Emperor penguins- lessons in habitats and families

We took V to the Mumbai zoo to see some penguins when she was a little older than a year, and ever since, her biggest dream is to grow up, become a king, travel to Antarctica and play with penguins. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. When she wanted to see penguins everywhere, we had to open the atlas, show her where penguins are found.

Visiting penguins at the Mumbai zoo, when V was itsy bitsy!

She still couldn’t get why we could not bring them here. Enter lesson on habitats and polar climates. We did a lot of ice sensory play when she was younger to reinforce the stark difference between the hot city we live in and cold climates. Bonus- we also learnt through simple experimentation that if salt is added to ice- the ice gets colder.

A habitat sensory tray.

The fact that penguins are not naturally found here, only hardened her resolve to visit Antarctica and learn more about them through books and play. As a new toddler, we enjoyed a lot of kinesthetic penguin games, like waddling or braying or sliding like one.

Our favourite books on penguins

So, the very first obvious question of why penguins cant fly came up, and we spent a while reading about the parts of a penguin and how they swim. We learnt about royal penguins and emperor penguins and V decided she liked the latter better, because they were taller, and did not have funny feathers on their heads. ANd of course, because their name meant a king.

Who knew there were so many kinds of penguins?

Penguins are really amazing role models on gender equality for young children. This we found out, when we were learning the life cycles of penguins. Did you know that mother penguins, after laying the egg, entrust the egg to the father, and go swimming and feeding so that she can return strong. The dad takes care of the egg in the cold until it hatches (it takes a whole two months!). He places the egg next to his brood patch, and on his feet to keep it warm.

V thinks it must take a lot of commitment to keep an egg on our feet and walk, all of winter (We tried it with a ball). Once amma penguin comes back, she finds appa with their special call or bray. She takes care of the chick, while appa penguin goes to feed. He returns after a long time, as he hasn’t eaten well the last 2 months, and together they feed and take care of the chick until he can swim and fish for himself. Fascinating, no? This has also helped her understand that just because appa or amma are away for a while does not mean they love their baby any less.

Life cycle of penguins- play.

Since then, we have done a few concept-reinforcing activities using these fascinating creatures. Although she learnt to count using real objects, for reinforcement, we settle for printables on tiring days. (We give a lot of importance to play-based learning).

A simple counting activity

But, her favourite activity ever is the Antarctic small world we create using home-made oobleck (cornstarch+ food color + water ) . She loves setting it up herself and playing with her penguin figurines, teaching them to swim.

Antarctic small world play.

Lastly, this is our most favourite video on Emperor penguins. We have screen time on Sundays ever since she turned 2.5 and this is on our list of top 5 videos to watch.

While this has been a fascinating study unit for us that we keep re-visiting, recently V thought about the food that amma and appa penguins give their baby and asked a very pertinent question. “Amma, does amma penguin give food it has already eaten to the baby? How? Is it vomit then?” We told her that it is semi- digested food converted to crop milk- a lot like breastmilk, which the parent penguin feeds through the mouth, because they have only flipper-like wings.


  1. Niyati says:

    Wonderful article. I love how you introduced penguins to her in such an interesting way. A lot of hard work and It is amazing

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