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Bears in the classroom: Picture books that matter

In a survey of children’s picture- book themes, a clear standout is books about bears. Few subjects—fictional or factual—stimulate more enthusiasm and curiosity, and offer more comfort.
Traditional favorites like Pooh and Paddington—with all their adventures and challenges—set a high standard that current writers and illustrators embrace and emulate. And to the delight of teachers and children, the best bear books also offer opportunities for activities that satisfy and energize preschool children.
Use the books in the list below to guide children in their explorations of nature, math, movement, nutrition, and language. Let the activities spark your imagination and skill in developing new ways to help children discover and learn through every book you share.

Asch, Frank. Good Night, Baby Bear; Bear Shadow; Moonbear’s Shadow
Brett, Jan. Goldilocks and the Three Bears; Berlioz the Bear; The Three Snow Bears
Carlstrom, Nancy W. and Bruce Degen. Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?
Degan, Bruce. Jamberry
Flack, Marjorie. Ask Mr. Bear
Fox, Mem. Sleepy Bears
Freeman, Don. Beady Bear; Corduroy
Galdone, Paul. The Three Bears
Gibbons, Gail. Polar Bears
Gravett, Emily. Orange Pear Apple Bear
Heller, Ruth. How to Hide a Polar Bear and Other Mammals
Jandl, Ernst and Norman Junge. Next Please
Langstaff, John and Nancy Winslow Parker. Oh, A-Hunting We Will Go
Martin, Bill and Eric Carle. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?; Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
McCloskey, Robert. Blueberries for Sal
McPhail, David. Drawing Lessons from a Bear; The Teddy Bear; Big Brown Bear’s Up and Down Day
Minarik, Else Holmelund. Little Bear
Moss, Miriam. The Snow Bear
Prater, John. The Bear Went Over the Mountain
Rosen, Michael and Helen Oxenbury. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Schertle, Alice and Matt Phelan. Very Hairy Bear
Thompson, Lauren and Stephen Savage. Polar Bear Night
Weiss, Nicki. Where Does the Brown Bear Go?
West, Colin. I Don’t Care! Said the Bear
Wilson, Karma and Jane Chapman. Bear Snores On; Bear’s New Friend
Wood, Don. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear

Bear vocabulary to explore
Use picture books to stimulate conversation and build vocabulary. Be aware of new concepts, and provide background information for unfamiliar terms, ideas, and experiences. In South Texas, for example, few children have experiences with snow. Therefore, books about the Arctic, igloos, and polar bears will need additional explanation—and demonstration—for children to make the most of their activities and discoveries.
The following words are commonly used in children’s books about bears. Be prepared to help children pronounce the words and learn what each means. Help older children write the words by always having paper, pencils, and word cards available in the writing center.

brown bear
bear hug

A boy and an enthusiastic, rhyme-making bear go “…under the bridge and over the dam looking for berries, berries for jam.”

Taste test
(ages 3 and older)
Here’s what you need:
fresh berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
sugar-free jams made from the same berries
small spoons, one for serving each kind of jam
whole wheat crackers
serving plates
plastic knives

1. Gather the children for snack. Explain that they will be able to taste fresh berries and jam made from the same kind of berry. Give each child a plastic knife and a plate.
2. Invite children to place a few of each kind of berry on their plates.
3. Pass a basket of crackers and invite the children to serve themselves two or three.
4. Pass the jars of jam and let each child put a small spoonful of each kind on a cracker.
5. Encourage the children to taste and evaluate the differences in the fresh fruit and the jam. Explore vocabulary like and
6. Older children might want to do a blindfolded taste test to try to match the flavors of the fresh berry with the corresponding jam.

