Tot School/Preschool: Ocean Theme

We decided to restart tot school (which now includes actual preschool activities, since Damien is older) for the summer! Damien has been asking why he isn’t in preschool anymore, and since I have this summer off I had some free time and do much better when we have planned activities (versus accidentally letting them watch a ton of TV), planning some themed activities seemed like a good answer.

Damien and I brainstormed some monthly themes for the summer and came up with: Ocean, Bugs, and Space (loosely corresponding to June, July, and August – by September hopefully Damien will be in a real preschool for at least a couple days a week, and we’ll have a new baby so my creativity levels will be zero anyway.) He wanted to do Ocean first, which makes sense because we’re going on a weekend to the coast with Dan’s mom in June.

I know this is totally unnecessary but because I am a planner (and also a teacher without a classroom – well, I have a bunch of classrooms but none that require me to actually lesson plan) I broke each unit down into mini units. For Ocean, we have:

  • Tidepools and Ocean Zones
  • Fish
  • Ocean Creatures (with an emphasis on octopi and jellies, because my kids are interested in them/there are lots of cute crafts involving them)
  • Whales and Sharks

For the entire unit, we had a few themed boxes that I made from things we had around the house:

Ocean Book Box (and these are all board books, since I’m leaving them in easy reach for our little book ripper)


Ocean Toy Box:


a Melissa and Doug peg puzzle, an ocean-themed jigsaw puzzle (we lost the box so I forgot the brand), a wooden octopus toy, a toy shark, a Lou Seal plushie (what can I say; we’re Giants fans) :), and a cuddly sea horse (it was Damien’s when he was a baby)

Ocean Sensory Bin:


Please disregard my constantly-messy table 😉

blue and white marbles (from the dollar store, otherwise I would have gone for sea glass), shells, miscellaneous fish toys (from the Coral Reef Toob and various Octonauts sets), and the octopi from a Barrel of Octopi (like a Barrel of Monkeys, but with octopi.)

Books (mostly from the library, which is why I kept them separate from our books – I didn’t want them to get wrecked!) This section got REALLY LONG and became its own post – find it here!

Table Work: (this was mostly for Damien, but Rowen was able to join in when he could)

(click the photos to make them bigger)

  • I loved this Ocean Preschool Pack from Home School Creations (both Damien and Rowen were able to do activities in this one)
  • This shadow match from Busy Little Bugs was also something both kiddos could do
  • These ocean-themed clip cards from A Little Pinch of Perfect were great for Damien
  • We also incorporated some coloring pages and preschool workbooks we already had (we really like the BrainQuest PreK Workbook)

Here’s how each mini unit went:

Tidepools and Ocean Zones

(I talk about this mini unit in more detail in this post)

Songs & Rhymes:

  • Songs: We used the ocean page of KidSparkz pretty much exclusively this week. We sang “I Went Swimming in the Ocean” and changed the words to “Sticky, Sticky Little Starfish” to “Sticky Little Friend Sea Star”, which not only rhythmically works better but is scientifically correct to this Biology teacher’s daughter. 😉
  • Rhymes: We acted out “Five Little Seashells” and “Holding Up a Seashell” with real seashells. I made crab puppets to act out “Five Cranky Crabs” (because rhymes are way more fun when you can act them out, according to my kids.)


  • Crab hats – we bought a kit from Michael’s, but you could easily make it yourself too
  • Crab cups – I saw a picture on Pinterest but can’t find a post to go with it, but it’s really easy. First paint cups, then add pipe cleaner limbs and eye stalks, and finish off with googly eyes. My kids couldn’t figure out how to poke the pipe cleaners through the styrofoam cup, but other than that, this was a success.
  • Under the Sea Paper Plate – it’s always nice to make a craft with supplies you already have on hand, and this one definitely fit the bill. Damien was SUPER into it, but Rowen was mad that he couldn’t eat all the goldfish crackers and literally cried every time I glued one to his plate – thus he only had three fish, lol.
  • Paper Plate Sea Horses – so cute!


(click the photos to make them bigger)

  • We played with our tide pool as a sensory activity after we made it (see Science for how to make it). I threw in the failed sensory sand and let that lend an extra layer of authenticity to our tide pool! (It did leave white residue all over the back porch, thanks to the baking soda, but at least it’s clean!)
  • Play Doh mats – I saw this idea on the internet but you had to purchase the printable, so I made my own using Googled clip art/the magic of Paint. I made a double sided pirate mat for Damien (one side was adding an eyepatch to a pirate, one side was putting gold in a treasure chest) and a double sided ocean mat for Rowen (adding bubbles to some fish and a spout to a whale.)

