STEAM Learning with my Favorite December Story


December can really be a magical time of year. I love finding songs and stories that convey that magic in a way that ALL children can understand and appreciate together. “Polar Bear Night” has been a favorite of mine – and my students – since I first discovered it.

Talk about a simple plot. A little polar bear wakes up in the night and explores a bit outside the den. He sees seals, walruses, and whales. There are beautiful shooting stars. Then he goes home and cuddles with Mom. That’s it! And the sweet woodcut illustrations, all in cool shades of blue and white, are equally simple (and CLEAR, which is a pet concern of mine. I’m so frustrated with children’s-book illustrations stuffed with precious, artistic flourishes and details to the point where children ask, “What’s THAT?” “Where’s the duck?” “Is that a dragon or a frog?”).

Yet this extraordinarily simple book is also extraordinarily enchanting. Children love the peaceful, quiet feeling of nighttime, the curiosity of the little cub, and the comfort of coming home to Mom.

Even toddlers can fully engage with this book. With older children, though, I like to bring them into the storytelling, with music and science, by giving them the opportunity to choose musical accompaniment with appropriate timbres.

The sea is a big part of “Polar Bear Night,” and I ask students for ideas for instruments or nontraditional soundmakers to portray the sounds of the sea. I bring out a variety of objects to the center of our circle for them to choose from, and in some cases, to try playing in different ways to get a particular sound or feeling. Some choices students can come up with include:

shell shaker played softly and slowly

sand blocks scraped in a gentle rhythm
brushing a drum head with soft brush
rolling maracas on the floor slowly

The “star shower” is a small, but special scene in “Polar Bear Night.” Children often use these timbres to convey the sparkle and quiet beauty:

softly played triangle
pot lid tapped with eraser end of pencil
metal side of empty coffee can tapped with fingertips
glockenspiel touched lightly with mallet

Your students will discover and improvise all kinds of interesting sounds, based on what they’ve learned about the timbre of various instruments and materials. I love this activity because it puts that knowledge into a creative and musical context.

Whether you’re simply reading aloud to little ones, or getting more involved with including older children in the telling of the story, “Polar Bear Night” is a magical experience to share. Enjoy!




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