Jam rolls
(ages 4 and older)
Here’s what you need:
baking sheet
aluminum foil
permanent marker
plastic knives
crescent roll dough
shallow bowl

1. Prepare for the activity by cutting 6-inch squares of aluminum foil. Write children’s names on the foil squares. Put the jam in a shallow bowl.
2. Explain to children that they will make jam rolls for snack. Review cooking safety rules and give children time to thoroughly wash their hands.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
4. Give each child a square of foil and a crescent of dough.
5. Show how to spread a small amount of jam on the dough and roll it starting at the pointed end (to keep the jam encased).
6. Invite the children to roll their dough and then place the foil on the baking sheet.
7. Bake the rolls for 12 to 15 minutes. The rolls will be golden brown.
8. Serve for snack with milk or juice.

Bear’s New Friend
Bear has a new friend the in woods. Word play with “Hoo” eventually identifies the new animal as an owl.

Who’s missing?
Gather a group of children and play who’s missing? One child covers eyes or faces away from the group, while the other children trade seats. One child leaves the group and calls out “Who’s missing?” Challenge the first child to identify the one who left.

Sound hide-and-seek
(ages 3 and older)
Here’s what you need:
picture of an owl
clear, adhesive-backed plastic or laminator

1. Find a picture of an owl. One source is a search of Google™ images.
2. Laminate the picture and trim neatly.
3. Show the picture to the group. Explain that you will hide it somewhere in the classroom—in the puzzle closet, under the sink, or among the paint jars, for example.
4. Ask the children to cover their eyes. Hide the picture.
5. Guide the children to the hiding place by giving clues like “hot,” “cold,” “under,” “near,” and “higher.”
Vary the activity for older children by providing a classroom map with an X marking the hiding place.

The Snow Bear
A lost polar bear’s friends reassure him until his mother arrives.

Snow in the sensory table
(ages 3 and older)
Here’s what you need:
sensory table or several large dishpans
cups and spoons
crushed ice, ice shavings, or snow

1. Prepare for the activity by putting ice shavings or snow in the sensory table or dishpans. Make sure to have protective aprons and a supply of gloves or mittens for this cold play.
2. Invite children to explore—scooping, measuring, and packing—the ice or snow. Playing with these materials in the sensory table provides a different experience even for those children who are familiar with snow.

Animal name rhyme
After reading , go back through the book and look at the sequence of animals pictured. Ask children to identify the animal—polar bear, rabbit, goose, owl, moose, and so forth. Challenge children to think of a rhyming word for each animal name—such as and

Orange Pear Apple Bear
Five simple words and great illustrations invite giggles about color, position, and sequence.

Match the characters
(ages 18 months and older)
Gather a few toddlers and help them identify a pear, an orange, and an apple. Share the book and help them match pictures to the fruit.

Pantomime the actions
(ages 3 and older)
Give four children roles to play: an orange, a pear, an apple, and a bear. Challenge them to act out the actions of the book—an apple sits next to a bear, atop a pear, and so forth. Prepare for giggles and eager actors.

Next, Please
A toy penguin, duck, teddy bear, frog, and puppet wait in line to be fixed at the doctor’s office.

Dramatic play props
Recreate the doctor’s office with dramatic play props. Provide teddy bears and first-aid supplies—bandages, Ace® bandages, gauze, tape, disposable gloves, sanitary masks, and stethoscope, for example. Make sure to include pencil and pad for writing prescriptions and wound care instructions.

Big Brown Bear’s Up and Down Day
Bear and Rat engage in a clever game of tug-of-war over a slipper and resolve their conflict with generosity, peace, and friendship.

Slipper art
(ages 4 and older)
Here’s what you need:
colored construction paper
slipper template
collage materials

1. Prepare the activity by enlarging and tracing the slipper template onto heavy cardboard. Cut out at least two templates for the children to use.
2. Introduce the activity after reading and discussing . Talk about how Rat wanted to make a slipper into a bed. Reference the nursery rhyme “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.”
3. Show children how to hold the template on construction paper and trace the outline.
4. Invite the children to cut out their slippers.
5. Use collage materials—ribbon and fabric scraps, foil, and paper bits—and pictures cut from used magazines to decorate Rat’s slipper bed.