Science: (we alternated sensory activities with science activities)

(click the photos to make them bigger)

  • Tide Pool Experiment – my kids were really into this one. Like the link, we got a disposable baking pan to use for our tidepool. Damien loved building the rocky part of the tidepool, and it was great how adding water gradually showed him the difference for the animals during low tide or high tide. Rowen mostly wanted to dismantle the tidepool, which both boys had a lot of fun doing in the subsequent days (the entire thing ended up in their water table, so I guess the pan was kind of pointless…oops.)
  • Ocean Zones in a Jar – this was such a cool project and yet stressful because of my kids’ ages, lol. They were FASCINATED but wanted to be a little TOO helpful. I enlisted my husband’s help and we still couldn’t get the top layer (rubbing alcohol) to sit on top of the oil, but even with the alcohol under the oil it made a separate layer (albeit a less defined one) so we had all the ocean zone layers regardless. This would definitely be a fun project to do if your kids are a bit older and can help more!


  • Sand dollar cookies – the idea is from here, but I will fully admit I cheated and bought pre-made sugar cookie dough. They turned out soooo cute though!
  • Sandy shells – aka shell pasta with Parmesan ‘sand’; idea from here. When I went to make this I discovered I was out of shell pasta (OF COURSE) but I did have a box of Annie’s Macaroni – the white kind with shells – so I made that instead and of course the kids liked it.
  • Fruit smoothies – it’s tropical, right? 🙂 We just threw frozen fruit in the blender with vanilla yogurt and milk.
  • Twinkie Submarines – these turned out really cute. I bought banana Twinkies (who knew there was such a thing?) and even I enjoyed snacking on them (which is good, because there are a lot of Twinkies in a box! I’ve literally never bought Twinkies before.)
  • Cheese and Apple Pirate Ships – the healthiest and simplest snack, which both my kids happened to LOVE (we went through three apples and the majority of a block of cheese… in one day.)


(I talk about this mini unit in more detail in this post)

Songs & Rhymes:

Table Work: see last week


  • Handprint goldfish – idea at the bottom of this post. Simple and cute, but I wish my orange paint would have been brighter…
  • Angelfish popsicle sticks – I taped the popsicle sticks to the table to make for easy painting. Both boys enjoyed this.
  • Fork pufferfish – We made our pufferfish on paper plates and just used some of the crimped edge for fins – it worked great! Our fork prints aren’t as distinct as the sample, but the kids had fun using an unusual painting tool, and that’s what matters.
  • Cupcake wrapper fish – the top picture in this post. This turned out surprisingly cute, and we happened to have colorful cupcake wrappers on hand already.


  • Ocean themed play dough – I didn’t love the texture of this dough (we did find we could periodically add more conditioner to the dough to make it last longer), but it was fun to try something other than the stereotypical stovetop play dough, and it smelled amazing.
  • Ocean sensory bag – This one was really fun, and yes, it smelled great too. 🙂 Both Dan and I ended up absentmindedly playing around with it, lol.


  • Play Dough Island – I showed Damien pictures of this the day before and he was REALLY excited about it. Both he and Rowen enjoyed painting the plate, looking for nature items, and building the island, so I would say this project was a big success!
  • Life cycle of a fish – We watched this video, then Damien and I used this coloring printable to make our own life cycles. (Rowen was not at all into it, but Damien LOVED it – he even wanted to make a second one of his own!)
  • How do fish breathe? Video & experiment – Damien and I did this while Rowen was napping, and it turned out to be his favorite part of the whole week. In this experiment, we mixed coffee grounds into water, with coffee grounds representing oxygen. Damien could see how the “gills” (coffee filter) caught the “oxygen” (coffee) and let the water flow through. He seriously wanted to watch water go through the coffee filter for an hour!


  • Snack fishing – idea from here. This was an easy snack that the kids both liked, and Damien even did it right. 🙂
  • Little fishy cupcakes – eh, kind of cute, but we didn’t have nearly enough M&Ms to make it look really good. (I have to say, they tasted great though!)
  • Goldfish letters – sneaking some learning into snack time 😉
  • Jello aquariums – our fail of the week – I didn’t even bother to take a picture. Turns out my kids neither like gummy fish nor the berry flavor of Jello I purchased, so I ended up emptying most of these into the trash can. (I intentionally bought a light blue flavor so we could see through it, but it wasn’t nearly as yummy as the darker blue Jello. Oops.)
  • Under the Sea graham crackers – These were simple to make and turned out really cute! I think the original pinner made these for a mermaid party, and I would totally make these for a party (although I kept mine pretty simple because I was making them for unappreciative small children, lol.)

Ocean Creatures:

(I talk about this mini unit in more detail in this post)

Songs & Rhymes:

  • Songs: From Everything Preschool, we sang “Mr. Octopus and Mrs. Crab” and “Fishy Pokey” (with whatever ocean animal you want to use substituted for Fish – we did Octopus and Jelly)
  • Rhymes: From KidSparkz, “Once I Saw an Octopus” and “The Motion of the Ocean” (a repeat from last week that the kids love)

Table Work: see first week.


