Children's perception of the desert runs to thoughts of extreme heat, dry air and lifeless sandy landscapes. Children may be surprised to learn that the desert actually plays home to many plants and animals that have adapted to the harsh climate of their habitat. Desert habitat projects for kids give them a glimpse into the diversity of life in the desert and survival adaptations.
Desert Life 24/7
Desert heat drives many animals underground during the day, coming out only at night when the cooler air sets in. To demonstrate the cycle of desert life, lay out a four-square grid with light blue paper on the top left, black on top right and sand paper sheets at the bottom. Tape the sheets together on the back. Research the plants and animals that live in the desert and make construction paper cutouts that illustrate daytime animals, nocturnal animals, plants, underground root systems, tunnels and burrows. Glue the cutouts in the day or night panel, above or underground, as appropriate to show how the animals use the plants or natural cavities as shelter or food to survive and their daily activities. Alternately, kids can draw the scenes using crayons or pastels.
Looking at the dry desert conditions, it is hard for children to imagine how any plant could live there with no apparent source of water. A science experiment with a cactus sponge will demonstrate how the desert giants get water in the midst of barrenness. Cut two large cactus shapes out of thick kitchen sponges. Weigh each one and record the weight. Fill two glasses with 2 ounces of water. Set one cactus upright in each glass for about one hour or until all the water is thoroughly absorbed. Weigh the sponges again and record the weights. Lay the wet cacti on a cookie sheet, leaving one uncovered and wrapping the other with waxed paper. Place in a warm, dry location. Check and weigh daily to track the drying process. Compare which one dries faster and why. Discuss how a cactus' waxy coating helps it retain water so it can live even with the limited supply.
The southwestern United States is known for its brightly colored desert landscapes of buttes, canyons and towering rock formations. Children can use multicolored layers of colored sand in the reds, oranges and brown shades to create southwest desert landscape sculpture.
The coral snake is a venomous and dangerous resident of the southwestern deserts. Making a model of this poisonous viper gives parents and teachers an opportunity to educate kids on distinguishing a harmless scarlet kingsnake from the deadly coral snake. As the saying goes, "Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on yellow, kill a fellow." To make a paper snake, draw a large spiral from the center of a sheet of paper to the outer edge. Cut along the spiral line and trim the inner end to resemble a snake head. Make two of these snake forms and color one in the kingsnake's red-black pattern and the other in the coral snake's red-yellow-black pattern.
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