Play Like Water Creatures

March 3 is World Wildlife Day, a United Nations International day to celebrate the contribution that the world's animals and plants make to our lives and the health of the planet. This year's theme is Marine Life and Oceans with a focus on the importance of marine conservation.

One of our favorite ways to help kids develop care and empathy for other creatures is to set up play scenarios in which they pretend to be those creatures. When children use their imaginations to “become” another creature, they develop lasting empathy and love for that creature—love that can extend to all creatures.

In honor of this year's World Wildlife Day, we share three of our favorite ways to help kids play like water creatures. This activity is featured in our March Activity Calendar. Need your free copy? Visit today!

The Guide

Play Like Whales!

Humpback whales are giants of the sea known for their complex songs, acrobatic breaching and incredible journeys as they migrate from the equator to the north and south poles. Learn more about these majestic creatures together. Then, try out some of these fun ways to play like humpback whales:

Snacktime for whales: Explore how humpback whales eat through play! Humpbacks are baleen whales, which means that instead of using teeth to eat, they have a series of plates in their mouth they use to strain seawater for food. To catch food like humpback whales, fill a storage container or clear container with water and invite kids to add a bit of grass, broken up leaves or other small nature bits as pretend whale food. Then, offer kids a kitchen strainer and a toothed comb and invite them to “catch” their food. 

Move like whales: Humpback whales can use their powerful fluke (or tail fin) to launch themselves out of the water, also called breaching.  Kids can imagine they are whales breaching the waves as they jump as high as they can and then make a splash as they dive back into the water.

Whale song: Humpback whales are known for their complex songs, which can travel for great distances through the world’s oceans. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises often continue for hours on end. Listen here to an underwater recording of humpback whale songs that scientists recorded in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. Wonder together what the whales are communicating through their song. Imitate whale sounds together and make up a whale song of your own. 

Whale tails: Humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation on the underside of their tails that are unique to each whale, just as fingerprints are to humans. Kids can use this printable template to create their own whale tale pattern using paint, markers, nature treasures or any other art materials you have around the house.

Make an Octopus Garden!

The Octopus is a fascinating creature! Watch this video from National Geographic Kids about how octopuses blend in to their environment by changing colors. Then, invite kids to transform a stone into an octopus friend and use objects from nature to create an ocean garden for octopus to play. Here's how:

Step 1: Gather materials.
Gather a stone, a marker or acrylic paint, a clear bowl or bin, a bottle of water and some objects from nature (i.e. bark, leaves, sticks, pine cones, rocks).

Step 2: Make an Octopus.
Show kids the stone you collected and say, “Do you think we could turn this stone into an octopus friend?” Take a permanent marker and draw or paint a simple octopus design (see photo carousel) on your stone. Invite kids to help with this step as much as they would like.

Step 3: Create an octopus garden. 
Show kids the bin or bowl, water and nature treasures and wonder how they could use these materials to make an octopus garden for their octopus to play in. Let kids drive the play, offering support in gathering materials as needed. Kids may dive right in to creating a habitat for octopus, while some kids may enjoy exploring and playing with the water. Welcome all ways your child chooses to engage with the play materials.

Step 4: Support Play.
Octopuses can squeeze in and out of tight spaces. Wonder aloud if kids can create cozy spaces for octopus to hide away from predators. Talk about the types of plants and coral octopus might want in its ocean habitat. What nature treasures could your child use as a pretend coral or kelp. Notice if some of the nature treasures sink or float. How could these different objects be used to help octopus hide down low on the ocean floor or up high near the surface of the water? If you have more stones, suggest that they could become octopus friends. What other creatures might share this habitat with octopus? How does octopus like to play in its ocean garden?

Play Like Joyful Dolphins!

Dolphins are known for their playfulness as they dive and splash in the water and ride the waves. Who better to take playful inspiration from than our dolphin friends! Among the many playful behaviors observed in dolphins is their delight in creating and swimming through bubbles. Bubbles, like other round objects are one of the many things that naturally inspire feelings of joy in humans, too. To enjoy your own dolphin bubble play, all you need is some liquid dish soap, water and the okay to play! Here's how:

Step 1: Learn about dolphins. 
Watch a video about bottlenose dolphins from National Geographic Kids. To get kids inspired for bubble play, watch this video of a dolphin making and playing with bubble rings.

Step 2: Communicate like dolphins. 
Dolphins communicate with each other by making sounds like clicking and whistling. Try to make clicking sounds together. How many sounds can your child make with their mouth?

Step 3: Make bubbles like dolphins.
Offer your child a bin or bowl of water and some liquid dish soap. Welcome your child to experiment with adding different amounts of soap and stirring it up with their hands. Notice what happens when the soap and water mix and how the bubbly water feels on their hands.

Step 4: Play with bubbles! 
Enjoy some joyful bubble play together and invite your child to invent their own way of experimenting with their homemade bubble juice. 
  • Use a whisk or spoon to stir the soapy water and notice together how the mixture changes. 
  • Use a straw to blow into the bubbly water. Invite younger kids to practice blowing out in the air first (like dolphins blow air out their blowhole) before using their straw in the bubbly water. 
  • Make giant bubbles and “swim” through them like dolphins.
Read our Bubble Joy DIY for even more ideas!

Why is this activity great for kids?

Water play is simultaneously calming and stimulating, the ideal combination to support kids’ sensory and focus skills. As kids think about the needs of water creatures and how they like to play, they are building cognitive empathy- the ability to take the perspective of others.

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