survival abc

Survival ABCs – Activities

What does it take to survive out there in the wild?  I mean, we have our houses to protect us and we can just go buy food at the store.  Let’s do our own exploration of what it takes to make it out there!

Explore all of these survival adaptations to see which you like best.  You can mix and match and do all the activities or the ones you have supplies for on hand.

Time to Complete

30+ minutes




Adaptation, generalist, specialist, opposable

Science Standards

NGSS 3-LS4-2

Opposing Views

These activities deal somewhat with natural selection, which is a process of evolution

People disagree on evolution and probably always will.  Whatever your views on the subject, it is a generally accepted scientific theory and is taught in most schools.  We believe that all kids should have a working knowledge of such issues.  How can you agree or disagree if you don’t know about it?

Lessons like this at home are the perfect time to talk with your kids about your own opinions and beliefs about evolution, creationism, etc.

opposing views


Dinner time

  • Small plastic bugs  – 10+
  • Plastic army men  – 10+
  • Plastic ponies  – 10+
  • Small farm animals  – 10+
  • Small plastic dinosaurs  – 10+

All these little toys represent different types of “food”. This is what we used. If you don’t have these, use 5 different kinds that are easy to tell apart and different sizes.

Winter wear

  • Bowl  – 1
  • Water  enough to fill bowl – 1/2 way
  • Ice  – enough to make the water COLD
  • Shortening  1 large container for every – 3 to 4 kids
  • Latex (or non-latex) line gloves (optional)  – 1 for each participant

Opposable thumbs

Tape, electrical, masking, or other

Frog babies

Camouflage frogs from “Ribbit Race”  – 25-50

Obstacle course

  • Obstacle course stuff (tables, swing set, chairs, cones, pool noodles, etc.)

Adaptation costume items

  • Armor
  • Bike pads and helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Dinosaur costume
  • Monster tail made from pool noodle
  • Monster tentacles made of pool noodles
  • Headbands with antennae
  • Any costume item with spikes, claws, teeth, fairy wings, capes, armor, masks, padding etc.

This seems like A LOT of supplies!! But please mix and match what you have available at home. You don’t need to go out and buy anything special.


Dinner time

  • Find an area with lots of room and hide the plastic “food” toys.
  • Spread them out evenly. Depending on the age of the kids, you can put them out in the open or hide them really well for older children.

Frog babies

  • If you have not already created camouflage frogs for “Ribbit Race”, print out the as many times as needed to make a pile of camouflage frogs. Follow the directions on the sheet for coloring them.

Obstacle course setup

  • Set up an obstacle course using PVC pipe, pool noodles, rope, hula hoops, cones, or other things. You don’t need to go and buy anything. You can simply use stuff from your house.
  • Or you could go to the park and use their playground.

The point is that the children will be climbing over, under and running around and through obstacles while wearing monster costumes.  So be creative.  If all else fails go to Pinterest and search for outdoor obstacle course and it will give you a ton of ideas.  You could even have the kids set up the course.

This photo is a big one we put together for a different project.  You don’t need it this big but it is good for ideas.

obstacle course
  • Collect as much costume stuff as possible for the kids to dress up in to do some of the activities. The point of the dress-up activities is to answer the question “why doesn’t an animal have spikes, armor, speed and all other adaptations to protect itself? Why do they only have one or two defense mechanisms?”
  • In order to test this question the kids will put on many of these adaptations and do activities and report their findings.

Here is a list of defense adaptations that you should try to imitate:

  • Armor
  • Spikes
  • Horns
  • Claws
  • Teeth
  • Camouflage
  • Thick skin
  • Wings
  • Scales
  • It is not necessary to have all these things but the more the better. Plus, my kids love to put this stuff on and play make-believe anyway so it’s good to have them even after the lesson is over.
  • To make tentacles (like those pictured above) or tails out of pool noodles, refer to our post for DIY Tentacles & Tails for materials and steps. The post is in our freebie section.



After watching the “Animal Adaptations” science video, have the kids list any adaptations they can think of.  Animals have all these different attributes or behaviors to help them survive better in their environment.

Let’s explore some of these adaptation now!

Dinner time!

For this activity, we are exploring food finding.

  • Everyone line up away from the area where the food (toys) is hidden. Show examples of the toys and tell them they are animals going out to find food.
  • Assign each child a type of food to eat. Have some that can only eat one food type, and others that can eat several food types. If you have more than one child eating only one food type, make sure they are not eating the same thing.

