Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Learning about Camo

After this activity/activities students will have experienced the difference between "predating" non-camouflaged jelly bellies and camouflaged jelly bellies.  As a result, students will clearly understand how camouflage helps creatures that use it, survive predation.  Young students will have an experience they can describe to others when asked for an example of how camouflage helps the animals that use it to demonstrate their understanding.  For older students, they can graph the experience and create a visual representation depicting the difference between camouflaged and un-camouflaged prey.


1.  Find a bunch of toys that you don't mind having outside and in the dirt that blend in with your landscaping as well as two or three toys that will stand out.  While your child is distracted "hide" the toys in plain site.  Have your child count how many toys he sees from the window and point them out to you.

2.  Let your child go outside and find all the toys - don't make this easy, let him/her work to find some of the ones that blend in the best.

3.  Have your child sort the toys into easy - to - find and hard - to - find piles.  Ask your child why he/she thinks some of the toys were harder to find.  Do not critique the answer, just repeat it back to them as though you are making sure you understand his/her answer clearly.

4.  Back inside, discuss what camouflage is, or read a book about it.  There are plenty of non-fiction books about camouflage out there and even more books about animals or ecology with a section about camo within.  for elementary - aged kids I suggest the book, "Where in the Wild".  It is simply a collection of well-taken photos where you try to find the animal within the photo.  There is always a poem to go with the photo that gives you a hint about the type of animal you are looking for and a flap to open if you really get stuck and can't find the hidden creature.  (The ISBN-13 is 978-1-58246-207-3 and the poetry was written by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy, while the photos were provided by Dwight Kuhn).

A Follow Up for your Preschoolers, OR a great activity for your Elementary or Middle School students:

1.  Find a whole bunch of items all in the same color (beads, buttons paper clippings etc - see photo).  After making sure everything you will be using is clean, place all these items and some contrasting candies (skittles, m&m's, jelly bellies etc. all work) in the bowl.  (Set the same number of candies of similar color aside for the next round)  Hand your child a pair of small tongs, or large tweezers.  Your child must remove the candies one at a time but as fast as he or she can. Time how long it takes for your child to find all the candies in the bowl.  If you are doing this activity in a classroom setting, break the kids into groups and run the "experiment" once for each child.  Have your students record, and share their times in order to make a whole-class graph.  If you are doing this activity with one or two children only, run the experiment 5 or 6 times (perhaps using non-edible items, so they don't get a sugar rush) and graph the separate experiences.

2. Repeat step five, but do the step with the candies of a similar color to your background instead of a contrasting color.  It will likely take longer for your child to find the candies of a similar color.  Point this out to your predator and ask why he/she thinks it took longer one time over the other.  If the answer wasn't already about camouflage or the color blending in to the background in some way during the first activity, it will likely be this time.

3.  With older kids you can do a similar activity about mimicry using two very similarly colored sets of jelly bellies.  For example, have a solid red color and a speckled red color in a bowl together with a bunch of other red items.  Ask your older child to ONLY get the speckled jelly bellies and even with the tweezers, give them 15 seconds to get as many as they can.  They will likely have a hard time distinguishing between the jelly beans when trying to work this quickly and under these circumstances.  Then read a book or website that discusses mimicry and the variety of reasons mimicry is useful in the animal world.

Item of note, these activities are largely analogous to the prey being camouflaged, however predators use camouflage as well.  Mimicry is used as a type of camouflage, but it also has other applications in the animal world as well.  For children in the later Elementary grades you'll want to point this out, for the younger kids, you are simply introducing the idea that animals also play hide and seek and they use clever costumes to help them be successful so these details are less important.

For the purposes of this photo, I've included both the contrasting yellow candies, as well as the more similar red and purple candies. You can even see the yellow ones through the red feathers, however the other two colors are a little tougher to spot except when they are right on top. When your child is trying to hurry, this task becomes even more difficult.

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