Objective: This is a project to reinforce children’s understanding of whitetail deer and their way of life. It can also build youngsters’ observational capacities, persistence, and fine motor skills. The activity is especially well suited for children aged 5 – 7.
To begin, we read a book about these creatures’ natural history. There are many books available on the topic, but I happen to like Whitetails by Tom Wolpert, part of the National Wildlife Federation’s series: Wildlife for Kids. While it’s out of print now, it’s still readily available and inexpensive as a used book from online book sellers. The photographs by Daniel J. Cox are very compelling, and they describe typical events in deer’s lives over the course of a single year. I do regret the book’s characterization of these mammals as ‘game animals’ – although they are certainly hunted, so I just revise that particular textual reference to “herbivores.” After reading the book, talking about the photographs, and including some child-initiated stories of their encounters with deer (important so that the young people can build confident public speaking skills as well as a sense of engagement / agency in the verbal learning process), students proceed to the visual project.
Some youngsters might choose to draw deer – and the forests and meadows that are their habitat – from memory. Others will prefer to work from reference photographs or drawings. For these students, I provide laminated images of deer taken from various magazines, artworks, or calendars. Still others might choose to complete the attached coloring pages.
If they select the coloring pages, remember to provide a tutorial (or review) of some of the different ways to hold colored pencils. There is an art to this! Show them how to place the point of the pencil on the outer contour line while resting the wider part of the colored pencil tip on the interior of the image to be colored. Demonstrate how to turn either the hand or the paper (or both) in such a way that the color is applied within the object. Model how to vary the angle of the pencil to a nearly vertical position over the paper when a thin line of color is required (as in the skinny deer legs). Show them how to apply colors in layers, often starting with a light sunny tint, and then adding darker tones. Once the coloring is completed, students should cut out the deer so that the images can be moved about. (I also like to include a little extending paper carpet beneath each animal or group of animals so that they can be free standing at times.)
For the tree’s foliage, I recommend switching media and using the broad sides of square beeswax crayons or unwrapped regular crayons. Colors can be applied with curving, almost circular hand motions. Alternately, you can offer the students yellow and olive green tempera paint in saucers along with moistened oval sponges. Demonstrate how to put a small and fairly thin amount of paint on the sponge. You can overlap the colors or put one on each side of the sponge. Test on a paper towel or scrap paper, and then press and lift the sponge to deposit airy and varied hues of yellow-green. This will represent the highly textured canopy with its masses of photosynthesizing leaves. When the ‘foliage’ has dried (or before sponge painting), gently fold the forest page along its horizontal axis, and with scissors, snip out three or four inch paths along several of the tree trunks. This will enable the students to slide the deer in and out behind the trees when they’re playing. Attach the forest page on three sides to a brightly colored piece of 12″ by 9″ construction paper using a glue stick. Leave the top side unglued so that ‘the forest’ with it’s colorful backing becomes not only a stage setting, but also a carrying case for the various cut-out deer.
Lastly, encourage the youngsters to make up their own stories about the Whitetails, using their colored and cut-out pictures as the actors. They can also draw more characters themselves. (What about a coyote, a porcupine, or a bear?) Sliding the deer among the trees will improve the student’s fine motor control as well as providing more options for drama, plot twists, and fun.
NSGS Core Ideas:
LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
LS1.A Structure and Function
LS1.B Growth and Development of Organisms
LS1.C Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
LS1.D Information Processing
LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
LS2.D Social Interactions and Group Behavior
LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
NSG Practices: Developing and Using Models
NSGS Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns, Structure and Function,
- Colored Construction paper
- Colored Pencils
- Beeswax Square or Triangular Crayons or Unwrapped regular crayons
- Glue Sticks
- Copies of the Deer Family for Forest Projects PDF
- Copies of A Forest for Deer Sponged project PDF
Here are the two PDFs: