For children who live in desert climates, learning about pine trees and snow is irrelevant. We all know preschoolers learn best when the information presented to them is important to their own lives and surroundings. For children living in the southwestern United States, this often means a desert climate. Cacti are abundant in this area, yet there are precious little resources available for preschoolers about this plant. Try some of these preschool cactus activities to introduce a lesson plan on desert living.
The Cactus Hotel
The Cactus Hotel, by Brenda Z. Guiberson, is a picture book about desert animals and the life cycle of a giant saguaro cactus. Read the book to your preschool class, being sure to pause and admire the illustrations. Be open to answering any questions the children may have about the animals in the book, or the desert landscape. On her website, Ms. Guiberson offers several classroom ideas to expand upon her book, The Cactus Hotel. Some of these ideas include:
- Growing four cacti using different watering techniques and comparing them after time.
- Discussing the animals that live in the cactus hotel and their importance to the life cycle of the saguaro.
- Locating the Saguaro National Monument on an Arizona map.
3D Cactus: You will need some green play-dough and several toothpicks for this activity. Show children pictures of a saguaro cactus, and encourage them to create their own cactus shape with the play-dough. Gently place the toothpicks into the finished cactus shape. This may also be a good place to introduce safety around cacti. Most children living in a desert climate know how much a cactus needle can hurt, but it bears repeating. Be sure to point out that cactus needles are very sharp.
Textured Cactus: Have the children cut out a saguaro shape from a piece of heavy construction paper or tagboard. Mix a few spoonfuls of Epsom salts into some watered down green fingerpaint. Allow the children to brush paint or finger paint on their cactus shape. The Epsom salts will create a sensory experience for children if they choose to fingerpaint. As an added activity, discuss the red saguaro cactus flower. Use torn tissue paper to create a red cactus flower. Explain that the flower is actually a fruit that contains thousands of seeds. When the fruit becomes very heavy, it falls off of the cactus and bursts open. The seeds are then ready to become a new saguaro cactus.
Desert Scene: Lay out the Epsom salts fingerpaint from the earlier activity, sandpaper, crayons, scissors, and glue sticks. Allow the children to freely create a desert landscape with the materials available. Ask the children what other materials they could use to create a desert scene. For a twist, use a large piece of butcher paper and allow all the children to create a desert scene cooperatively. Display the panoramic art piece for others to enjoy.
Expand your preschool cactus activities lesson plan with these children’s books:
- Cactuses: Rookie Read-About Science, by Allan Fowler
- The Seed and the Giant Saguaro, by Jennifer Ward
- Cactus Soup, by Eric A. Kimmel
- Cactus Hotel, by Brenda Z. Guiberson
- Clementina’s Cactus, by Ezra Jack Keats (this is a wordless picture book)
- A Desert Habitat by Kelly Macaulay