To lay the foundation for understanding each person’s responsibility toward the earth’s life systems and the creatures who are part of them.


What better way to introduce children to humane education and responsible behavior toward animals than to teach them about animals in the natural world? Children will learn that some animals are nocturnal and forage and mate during the night, while diurnal animals are active during the day. Children will also learn that, like themselves, all animals need to eat, sleep, and find shelter. In this unit:

  • Children will begin to learn what constitutes the natural world and what makes the natural world important.
  • Children will begin to identify and learn about different animals and how they help support the earth’s life systems.
  • Children will begin to understand that they too are part of these life systems and that what they do affects the other creatures.
  • Children will begin to develop empathy for animals by seeing how their own needs and happiness are similar to those of animals.

Click here to view California Standards Alignment.

Next: Lessons & Videos

Suggested Format

  • Read aloud the story from North American Indian oral history and discuss it briefly with your students.
  • Watch Mow Wow’s animated movie with the students.
  • Follow the movie with questions, discussion, and activities.
  • Close the unit with a poem and/or a fable. (See Enrichment)

Let’s Begin!

Bringing a World to Life

The Cherokee Indian story “Why Some Trees Are Always Green” is an inviting opening into the world shared by animals and people.

Note: These notes are for your use. Feel free to summarize the key ideas to your students.

  • This story has been told by the Cherokee Indians as an explanation as to why some animals are diurnal while others are nocturnal, and as to why some trees drop their leaves annually while others do not.
  • Historically, native North American Indians have lived within nature and consider themselves part of it, depending directly on plants and animals to survive. They are therefore keen observers of the natural world. They have traditionally told stories that explain the creation of the world and their own place in it.
  • Many North American Indians afford animals the attributes of people, and they consider that people live in partnership with the animals. Thus, animals in their stories can act and talk like people.
  • The medicine in Native American stories refers not only to healing properties found in the natural world but also to guiding themes for people’s lives.
  • The story “Why Some Trees Are Always Green” shows that the earth is home to a variety of plants and animals, all of which have different characteristics yet have a place together in the totality of life.

Excerpt from “Why Trees Are Always Green”

When the plants and animals were first made, they were told to watch and stay awake for seven nights. All of the animals and plants wished to do this. They knew if they did not sleep, they would be given some special sort of power.

The first night passed, and all of the animals and plants stayed awake. It did not seem hard to them, and some of the animals and plants even began to boast about how easy it was.

When the second night came, it no longer seemed so easy for all of them, and some found it very hard not to fall asleep. When the next night came, some of them could stay awake no longer, and by the fourth night, nearly all of them slept.

When the seventh night ended, only a few had stayed awake. Among the animals, only the panther and the owl had not slept. So they were given the power to see in the dark. From then on, the panther and the owl would be able to prey on those animals who had failed to remain awake and watchful and now must sleep each night.

Among the plants, only the pine, the spruce, the hemlock, the cedar, the laurel, and the holly had remained awake and watchful. Because they were faithful, they were given the power to remain green all year around, and their leaves would hold great medicine. But all of the other plants would have to lose their leaves each winter because they did not endure the test. Not only that, but they would also have to fall asleep until the warmth of spring came again.

Read the story aloud to your students and then invite them to talk about it briefly. Here are a few simple questions that will help place them in the animals’ world and lead to the Mow Wow movie:

  • What happens in this story?
  • What is the story trying to explain?
  • The story says that some animals boasted about staying awake. Do animals talk to each other?
  • Close the lesson with a poem. (See Enrichment)

Daytime, Nighttime (50 seconds)

This video can be projected through a classroom computer, or alternately, screen shots of the video can be printed for classroom use.

Watch Download Enrichment Sheet

Focus of the Discussion

The movie illuminates a theme of the Cherokee story. Animals occupy particular places in their environments, with some carrying out their activities during the day, some at night. Dawn and dusk, day and night, sun and moon: these make up the first rhythms of the earth that children come to know. Other rhythms include the seasons, the migrations of animals, and the tides and currents of the oceans. Below are questions that will spur student discussion. Suggested discussion points and background information related to both the movie and the story appear in italics following each question.

