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A Thematic Unit on Oceans for the Pre-K Class

written by: Kara Bietz • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 9/11/2012

Planning a week down by the sea for your pre-K class? This thematic unit is chock full of activities to plan an exciting lesson on ocean life for your pre-K children. Includes activities across the curriculum as well as a book list.

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    When beginning a new thematic unit, it is important to outline the reasons you have chosen a particular theme. Having a specific reason in mind for choosing a theme will help you decide on developmentally appropriate ways to introduce topics and activities. For example, the pre-K thematic unit, "Ocean", could be outlined this way:

    The theme of this unit is "Ocean". The ocean is an appropriate theme for our pre-K class because they are showing an interest in maps and globes and many of them will be taking vacations near the ocean this Spring. In this unit, we will be learning about some of the plants and animals that live in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as products the ocean supplies and ways to keep oceans clean.

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    Activities Across the Curriculum

    After outlining your purpose for choosing an ocean themed unit, it is time to list the activities you will focus on when studying the unit with your pre-K class. Save the longer explanation of the activity, as well as the purpose for each activity for the lesson plan. A unit plan will simply list the activities you would like to accomplish, as well as the materials you will provide in classroom centers when studying oceans.


    • Toilet paper tube octopus: Students will paint tubes and use scissors to cut strips, creating eight legs on the octopus. We will number the legs 1-8 as a math extension activity.
    • Meat tray aquarium: Students will use sand, blue plastic wrap, and ocean life stickers to create their own aquariums. The aquariums will decorate the bulletin board during the ocean unit.
    • Jellyfish: Jellyfish will be created, using crepe paper, paper plates, and paint. Jellyfish will be displayed on the ceiling to give the classroom an underwater feel.
    • Ocean stampers: Ocean stampers will be available in the art center throughout the unit. Allow children to create their own ocean stamps using potatoes.

    Circle Time: Books

    • I'm The Biggest Thing In The Ocean by Kevin Sherry
    • The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole
    • Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae
    • Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
    • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

    Circle Time: Music and Movement

    • Blue scarf dancing to the ocean sounds CD
    • Play Fish Fish Shark, an alternative to Duck Duck Goose
    • "Move Like A..." game using several sea creatures including octopus, turtle, fish, jellyfish, even coral or seaweed.

    Dramatic Play

    • Provide towels, empty sunscreen bottles, sunglasses and beach umbrellas for the dramatic play area. Allow children to explore materials on their own.

    Sensory Table

    • Add sand to the sensory table as well as plastic ocean life animals and white marbles to emulate pearls.
    • For the second half of the unit, add water to the sensory table. Use spinach or another leafy green to represent seaweed.
    • Provide shells and magnifying glasses in the sensory and science area for children to explore on their own.

    Library (Include the following titles in the classroom library)

    • A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle
    • Clams Can't Sing by James Stevenson
    • Fish Eyes by Lois Ehlert
    • Sea Turtles by Gail Gibbons
    • Swimmy by Leo Lionni
    • What's Under the Ocean by Janet Craig
    • Is This a House for Hermit Crab? by Megan McDonald
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    In Conclusion

    The pre-K thematic unit, "Ocean", can easily be stretched into two weeks or more if the children stay interested in the topic. As always, be sure the material presented to the children is relevant to their lives in interests, as well as developmentally appropriate and challenging enough for their age and stage.


    "Creative Activities for Young Children"; Mary Mayesky; 1995