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Resources for Studying the Ocean

Here are some excellent starting references to study the ocean!  The links are to but many of these books haven’t been published in some time (oldies-but-goodies!) so you could check your local library.

Reference Books:

Early Man and the Ocean by Thor Heyerdahl.  A wonderful book about the routes, vessels, and trading of early man, it has many drawings of early vessels of the past.  Heyerdahl built the Kon-Tiki and the Ra and sailed them across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.  Heyerdahl does not make the assumption that early man was less intelligent than we are.  On the contrary, he is a proponent of the theory that people traveled around the seas in very early times in vessels engineered for the purpose.  Very interesting.  Secondary students.

[amazon_link id=”B004TC14F0″ target=”_blank” ]The Sea Around Us[/amazon_link] by Rachel Carson.  This classic book is full of study material about the seas and has lots of stories of the sea to illustrate her facts.  My copy is a special edition for young readers which has plenty of pictures in it.  The description of wave activity and power is especially intriguing.  An excellent book to read to your young child or for solo reading for your older elementary student.

Mysteries & Marvels of Ocean Life by Rick Morris.  This Usborne book is full of tidbits about the life forms in the seas.

Tide Poolsby Ronald Rood.  Written for youngsters of 8-10, this book has an easy to read format with lots of descriptions of sea creatures to help the child form mental pictures of the organisms.

Sea Creatures Do Amazing Things by Arthur Myers.  This Step-up Book is a great way to introduce the study of sea organisms.  I can picture a homeschooler making cards for each animal and reporting on the animal to the rest of the family.  This book has common organisms in it which are interesting and not frightening.7

Picture Books:

My Visit to the Aquarium (Trophy Picture Books) by Aliki.  Well illustrated, this book reviews an imaginary trip to an aquarium.  If your student has been to a real aquarium, this is an excellent way to remind your student of all the sights and wonders of the underwater world he saw during the trip.  The few sentences have concise descriptions.

At Home in the Tide Pool by Alexandra Wright.  This 12 year old author has written a picture book which tells what you might see in a tide pool.  Oceanic vistas are not common to the people in inland United States, tide pools are even less frequently seen, so this book is not about a commonly seen habitat.  Wright uses short sentences to describe a living environment concentrating on the activities of the organisms.

At Home in the Coral Reef by Dr. Katy Muzik.  This picture book is similar to At Home at the Tide Pool in that organisms are described in their environments doing life activities.  The fragility of the coral reef is emphasized.

Nature Hide and Seek: Oceans by John Norris Wood.  This is a pleasant book which carefully illustrates some of the organisms of the sea hiding in their natural habitats.  Five fold-out panoramas are included in the book.  In between the panoramas are descriptions of some of the life forms inside the habitat on the previous page.  Not all of the organisms pictured have been mentioned in the text.  The format of the book is as a game wherein the student attempts to find all the hidden organisms.

Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Arthur Dorros.  This is a story in pictures of the water in a brook traveling down hill to the sea.  At each step something is taught to the young student about water, perhaps that it responds to the pull of gravity or that it can carve out large canyons.

The Ocean Alphabet Book and The Underwater Alphabet Book.  These books by Jerry Pallotta use the alphabet to introduce certain life forms and habitats of the seas to young readers.   The books are light-hearted and do not over teach.


Krill – A Whale of a Game.  In the Antarctic live a zooplankton called krill which are crustaceans like shrimp are which are eaten by whales.  The food chain the two organisms belong to is the subject of this game.  Students learn about this oceanic food web and about several concepts usually hard to understand.  The upwelling of nutrient rich material from the ocean depths, the dependencies of higher orders of animals upon the plankton, and the loss of oceanic nutrients by human harvest are all made real by the events of this game.


Enjoy your study of the ocean and if you have other wonderful resources to share with us please leave a comment!

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A Visit to the Aquarium

Fish, fish, everywhere fish!   There are lots of different types and colors and varieties, and other organisms besides fish, too.  How can your students learn some oceanography without getting bogged down in the diversity?

Here is a way to pull together a scientific study from a field trip to the aquarium!  This method will work great for a co-op field trip or homeschool group, just designate a team leader for the brainstorming sessions and post-briefing.

Students going into an aquarium should first learn about some of the general factors which affect all life in the oceans.  An excellent way to introduce these factors is by brainstorming them.

Many of the special characteristics of animals and plants in the water are already known to your students.  What students may not have is a framework, or system, to help them think of the habitat of the oceans as a whole.

Choose a topic or a set of topics to study.  The number of topics should depend upon your students, their ages and ability levels (not just reading level, but observational skills).  Topics which can help students pull the study together are:

  • Factors necessary for animal life at sea
  • Currents and tidal effects
  • Food chains
  • Functions of plants in water
  • Physical layout of the environment, etc.

This printable Aquarium Card will help your students pick out distinct facts which they will be able to use in discussion after the visit.


To brainstorm, the instructor should take time to talk and listen, then write down the ideas which come forth as a result of using leading questions.

A question like “What are some factors  necessary for life in the oceans?” is asked of the students.

