Bears Classroom Theme

 

Bears are one of the classic themes for back to school, especially with young students.

There are lots of ready-made decoratives for this theme:

See more at the bottom of this post.

Cute bulletin board slogans:

  • A Beary Good Year
  • A Bear-ific Class
  • Unbearably Great Work
  • Welcome to Our Den

Learning Resources Three Bear Family Rainbow Counters math manipulatives are varied enough to outfit your entire primary math center. There are three sizes and six colors for sorting, and the sizes have different gram weights for measuring.

Get some of the classic bear stories onto your library table:

You can do “Going on a Bear Hunt” as a choral speaking activity. Click on the title to hear this done very well, and to find the words to print out. Here you can see Michael Rosen, who did the classic picture book version, performing the chant on YouTube. This is a great activity for the beginning of the year, as it allows you do some informal observation and assessment of your new students in a group setting.

That is not the only reason. Many kindergarten teachers  find that allowing students to bring their teddy bears to school with them for a day or two at the beginning of class helps the home-to-school transition. If it is made clear that only the well-behaved bears are allowed to visit, classroom rules and standards of behavior can be reinforced painlessly.

In Arkansas, where we live, bears are an important part of state history. Find out whether real bears were important in your own state, or share some of our stories as American history.

We used to be known as “The Bear State,” just because there were so many black bears living here. Travelers said they had never seen so many black bears anywhere else. It is estimated that Arkansas had the largest bear population south of Canada until the 1800s.

What happened to the bears? Here’s your economics lesson. First off, the bears and the humans who were coming into the area had conflicting needs. The humans changed the natural habitat (there’s another of the social studies frameworks)  to suit their needs, and the bears were left with a situation of scarcity. The result was that bears began attacking humans for food. The result of this was that bears were identified as a dangerous pest and a threat, and the humans felt that they should shoot the bears on sight.

You might talk about this when you read “The Three Bears.” In the story, the bears had a little house in the woods and ate porridge. Compare this with the real lifestyle of bears. When people cleared land and built houses, what happened to the bears’ habitat? Lead students to think about the consequences of that change. Age-appropriate discussions are important here, of course. We don’t want a circle of terrified toddlers clutching their teddies and listening to gory stories about man vs. bear. But we can talk about the differing and in fact conflicting needs of humans and bears, and we can recognize that this is an issue when people move into an area. We can also use “The Three Bears” with older students to introduce this serious topic in an engaging way.

But the bears weren’t just pushed out by settlers. They also were an important part of the economy as a resource. Bear meat, especially bear bacon, was a delicacy in those days, as well as providing needed food for humans from the Native Americans on.

Bear oil was also an important product for Arkansas. Bear oil didn’t spoil or turn rancid, and it made great soap and hair pomade. It made a good insect repellent. The earliest inhabitants of the state mixed it with red dye and sassafras and used it as a cosmetic. Later, there was a soap factory at Eureka Springs which used bear oil to make their products. The town of Oil Trough got its name from the many wooden troughs used in the production of bear oil.

Bears almost completely died out in Arkansas. They were reintroduced in the 1950s, and now there is a thriving bear population — though far fewer than there used to be, back when we were The Bear State.

  • SouthEastern Outdoors has an article for older students on the bear in Arkansas. It is just the right length for reading and summarizing in a paragraph, or for outlining practice.
  • The classic story “The Big Bear of Arkansas” is an excellent example of the tall tale. I recommend that you read it through before presenting it to students, as there are some language issues. However, there are so many teaching points in this story that it may be worth either printing it for a careful readaloud or retyping it and cleaning it up.
  • Here is everything you might ever want to know about Arkansas black bears, in a PDF file from the University of Arkansas.
  • If you’re doing bears with older students, don’t miss East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon, a wonderful, complex fairy tale. Our lesson plans for this story are well-suited to middle school and older students.

Well, if you choose bears this year, I hope they give you a beary good start to your year. Couldn’t resist.

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