Owl Babies by Martin Waddell: Lesson Ideas and Activities
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (illustrated by Patrick Benson) is an adorable read-aloud that fits perfectly into an owl theme! This book also works well for an animal mothers and babies unit or if you are dealing with separation anxiety in your classroom. Here in this post (which contains a few Amazon affiliate links), I’ve collected some ideas to help you build lesson plans around this sweet book.
Owl Babies, which is beautifully illustrated by Patrick Benson using watercolors with black ink crosshatching, tells a story about three baby owls (Sarah, Percy, and Bill) who wake to find that their mother is not home. As the three young owls wait anxiously in the dark woods, they talk each other in and out of worried feelings. The story ends with the babies flapping and dancing and jumping up and down at their mother’s return. This book is a quick read with just over 300 words, but it is packed with teaching opportunities!
Because this story is great for making connections, I would recommend accessing prior knowledge before reading. To focus on personal, or text-to-self, connections, you might begin like this, “Owl Babies is a story about three young owls who are missing their mother and wondering when she will come home. Can you think of a time when you were away from the person who usually takes care of you and you felt worried or unhappy?” This type of question is great for a short “turn and talk” time so each child has the opportunity to speak. Have the children think quietly for a moment and then turn to their neighbor to take turns sharing. After each child has had a chance to share with their partner, pull the group back together and call on a few pairs to share with the group.
If you are learning about owls or about animals and their offspring, you might prefer to access prior knowledge about those themes. If you’ve read nonfiction about owls, you might say, “This story is about three young owls who wake up at night and find that their mother is not home. What do you know about owls that might help us explain why the babies are up at night and where their mother might be?” For an animal babies theme, you might say, “Owl Babies tells the story of three young owls and their mother. What are some things that you think might be different about baby owls and adult owls?”
Everyone has their own read-aloud style–some like to hold the book facing the children so they can absorb the pictures while listening to the words. Others read a page and then show the picture (to force the children to visualize). Some like to stop on each page and talk about the pictures and details or to ask comprehension questions while others like to read straight through and then go back for a closer look. You know your style and what works best for your kiddos, so I will just supply you with some teaching points and questions that might be helpful to you during this read-aloud!
The illustrations in Owl Babies give a lot of support to the story. Benson has done a beautiful job of showing emotion in the faces and postures of the owls. When you get to the page where the three owls are sitting in different spots in the tree, you might want to stop and let the children figure out which owl is which. Knowing that Sarah is the biggest and Bill is the littlest adds depth to these characters. As you go through the book, draw attention to the owl’s feelings: How do you think they are feeling here? What detail do you see that makes you think that?
The page where the owls close their eyes and wish for their mother is a great place to stop to make a prediction. Have the children close their eyes and imagine what might happen next.
Here are some comprehension questions that push children to find evidence in the text, access their prior knowledge, and think critically:
-How does the mother owl take care of her babies? (Evidence in the text: the nest description at the beginning, discussion about mother bringing back mice)
-What dangers might owls face in the woods? (Evidence in the text: “Or a fox got her!”)
-Why were the owls awake at night? (Connect to prior knowledge of nocturnal animals or to an informational read-aloud)
-Why did Sarah think all three owls should sit on her branch? (Inference: She felt they would be safer together or she was frightened and wanted her siblings close to her…)
-What are some differences between the mother owl and her babies? (Mother has brown feathers, babies have white down; mother hunts for food, babies stay at home; mother can fly, babies cannot fly yet)
-If you were one of the baby owls in this story, what would you have done when you found your mother was not home? (Use information from the book and personal experience to create an alternate plot.)
-Do you think it was a good idea for the baby owls to leave their hole and wait on the branches? Or should they have stayed inside? (Analyze and evaluate the story.)
For this project, you will need: black and brown construction paper, white paint (tempera works well), a clothespin and a craft pom pom (per child painting at the same time), something to hold the paint (a jar lid or paper plate work well), glue, a black crayon (or marker), a white crayon, a pencil, something round to trace for eyes (such as: a milk jug cap, a round attribute block, or a template that you cut out of a file folder)
Here are the steps:
1. Have the children write their names using a white crayon on the back of their paper.
2. Model and have students draw a large oval on their paper. This oval should take up most of the paper. You can have them draw the oval with a pencil first and then trace over it with a white crayon so they can see it better.
For the painting stage, each child will need access to a small amount of white paint. A little goes a long way in this project and you can always replenish if they need more.
3. Have the students clip their clothespin to their pom pom. Model dipping the pompom into the paint and then dabbing it onto the paint tray (or plate) before dabbing it onto their oval. Show the students the difference between the feathery look of just a little paint and the globby look of too much paint.
4. The students should then fill their entire oval with dabs (or dots) of white paint. This is great finger exercise!
Set the paintings aside to dry while working on the next steps.
5. Give each child a small piece of brown paper (half of a 9″x12″ sheet gives them plenty with room for error) and have them trace two circles for eyes. Have them cut the eyes out and use a black crayon or marker to color a black circle in the middle.
6. Show the students how they can easily cut a triangle by snipping in twice from the edge of their paper. Have them snip three triangles –one for the beak and two for the feet.
7. Once the paint is dry, have the students glue their eyes, beak, and feet onto their owls.
(Note: If you wash the pom poms out while the paint is still wet, you can reuse them for other art projects.)