While last year’s farm and fall themes were very popular, not to mention all the apple and pumpkin activities, I decided to mix things up a bit and kick off our new preschool year with a desert theme. No, not desserts, (wouldn’t that be tasty), but deserts, as in the hot, dry, sandy environment.
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I focused on the North American deserts, since living in the northwest that is the kind of desert my kids and students would be most familiar and most real to them. Take a look at what we’ve been up to:
Picture Books About Deserts
As with any preschool unit I plan, I always begin with a set of really great books to help us learn. These are some of our favorite books we read while in our desert theme.
Eight Desert Theme Preschool Activities
Sensory Cactus Craft
Students created a sensory cactus craft by adding dyed rice to a cactus made from green construction paper. At the bottom of the paper, students sprinkled orange “sand” (dyed salt). They used tissue paper to make fruit for the cactus and black poppy seeds for the seeds of the fruit. We mounted the cacti on black paper since, oddly ennough, the cactus flowers bloom at night, not during the day.
Desert Versus Non-Desert Animal Sort
After reading several books about the desert and the kinds of animals found in the desert, students looked at nomenclature cards of desert animals. I added some cards from my farm unit from last fall and the students sorted where each animal belonged depending on where it lives. During our sort, we discussed the physical characteristics of each animal that helped us decide where it should live.
Cactus Flower Counting Game
This was a really fast and game to put together for our desert unit. I cut out a cactus shape from a half sheet of felt. Students drew a number card and then counted buttons of the same number to add to the cactus. It was a great desert theme activity that reinforced skills in counting and one to one correspondence.
Desert Sunset Watercolor Art
Students used basic water colors to paint a desert sunset using a wet-on-wet technique. This means that students first got their paper completely wet before adding watercolor in droplets. Doing this technique causes the watercolor paint to “bleed” into the water on the paper, causing a blended look. Just a note: use extra thick paper if not watercolor paper. Also, use masking tape to tape all edges completely before painting. Allow the painting to dry completely before removing. (If the tape is removed before the paint is dry, the paper will dry warped and bubbly.) After the paintings were dry, the students used pencil and markers to dry cacti at various ages, based on a few books we’d previously read.
Dictated Desert Stories
One morning for writing practice I allowed the students to use different sized crayons and markers to color a desert landscape. While coloring, I asked students to tell me about their picture, encouraging specific details. I wrote exactly what each student dictated in a light colored pencil and then students traced over my writing with their own pencil. (This activity was surprisingly popular. I kept giving the students a time limit and they kept saying, “But I’m not done yet!” So, we continued working.)
Science Investigation: How Does a Cactus Retain Water?
One of the books we read discussed how cacti retain water in the hot, hot desert. The students and I set up an experiment using paper towels. One paper towel was laid flat on a baking sheet, while the paper towel next to it was folded like an accordion, like the pleats of a cactus. students took turns giving the same number of squirts of water to each paper towel until it both were soaked through. We then placed the baking sheet outside in the sun. Students predicted which paper towel would dry out faster and about an hour later we checked our results. This is just one of many fun science activities to be found.
Desert Toad Craft
What is a desert preschool theme without learning about the interesting spade foot toad? We read a book about the spade foot toad, so I came up with this craft to help the students to hone in on how it survives in desert with no water.
I cut circles and draw a line down the middle of each one. On one side I drew a sun and birds, on the other side some rain clouds and rain. I also printed off an image of a frog I found on the internet. I folded and glued together two sheets on construction paper, one light blue and the other brown, so that there was an equal-ish sized flap on each end. Once students colored everything, I attached the circle with a brass brad and glued the frog to a craft stick which was slid through a small slit at the crease of the bottom fold. When students show the sunny side of the circle, the frog hides in the ground. When it rains, the students push the craft stick up to make the frog pop out.
Cactus Pattern Blocks
This activity came by somewhat accidentally. I had gotten out the pattern blocks just for the students to explore as a fine motor activity. The next thing I knew, they were designing cacti using the pattern blocks.
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I love teaching by theme because I get to teach an inch wide and a mile deep. It was no different with this desert theme, either. This is not to say that I don’t listen what my preschoolers want to learn, but I love providing tons of activities related to a single theme so that my preschoolers can really become familiar with a specific topic. And let me tell you, my preschoolers know a lot about the desert now!
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I am Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home mama of five! I am the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught range of levels, including preschool and college, and a little bit of just about everything in between. Right now, my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction