Lion Book

Lion Book
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY with HOMESTEAD ELEMENTARY in Aurora, Illinois. Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Go Batty For Bats: Biggest! Littlest!



Reading BATS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST! is the perfect way to start getting to know these amazing animals.  Then keep on exploring and learning about bats as you have fun with these activities.


Mother and Pup Reunion





Mother Mexican free-tail bats leave their babies behind in a nursery cave. When they return, they always find their baby. How do they do it?  Play this game to find out.











Cut a sheet of paper into twenty pieces.  On each of ten slips, write the name of a sound, such as tweet or click. Copy the name of each sound onto a second slip of paper.  Next, have a group of twenty people gather together.  Pass out one set of sound slips. Those players are now the “Mother bats”.  Have them leave the room. Or they can go to one wall and turn their backs on the others.  Next, pass out the other set of sound slips.  These players are now the “Bat Pups”.   Have these bats stand close together.



Tell the Mother Bats that their job will be to find their baby, the Bat Pup making their same sound. On your signal have the pups start making their sounds.  Also have the Mother Bats move toward the pups while making their own sounds. Give the Mother bats just ten seconds to find their Bat Pups. Any Pup without a Mother dies.  How many of the Pups were lost?







Just Like Bats


You could say bats did it first. They make noises and listen to the echoes to find their way through the dark.  Now, human inventors are copying them to help people who are blind.



What they invented is called the “UltraCane”.
















To build it, scientists first studied the way bats make ultrasonic (super high-pitched) sounds and listen for echoes.  Hearing these echoes alerts bats to things they might run into. It even lets them “see” when its pitch dark.  Then scientists made a cane that puts out ultrasonic sounds and picks up the echoes.   It has a short range mode that picks up things that are about 6 feet (about 2 meters) away.  It also has a long range mode. That picks up any object about 13 feet (4 meters) away.  This way it senses things a blind person might run into.



Then two buttons on the handle—one for things that are close and one for things far away—vibrate.  Being warned what’s coming up lets the person have time to change directions. Like a flying bat, they can move freely through their environment. The UltraCane limits the risk of bumping into things.




Can you think of anything you might invent based on what’s special about bats? Think about these things:

  • Backward facing knees to make it easy to hang upside down. Also help steer in flight.
  • Funnel-like ears for sharp hearing.
  • Leather wings can wrap up in to stay warm and protect against rainy weather.
  • Wings that let a bat flip and turn easily in flight.

Brainstorm to think what you might invent that mimics bats and would help people.



Visit My Cave


What's it like to live like a bat?  

Cover a table on three sides with a blanket or paper to create a cave.  Have your family or a group of friends crawl inside your pretend cave with you.  While you're there with this group, think about these questions.

  1. Why is a cave a good home for small bats, like Mexican Free-tailed Bats? 
  2. Why do you think big bats, like Grey-Headed Flying Foxes, camp in the open in trees instead?
  3. What are some problems to sharing a cave with other bats?

What Good Are Bats?

Check out the hand-like structure of a bat's wings.

Try this to find out.  

Take a large bowl of popcorn kernels to the gym or outdoors to a paved area of the playground.  Work with friends to scatter 50 popped kernels on the floor or ground.  Count to ten. Then have people place two more popcorn kernels next to each original kernel.  This is as if the insect pests have multiplied.  


Now pretend you are an insect-hunting bat. Have four others pretend they are too.  While someone counts to five, have each “bat” pick up all of the insects they can carry.  Then have other children place two popcorn kernels next to each remaining kernel.  

Repeat these steps two more times, having “bats” collect “insects”.   Then have any remaining “insects” multiply. 





Now look at the results.
  • How much of an affect did the “bats” have on the “insect” population?
  • What limited how much of an effect the bats could have on the insects? 
  • What do you think would happen to populations of insect pests if there weren’t any bats?


My Favorite Bat


Decide which of the bats you read about in Bats: Biggest! Littlest! is your favorite.  Tell why you like it best.  Read the section about that bat again. Also Go on-line to learn more.  Then write a short story about the life of your favorite bat. Be sure your story answers the following questions:

  • Where does it live?
  • What does it eat?
  • How is this bat different from other kinds of bats?
  • How does it care of its babies?
  • Does it have any enemies?  If so, what must it watch out for?




Bats for Good Measure

Again, here's a good chance to see the arm and hand-like structure of a bat's wing.

