Beach Unit

We spent a couple of weeks learning about the beach, and especially the animals that live there. I chose to focus only on the beach and coastal habitats because I felt like including the ocean would add too much. My son is very interested in animals and habitats so we will save the oceans for it’s own unit.

I’m quite far behind in writing posts, but I’m trying to catch up! For this “school year” my son is not officially required to go to school so I’m not obligated to report anything to the state of Maryland. However, I wanted to get started with some slightly more structured yet still child-led learning now. I’m still figuring it out right now and I’ll write up a general post about unit studies and how they work for us once I feel like I have a handle on it. For now, I’ll just share what we did and any resources that go along.

Beach Unit Table Setup

The table that was previously used in the Play Nook is morphing into a learning table with our own collection of books on the bottom shelf instead of toys. For this unit I put up a diagram poster of the coastal habitat (from a National Geographic magazine) and set out a basket full of books on our topic and another basket full of gorgeous shells. I set this out for him to discover one morning. He was very enthusiastic and began examine the diagram and shells and read the books.

Shells - Learning About Mollusks

The books sparked a lot of conversation and questions. His passion is always animals, so I knew we would go in that direction. We talked about how some animals live in the ocean but come out onto the coast while other animals stay only on the beach or only in the water. We concentrated on sea lions, birds, penguins, sea turtles, sea stars, crabs and other small mollusks.

He was particularly interested in sea turtles. We learned about the different species and where they live. We also watched some video of the mother sea turtle laying eggs and the babies going out to sea.

This was a great opportunity to practice some sequencing: First she finds a place, then she digs a hole, lays the eggs, covers the hole with her back flippers, and returns to the sea. When the babies are ready, they hatch, dig out of the hole, and race for survival to the ocean. He was really shocked to learn that they don’t stay with their mother!

We also talked about conservation and why we need to help sea turtles.

Below are two good videos of the nesting and hatching.

He’s been interested in food webs, so we looked at some that can be found in a coastal habitat. We talked about predators and prey and learned about how humans can help animals that aren’t supposed to come on shore like beached whales.

Integrating some math into our unit, we practiced some basic addition using shells as counters. He’s been increasingly interested in math after focusing on reading for such a long time. I think using manipulatives is such an easy way to add some interest to basic arithmetic. Just looking at numbers is too abstract for him. I also focus on the concept of zero by pointing out that zero means there aren’t any.

Using Shells as Math Manipulatives

Another morning, I set out some materials for him and his sister to make their own beach. They played with these for days. He was especially interested in using his for small world play while she preferred a more sensory experience.

Beach Sensory Tray - Build your own beach!

Beach Tray

We were inspired by one of the books we read to do some spiral artwork. After talking about the spiral shape and observing it in different natural objects, we used watercolor paper and permanent markers to create our own spiral shells. A bit of watercolor on top created an effect similar to the illustrations in the Eric Carle book.

A House For Hermit Crab Spiral Art

We also took two field trips to learn more about the beach. The first was the day trip to the Terrapin Nature Park on Kent Island, Maryland. I wrote a post all about it here. We also made a visit to the National Aquarium and paid extra attention to the Living Seashore exhibit, which features a touch pool where we saw mollusks still living in their shells and horseshoe crabs, among others. It was a great way to get more information about Maryland’s coastal habitats.

Lastly, I’d like to share some of our favorite books from the week. I feel like we got a good mix of fiction and nonfiction books. If you click on any of the books in the slideshow, you’ll be taken to Amazon and my blog will get a small commission. (Thanks for your support!)


There was so much to learn about the beach environment. I am working on figuring out how to plan for these unit study weeks while still maintaining the freedom to veer in a different direction if he shows interest. I’m also trying to figure out how to involve or occupy my two-year old while we work! Ha! Check back later this week for a Fly or Crash? experiment and Sunflowers.

Please share any resources you love for learning about the coast!



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