s visit to the seashore.
- Flotsam is a wordless picture book illustrated by David Wiesner. Challenge kids to tell the story being depicted in their own words.
Songs, Rhymes, and Fingerplays
Music is always a great way to start any theme. Many songs and rhymes about the ocean involve movement with the hands and fingers.
Once I Caught a Fish Alive
One, two, three, four, five
Once I caught a fish alive,
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
Then I let it go again.
Why did you let it go?
Because it bit my finger so.
Which finger did it bite?
This little finger on my right.
Sing along with the hand and finger movements.
Animals in the Ocean
Sing this fun song to the popular tune of “The Wheels on the bus”.
The sharks in the ocean go chomp, chomp, chomp,
Chomp, chomp, chomp,
Chomp, chomp, chomp.
The sharks in the ocean go chomp, chomp, chomp
All day long…
Repeat, replacing the creature and the action for each verse:
The turtles in the ocean go snap, snap, snap.
The crabs in the ocean go click, click, click.
The jellyfish in the ocean go wibble, wobble, wibble.
The clams in the ocean go open and shut.
The seahorse in the ocean rocks back and forth.
Here are 8 of the best ocean songs for preschoolers.
Kids are always ready to play pretend! Offer puppets, toys, and props that lend themselves to your ocean theme.
Invite kids to wear their bathing suits, sunglasses, and flip-flops for a beach party. Use beach towels instead of chairs, play beach-themed music, and offer healthy beach picnic snacks.
Retell a Favourite
After sharing books and videos related to the ocean, supply kids with related puppets and other props for them to dramatize the stories.
Water, sand, and the many creatures that live near and in the ocean make perfect topics of study for science.
What Colour is Sand?
Provide small labelled containers of natural sand from various locations, along with plastic magnifying glasses.
Kids are usually amazed to discover that particles of many different colours of rocks and other elements work together to form the sand that looks like a solid colour from a distance.
Ocean in a Bottle
Fill a clear canning jar or plastic water bottle half full with water. Add blue food colouring. Fill the rest of the container with baby oil or vegetable oil. Replace the cap tightly.
Tilt the container on its side and gently move to form “waves” on the “ocean.” This can lead to discussions of density (water and oil) or what makes ocean waves.
Count to 12
Share the counting book written in rhyme called Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes. Kids practise counting and learn facts about 12 basic types of shells.
The paperback version includes tear-out pages of the shells to take along on a visit to the beach. Extra sets could also be copied for larger groups.
Provide various types of shells or picture cards that represent them. Challenge kids to sort them by type, size, shape, or colour.
The same can be accomplished with other kinds of natural items found at the beach, such as interesting stones.
Real visits to the shore are certainly among the favourite ocean activities for preschoolers.
While there, they can collect items, help you take photos and videos, and safely soak up some sun. Later on, children can use memories of those experiences to draw scenes and tell stories.