Example:  Let’s say there are 4 kids participating.  I have army men, ponies, plastic farm animals, and dinosaurs already hidden as “food”.  I would assign 1 child to find only army men, 1 to find only dinosaurs, 1 to find ponies and dinosaurs, and 1 that can find anything.  I would recommend that the youngest kids can find anything.

  • Give each child a dinner plate (paper or plastic are both fine) or other container to set at the start line. Set a timer for 1 minute.
  • Tell the kids that they have to go out, find something that they CAN eat and bring it back to their plate. Only allow them to carry one food item at a time.

When time is up, count the food on each plate.  Then discuss this “food”.

Who had the hardest time finding food and why?  The kids with only one food type should have had a harder time finding food.  The kids that could eat anything should have had a very easy time finding food.

Some were generalists and some were specialists.  The kids eating only one type of food are specialists and kids eating anything are generalists.  Both food strategies have advantages.

In the photo, our generalist (eating ponies, plastic animals, army men, and paper frogs) looks like they have plenty of food.  The one eating only army men is in for a lean winter.

If you have time, run the game again, changing who eats what.  You could have several kids eating the same thing.  But have some of them eat just that one thing, and other kids eat that as well as other things.  Then give them 5 minutes.  After the time is up, count the food and discuss who would have survived over a long period of time.

generalist vs specialist

Winter wear

This activity is all about how arctic animals can stay warm in super cold water.

  • Half fill a bowl with water. Add enough ice to make it nice and cold.
  • Have a volunteer put their bare hand in the cold water. How long can they keep it in?
  • Now put a thin glove on their hand (this is for easy cleanup). Slather shortening onto the glove. Be generous!  This is just like the blubber and fat that arctic animals like whatles, seals, and polar bears have.
  • Again have the volunteer put their shortening slathered hand in the cold water. How long can they keep it in now?

Discuss with the kids what would be advantages/disadvantages of a large layer of blubber or fat.

Thumbody help me!

Now for the nest-building competition (with a handicap).

  • Randomly choose some (not all) of the kids as volunteers. Take electrical or masking tape and tape the volunteer kids thumbs to their palms. Make sure that they cannot use their thumbs, and their other fingers are free and not restricted.  Some kids will have taped thumbs and some will not.
  • Start the timer for 5 minutes. They must build a bird nest out of sticks, grass, or whatever they can find around the yard.
  • When the 5 minutes is up. Go around and see all the kid’s nests. Make sure to ask each kid how difficult it was to build a nest.

If space or materials to build a nest are not available, you could have kids do a variety of tasks with taped thumbs such as drawing a picture, using tongs or pliers to pick up and carry pennies or small toys, or build something out of Legos or wooden blocks.

  • Are thumbs are good to have? Talk about the many things that are hard or impossible to do without thumbs.
  • We have opposable thumbs. What does that mean?
  • If thumbs are so important or useful, why doesn’t every animal have thumbs? Answers may vary but make sure the kids understand that thumbs make it difficult to run very fast, and many animals don’t need them.
opposable thumbs

Frog babies

Now for the question of – how many babies?  Some animals have only 1 at a time.  Some have HUNDREDS at a time.  Which is better?

  • Using your camouflage frogs, hide just 1 or 2 (one of the kids can do this). Then let the rest of the kids have 2 minutes to find them.

How many did they find?

  • Now hide ALL the frogs. Let the kids have the same 2 minutes to find them.

How many did they find?

Now talk about the benefits of just 1 or 2 babies (easier to feed, easier to protect) and many babies (there are so many babies that even if most get eaten there are still some left).

Obstacle course

  • Pick various costume parts and dress up like a monster. Some kids may not want to dress up and that’s ok. It will make a good opportunity to compare running the obstacle course with and without a costume.
  • Take turns running the course. Or for older children, time them running the course wearing a costume and again without a costume and compare the results.
  • If defense adaptations are so useful, why do animals not have all the possible defenses such as spikes, armor plating, horns, etc? Make sure the kids understand that having these defenses cost animal’s energy, speed and agility. So, most animals have only one or two defense systems such as horns or claws.

Grab more on the PDF!

Print out all the activity rules, supplies, Ribbit Race page, and vocabulary.

This list is part of Fit to Survive [Unit 11]. Jump over to the unit main page to see all lessons and activities.

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