Note: Glossary words appear in bold

Question 1.

Which animals do you see in this movie?

In order of appearance: skunk, owl, deer, bird, squirrel, salamander.

Question 2.

Where do the animals live?

Skunks live in burrows in woodlands or grassy areas. Squirrels and owls, and other birds tend to be tree dwellers, nesting and hiding in hollow branches or trunks, or making homes in the branches. Deer find shelter in groves and in forests or other woodlands. Salamanders like to live in moist places—near the water, under wet leaves, or in moist soil.

Question 3.

Do you know any other animals that might live in the same places?

Talk about some animals that your students may have seen or know of. Many other kinds of birds, such as woodpeckers, jays, and hawks, live in trees. Chipmunks, gophers, and rabbits all live in burrows for at least part of the year. Bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and even bears are often found in the same area as deer. Toads, frogs, snakes, and many, many insects share their habitat with salamanders.

This is a generic discussion for young children about types of animals and where they live. Introduce the terms environment and habitat. There are thousands of species of animals in the state of California, especially in our more rural and wild areas, and some students may have had the privilege of observing or living with these animals. Older or more advanced students may wish to research and discuss some of these additional species and their habitats “Facts About Animals” can be helpful here.

Question 4.

Which animals in the movie come out of their homes and are active during the day?

Birds, squirrels, salamanders, and frequently, deer. Introduce the term diurnal.

Question 5.

What other animals can you name that are diurnal?

Students may name familiar animals such as dog, cat, horse, and cow. Point out that although pet cats may be diurnal, pet cats that are let out at night—as well as feral cats—are actually nighttime hunters, like their wilder relatives such as mountain lions. Some students may have pet fish, most of which are diurnal. This is a good opportunity to teach students that insects are also biologically animals. Children will be familiar with many diurnal insects such as bees, butterflies, and house flies.

Question 6.

When you get up in the morning, what animals do you see or hear?

Students may name many of the same animals, such as dogs, cats, and other pets; birds; insects such as butterflies or house flies; and, in more rural settings, farm animals, deer, rabbits, or lizards. If some students name different animals, try to find out more about where these animals live. This would be a way to emphasize how different animals live in different habitats. This question also presents a good opportunity to introduce the idea that people and animals share the same environment.

Question 7.

What animals in the movie come out at night?

Owls and skunks are usually nocturnal. Deer are active day or night. Introduce the term nocturnal.

Question 8.

What other animals are nocturnal?

Ask students if they have seen animals at night and which ones they have seen. Perhaps they have seen pictures of nocturnal animals. Students in urban areas will have noticed domestic cats, as well as “urban wildlife” such as raccoons or possums. Students in rural California will have noticed these animals as well as rabbits, coyotes, foxes, and owls. There are many nocturnal insects; students will probably be most familiar with the mosquito.

Question 9.

Why are some animals nocturnal and others diurnal?

Remind students of the Native American story. We don’t have the same explanation for animals’ habits as the story, but we do know that animals have evolved over time to fit in their environment. Some have developed eyesight for seeing at night. Some are safer at night from certain types of predators. Other animals may have better eyesight or other enhanced senses for surviving during the day. The adaptation of some species to the night and others to the day is also a way of sharing food resources. Owls are an interesting example of this. Your students would be interested to know that some owls hunt at night, while others hunt during the day, so that they can both share the resources of the same habitat without competing directly with each other for food.

Question 10.

What do the wild animals in the movie need from the earth?

Animals need food, shelter, clean air, and water—in other words, a habitat that is not unbalanced (contaminated) from poisons, pesticides, or other pollution. Animals also need to live according to their nature: if they are nocturnal, they require an environment where they can come out at night to find their food; if diurnal, they need to have a safe daylight area for their activities. All animals must have space to find food, mates, and shelter.

