Perhaps because so many children have teddy bears, they are fascinated by this animal. You can encourage your preschoolers to bring a bear to school to join them for this series of learning activities and lessons. According to NationalGeographic.com, black bears are the most common bear in North America, although this doesn’t mean that they can be found everywhere. If you aren’t certain if black bears live in your part of your state, check your state’s online site for wildlife information.
Black Bear Facts
Black bears live in forests, swamps, and other forested wetlands. Because black bears are omnivores (they eat plants, insects, fish, small mammals, and they will scavenge dead animals), they also move close to areas where people live because people put out birdseed, set their garbage in easily opened containers, and leave food in their cars or at campsites within black bear habitats.
The bears live in dens: rock cavities, hollow trees, and beneath branch piles. During the winter, they go into torpor, a deep sleep. They do not hibernate. The bears will wake up on a nice day during the winter and walk around looking for food.
Females are called sows and can weigh 175 pounds; males are called boars and can weigh up to 400 pounds. A bear stands approximately three-feet tall when on all fours and five-to-seven feet tall when they stand on their hind legs. Black bears can also appear brown, cinnamon, blue-gray, or even, rarely, white.
On average, a sow gives birth to three cubs in January. The cubs weigh only 8-ounces at birth but by the time they are a year old they can weigh 80 pounds. They can live up to 25 years.
Black bears have poor eyesight although they can see in color. They hear and smell well. Black bears can run up to 35 miles an hour, although they would not run for that length of time.
There are eight types of bears in the world: American Black Bear, Asian Black Bear, Brown Bears (which includes the subspecies, Grizzly Bear), Giant Pandas, Polar Bears, Sloth Bears, Spectacled Bears, and Sun Bears. You may want to print pictures of these different types of bears from online sources. Point out that although they are all bears, they are different types of bears that must live in different places in the world so they can find the best place to live and the foods they most want to eat.
To give kids a sense of the different sizes of the bears, estimate kids’ weights and have so many students stand in a group to represent the weight of a yearling black bear (80 pounds), a sow (175 pounds), and a boar (400 pounds). You can also compare this bear to other bears. For example a male grizzly bear can weigh 550 pounds. How many students does it take to equal the weight of a black bear?
Next, pull out a bottle filled with eight-ounces of water. Hand this around to the students and tell them that this is how much a cub weighs when it is born … much less than a human baby and a fraction of the size the cub will be as an adult.
What to Do if You See a Black Bear
If you see a black bear it is important to not run away. Hold your arms overhead, wiggle your fingers, and talk in a soothing voice. If you move away from the bear, do so walking backwards, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Have kids practice this behavior with a game that adapts, “Mr. Bear, Are You Awake?” One child is the bear who either curls up on the ground or stands with their back to the group. The other children start 20-feet away and ask, “Mr. Bear Are You Awake?” If the bear says, “no,” then the kids take another step forward. The bear should wait for the children to get close. When the bear answers the question, “yes,” the bear jumps up or turns to face the kids. Instead of running, the kids must stand in place, raise their hands overhead, and say, “Whoa, bear. Easy bear.”
Set out an assortment of play food and plastic animals that represent things a black bear could eat. After showing the kids some pictures of black bears, have each child select something that they think a bear would eat. The answer to everything is “yes!”
Bears have poor eyesight. You can try to represent this by holding a sheer piece of fabric over kids’ eyes so they can experience this different eyesight. Bears do have good hearing and you can test kids’ bear-hearing by having them sit in a circle with their eyes closed as you walk around the room and make quiet noises. Have the kids point in the direction of the sounds.
Black bears have a good sense of smell. You can hide cotton balls soaked in vanilla or raspberry extract, herbal tea bags, or a sprinkling of spices set into the bottom of yogurt cups and then hidden with crumbled paper. Can the kids identify the odors? If you create a matching set, then kids can try to match the smells. Bears would be great at this activity.
Fill your day with storybooks about bears and an art project (an easy one is to make bear masks from paper plates). Coordinating a snack is easy since bears eat anything!