For animals to survive at sea they must be able to catch their prey, defend themselves or stay away from predators,  recover from attack, and ensure the survival of some of their young.

More advanced answers may be:  maintain a good balance under water, go up or down at will, maintain the right salt balance in their tissues so that osmotic pressure does not kill them,  and find their mates in order to reproduce.

Another leading question might be: What do all animals in the sea have to do to eat?

Possible answers may be: Find the food, catch the food, identify food, process the food for digestion (biting, chewing, pulverizing, etc.), find the way back home, and many more.

What are some characteristics of the ocean environment?

The physical environment of the oceans consists of a lighted surface where the atmosphere and ocean meet, a surface where the ocean meets the ground beneath, many different surfaces at the edge of the water, the completely watery environment (called pelagic), tides, upwellings, and currents.  The limited number of environments allow the student to compare two or more of them without getting bogged down in detail.

What sorts of food chains exist in the ocean?

All food chains have certain elements:  A plant base which uses photosynthesis to make food, primary and secondary consumers, and decomposers.  Food chains usually have multiple elements like different types of plants, and many interchangeable consumers.  Food chains consist of more primary consumers than secondary consumers.  There are generally few large predators in an environment.  The use of food chains in ocean study also limits the range of topics to something manageable within the aquarium.

Do not stifle your children’s creativity, but encourage them to think of appropriate answers.  Your goal is to get the children to generalize.

The ideas you write down should be used in the pre-briefing, in the aquarium, and in the post-briefing to pull together the facts they learned at the aquarium.


Print out the Aquarium Card onto cardstock for your students and have them write their names on the card.

Older students should bring a clipboard or notebook on which to record the answers.  Consider taking along a digital camera for their use as well.

For younger students, you may wish to tie the card on your child’s wrist by a ribbon or some yarn laced through a hole in the card.  Print or copy their version of the Aquarium Card (same file) onto colorful cardstock.  Your child can dictate answers to you as you go through the aquarium or write them in a notebook if they are old enough to do so.  If you use the digital camera to capture what they describe, it would make a fun and informative slideshow when you return.   Also,  iPhone voice memo, anyone?

Remember, before going to the aquarium discuss some of these concepts with your students so that they are prepared for the diversity of the aquarium.

In the aquarium:

Petting a Stingray

Ask them to take a limited number of notes on the limited number of the topics you brainstormed with them.  Remember to keep the number of topics age-appropriate!  You should not try to take in all subjects in an aquarium!


After the visit, debrief the students.  Reinforce the topics your students researched by discussing them and by reporting on paper.

When your students finish their report, have them attach the notes they took both before and during the visit.  If you have a younger child doing this activity,  you could use their Aquarium Card and any photos in a lapbook report format.

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Experiment: Sand in the Kitchen


But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  Matthew 7: 26-27

The Bible is clear about building upon sand.  It is not a good idea.  Houses built on a foundation of sand are not secure.  Some houses built on the beach have vanished without a trace after one day in a hurricane.  The sand is constantly shifting with the wind and wet and can offer little long term support.

You can do a demonstration in your kitchen (or better, out on the porch!) which will show the effects of the winds upon the sands.

One of the most common earth science experiments is the one in which the experimenter puts several sizes of dirt, stones, and sand into a jar with water.  After the jar is vigorously shaken, it is put down and the contents are observed.  What happens is that the solid material is laid down on the bottom of the jar in order of largest to smallest particle size.  This shows that water carries materials according to the energy it possesses.

Wind operates in a similar way.  The harder the wind blows, the more energy it possesses, and the larger the material it can carry.  Wind must have a great deal of energy of motion in order to carry solid things like rocks, but sand blows in the wind easily.


  • large shallow pan
  • sand
  • small rocks
  • a small plant
  • dirt
  • a fan


  1. Place a line of materials across one end of the pan about two inches from the end.  These should be a clump of sand, one of dirt, a few little rocks, some fine little pebbles.
  2. Place the fan next to the pan facing into it.
  3. Turn the fan on low power and observe the results.
  4. Turn the fan on high power and observe.
  5. Draw a picture of the results at high power.

Another demonstration shows what happens at the beach when the wind blows.


Same as before.


  1. Place the dirt in a ridge about 4 inches from the end of the pan.  Put sand next to the dirt 3 inches from the end.
  2. Place the little plant in the dirt as if it were planted there.  Place the pebbles and rocks around the ridges.
  3. Place the fan at the end of the pan as shown.
  4. Turn the fan on high power and observe the results.  Notice especially the patterns the sand makes after being carried by the wind.  How do the objects affect this pattern?

In the above demonstration, you should be able to create some sand dunes.  In another related activity, you could mix up the dirt and sand before letting the fan blow.

While the presence of dunes is characteristic of beaches, dunes in other places destroy the ecosystem in the area.  A subject for further research is the encroachment of the sand of the Sahara.  The Sand Dune National Mounument in the United States is another, smaller example of moving sand.  The effect of the wind and the denudation of the soils was graphically evident in the 1930’s on the plains of the United States.

You can use these topic areas to take your research to the library or internet and learn more about sand.  Have fun!