The wingspan of the largest flying foxes can be up to 6 feet (about 2 meters).  Take string that length. Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they? 

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how longer or shorter each is compared to a large flying fox’s wingspan.

  • The teacher’s desk
  • The class’s two shortest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • The classes two tallest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • Your teacher’s armspan (from fingertip to fingertip with both arms stretched out)

The wingspan of the Bumblebee bat is 6 inches (15 centimeters).  Take a piece of string that length.  Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they?

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how much longer or shorter each is compared to a Bumblebee Bat’s wingspan.


  • The smallest book in the classroom
  • Your pencil
  • The shoe of the student with the littlest foot
  • Your right hand span (from thumb to little finger with your hand spread wide).  Draw around your hand span on a piece of paper. Then compare to your bat wing measuring string.
I hope you've enjoyed this chance to dig deeper into BATS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!  I'm sure you'll also enjoy the other books in this series:
SHARKS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!
SNAKES: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!
INSECTS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!
SPIDERS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Come Fly With The Godwits!



I'm delighted to share the story of the bar-tailed godwits. Every year these birds make a marathon migration from their summer home in Alaska to their winter home in New Zealand. This bird's story is very special to me. For thirteen years, I lived near Christchurch, New Zealand.  Along with other New Zealanders, I eagerly awaited the godwits arrival each year in September.

Here I am the day the godwits arrived this year.
Check out the headline--"Godwits Are Back!"

That always signified winter was over and spring had arrived.  So, when scientists tracking the birds reported they were nearing land, bird watchers rushed to the shores.  Then as soon as the first group of godwits were spotted, the news was broadcast on the radio and television.  The big cathedral in Christchurch also rang its bells.  Everywhere banners were raised and crowds rushed to the estuaries to cheer the arriving birds.






Now open the book and enjoy the story. Then have fun digging deeper with these discovery activities.

Check out the aerial view of Cape Avinof, Alaska (the godwits' starting place) by visiting this website.  Next, do a Google search to find out how many miles it is between Alaska and New Zealand, the godwits' destination.  Now, think about how you would travel from Kipnuk Airport, the closet airport to Cape Avinof, Alaska to Christchurch, New Zealand, one of godwits destinations in New Zealand.  Check airline websites to answer the following questions:


Can you fly non-stop, the way the godwits do?  If not, how many stops do you have to make along the way?

How much will it cost you to fly between Alaska and New Zealand?
The trip isn't free for the godwits, either.  However, what it costs the birds isn't money.  Read page 15 of The Long, Long Journey to find out what it costs these birds to make such a long flight.

So you learned what it costs the godwits is energy--what they get from eating and storing body fat.  Adult godwits have to double their weight between June and September.  Chicks have to both grow up and put on weight.

Just for fun, figure out what you would weigh if you doubled your weight to make this long trip.






Look at the godwit's long legs.
Such long legs help it wade in the mud to find food.
Now, try this activity to find out how the godwit uses its long beak to find and pick up food.

First, cut the top off an empty gallon-sized milk jug. Fill it nearly full of wet sand. Next, have an adult partner bury five pennies in the sand and smooth the top flat to hide the coins.  Then use chopsticks or two pencils held like chopsticks to probe the sand for the pennies. Once you find them, use the chopsticks to pluck the pennies out of the sand.


Take a close look at this picture of godwits in flight.  Look at how they hold their wings and head.

How do you think holding their head and wings this way helps them fly?

Check out what the godwits are doing with their long legs while they fly.  Why do you think the birds hold their legs in this position rather than just letting them hang down below their body.



Now, spend some time watching your local birds take off and fly. Draw a picture of one of these birds in flight.  Be sure to show how they stretch out their wings, how they hold their head, and what they do with their legs.

Just for fun, play this game to find out how godwits stay together in a flock even while flying through thick clouds and heavy rain.  Ask six of your friends to stand in a circle around you. Close your eyes and ask them to make noises one at a time.  Try pointing to each person as they sound off.  Have your friends score a point for you each time you point at the person making the sound.  Now you know that being noisy helps birds keep track of each other and fly together.

The godwits take advantage of the fact that earth's northern and southern hemisphere's have summer at opposite times of the year. They always live where it's comfortably summer and there's plenty to eat year round.  To do that, though, means the godwits have to make a Long, Long Journey.