Tell kids that they are going to learn about bats, and many immediately think thoughts of scary movies and Halloween. However, bats are mammals just like dogs, squirrels and humans. Activities help kids learn the facts about bats and their habits so they understand bats are more than a Halloween symbol. Kids can also learn that bats have the ability to echolocate and "see" where they are going without using sight.
Bats live just about everywhere except the Arctic, Antarctic and a few islands. They hunt at night, sleep in secluded areas during the day and, for the most part, feed on insects, pollen, flowers and fruit. As groups, have students make a list of all the facts that they know or have heard others say about bats. Using print resources, videos, Internet sources and teacher instruction, have students research to prove these facts as true or myth. Instruct each group to make an illustrated poster that informs others of the facts about bats.
Kids sometimes become confused about the bat species. Because bats truly fly, unlike some other mammals such as squirrels that glide, kids often think bats are birds. Read the book "Stellaluna" by Jannell Cannon aloud to kids. Discuss the way that the mother bird took care of the baby bat as if it were her own. Ask kids how they think bats and birds are the same and how they are different. Create a class chart together comparing bats and birds. Have children research, as age appropriate, or provide kids with more information about the bird and mammal species. Have kids create a Venn diagram or chart that compares the bird and mammal species' similarities and differences.
Echolocating Creatures and Technology
Explain to kids that bats hunt at night using echolocation to find food. Teach kids that bats make sounds with their mouths and noses, then listen for the echo in order to sense objects around them. After students thoroughly understand the concept of echolocation, have them research to learn about other animals and technology that uses echolocation. Guide students to learn more about dolphins, whales, radar and medical instruments that use the same concepts that bats use to locate objects. Instruct students to create an informative brochure by hand or on the computer that teaches others about the types of creatures and objects that use echolocation.
After a lesson or explanation about echolocation, have students gather in one area of a small room that has a large, empty wall. One at a time, have students stand approximately 15 feet from the wall and loudly clap, listening for the slight echo of the clap to return to their ears. Instruct others to remain quiet and still. Have them repeat this process, moving two steps closer to the wall each time, listening for the echo to return faster each time.
Explain that bats and other echolocating animals use the echo to both locate and identify the object off which the echo is bouncing. Use this activity to help kids understand how objects create different sounds when struck by an object. On a blank wall, attach several different objects of different thicknesses and materials. Cover the objects with a large, thin sheet so that kids cannot easily identify what object is attached to the wall. Have kids throw a tennis ball at the covered objects on the wall, listening for the sound made as the ball strikes the object. The thin sheet should not interfere with the sounds. Have kids identify what object is hidden beneath the sheet.
Blind Boy Echolocation
Tell kids the story of Ben Underwood, a boy who used echolocation to do just about everything a seeing person can do after cancer blinded him. Use Internet sources such as news programs, a website his mother created or online video of his inspiring messages to teach kids about his ability. Afterward, have kids write a reflection, imagining what life would be like if they were Ben.