  • Octopus handprint – It was simple to make, but I had to convince both my kids not to eat all the Froot Loops… (We don’t normally have ‘the colorful Cheerios’, as Damien calls them, around the house, so I guess it’s exciting despite the fact that it’s, you know, cereal.)
  • Jelly plates – Another simple but cute craft – it might be my new pick for cutest animal they’ve made.
  • Paper bag jellies – Continuing my theme of ‘crafts made from stuff you already haave in your house’… Damien got into this but Rowen didn’t want to paint the bag. Oh well!
  • Coffee filter jellies


  • Ocean slime – I actually managed to get both Damien and Rowen involved in the making of this slime, and we had a lot of fun playing with it; that said, I honestly think I had the most fun, lol!
  • Ocean ice melt – I used various small containers in our kitchen and filled them with shells, glass marbles, plastic sea creatures, and food coloring (blue, green, and combos of the two) and froze them. Then the next day the boys poured warm water over the ice in their water table. They played with the ice (and discovered toys) for a really long time, but next time I wouldn’t use as much food coloring, because it was kind of messy on our back porch.


  • Will it sink or float? – We did this while Rowen was napping. Damien picked ten random household objects (mostly toys) and we made a chart, then we experimented to see if the item sunk or floated in a bowl of water. Damien enjoyed it but mostly enjoyed playing with all the items in the water afterward!
  • Electric eels – I had Damien and my dad do this activity together while Dan and I were packing (since we were moving that week.) They cut up gummy worms (aka eels) into skinny pieces, soaked them in baking soda water, then put the soaked ‘eels’ in vinegar and they danced around! (for a few seconds.) Damien loved it and both he and my dad had to eat a few non-‘electric’ eels, haha!



  • String cheese octopus – Damien was pretty unimpressed with the mustard face I drew on (“I DON’T LIKE THIS SPICY STUFF MAMA”) but other than that, they were easy and cute.
  • Octopus cupcakes – so yummy and so cute! (and so easy, which was a bonus)
  • Octopus snacks – easy to make and I thought they were delicious, but my children utterly rejected them! Oh well, more giant Ritz Bits for me. 🙂
  • Beach-themed pudding kit – I randomly found a kit, made by Jello, which featured vanilla jello, graham cracker crumbs, and ocean creature gummies. Damien and my mom made this together, and they were really yummy! (They were sort of like this.)

Whales & Sharks:

We did a shortened mini unit this week, because we were in the process of moving – I was sad to abandon such cute craft ideas, but I had to take our library books back before we left, so I decided it would be easier to just start a new unit after we moved.

Songs & Rhymes:



  • Footprint shark – I thought this turned out pretty cute, but Dan thought they looked like ghosts lol…Oh well.


  • Feed the Shark – This was a fairly simple idea in theory, but it took Dan and me FOREVER to find something on which to attach the open shark mouth (I saw on the internet that other people used empty baby wipe containers, but baby wipes hardly come in containers anymore so we only had one that I didn’t want destroyed!) I finally sacrificed a tiny Converse shoebox I had been saving for years because it was cute (I swear I’m not really a hoarder, but I am a longtime Converse wearer…) Both kids really liked playing with it, so I guess it was a worthy sacrifice! (And it was another thing I didn’t have to move, since they played with it to the point of destruction…lol)



  • Shark and whale size comparison – originally I wanted to outline the size of sharks either on the carpet with painter’s tape or on the sidewalk with chalk, but since we were moving that just didn’t work out (we didn’t have enough clear carpet/sidewalk…) So instead I printed out charts of shark size/whale sizes from the BBC website (shark link, whales link), cut them out, and had Damien arrange them by size (he glued one set on by himself and made me glue the other half after he sorted them, haha.) We did it during Rowen’s nap and I was surprised at how much Damien got into it.
  • Whale blubber experiment – This was so fun!! If you have a kid interested in ocean animals at all, between the ages of four and like fourteen, you should totally do this experiment (and maybe even older than fourteen, because I found it fascinating!) We did a simplified version of the experiment – we didn’t take the temperature of the water or anything like that; we were simply trying to answer the question “how do whales (and other se animals) keep themselves warm in really cold water?” and Damien came out of it with a clear understanding. So fun!


  • Shark fin Jello cups – we actually did pudding instead of Jello (apparently my kids are the only kids ever who aren’t Jello fans?) and I have to say, you’d either need really tall cups or really short spoons, because I always had a bit of spoon peeking out the top between the whipped cream and fin – and I have kiddie silverware!
  • Shark teeth cheese – from this pin, and I also included various fishy snacks (Finding Dory graham crackers and multicolored goldfish.)
  • Banana shark – this was soooo frustrating to construct; I am not a banana sculptor! I had to cut the banana extra short because of brown spots, and so it turned out to look more like a dolphin than a shark – which is why I had to make it viciously eat that unsuspecting goldfish cracker. 🙂

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