Question 11.

What do animals need from people?

Wild animals need people not to disturb their environment and to let animals live their lives according to their nature. It is alright to observe animals in their natural habitats, but not to disrupt them. Ask the students how they feel when a brother or sister comes into their room and disturbs it. How should people who are living close together act toward each other? What about people who are living close to animals? Help your students see that when they go to a place where wild animals live, they are visitors in the animals’ home.

Question 12.

How are the lives of wild animals different from those of “companion animals” or pets?

You can help your students distinguish between animals that have become domesticated and those that are wild. Domesticated animals require human care. People must provide domesticated animals with food and shelter, and with veterinary care when they are sick. As a result, the lives of domesticated animals may be easier and safer from predation and harsh weather, but the animals may suffer from having less freedom.

Wild pigs and domesticated pigs are an example; they share the same natural traits, with a need to roam with their family members and root around in the earth. This gives them exercise, food, and a way to socialize. Domesticated pigs are kept safe from predators and cold weather, but when they are held in small pens, they suffer from a lack of exercise and friendship.

Wolves and dogs provide a similar example. Wild animals live according to their true nature. This entails living free from human intervention, but it also entails the chance of being harmed or killed by predators and suffering from severe climatic conditions or lack of food. It also means that wild animals usually live and die without having people help them with medicine. This is the way of wild animals.

Question 13.

Do animals talk?

Take your class back to the Cherokee story and their original response to the question about whether animals talk to each other.

In the cosmology of the original American Indian groups, people held a partnership with animals; both animals and people needed each other and had to please each other in order to survive. Animals were considered intelligent, conscious fellow members of the same spiritual kingdom as humans. Thus, the Indians gave a human voice to the animals, and their world was full of these voices. Modern societies do not hold an animistic view of the world of nature, and children come to realize that animals do not have human voices. Children should learn, however, that animals have their own forms of communication.

Animals communicate by sound, but just as much by other means. An example that students may have noticed without being aware of its function(s) is that birds use their songs to tell other birds, “This is my territory, stay away,” or “Would you like to be my mate?” The sound of crickets—made by rubbing their legs together—is also used to attract mates. Fireflies attract mates by flashing their lights. Dogs smell each other to see who the newcomer is, or urinate on a tree or a fire hydrant to mark their territory. Sometimes a dog will lie down on his back and show his belly to indicate to another dog that he isn’t a threat. Cats will arch their backs and puff up their fur to frighten enemies.

One example that students might find particularly interesting is the honey bee, which gathers nectar from flowers to make food. Bees have a “language” of movements and sounds, based on smell and taste, that lets them communicate with other bees to find nectar and construct precisely engineered hives. Read the description of the bee (or parts of it, depending on the level of the students) to your class and have the students discuss the ways the bee communicates with other bees. This makes a great science lesson.

Click here to download the PDF file “The Bee.”

At the end of this discussion, ask students again, “Do animals talk?” Then see what new depth of understanding and excitement they have in response to your question.

Next: Enrichment


  • These activities further reinforce the main lessons.

Animals in the natural world are a frequent theme of Japanese haiku. Your students might enjoy this observation of a frog. After you read the poem aloud, ask them to write or talk about their reaction and their feelings.

The old pond
A frog jumped in,

(Basho, translated by Allen Ginsberg)

Click here to download the PDF file “Facts About Animals.”

  • 1. Have students make a picture book of a wild animal of their choice, preferably showing the animal engaging in different activities. They can cut pictures from magazines or draw pictures themselves or both. Have the students present their picture books to the class. Older students could also find out some facts about the animals and tell the class about them when they present their books.
  • 2. If your school is in an appropriate place and it is possible, take your class outside. Ask your students to be very quiet and listen for animal sounds. Then have students tell what they heard and what animals they think made the sounds. They might hear bees buzzing, crickets chirping, frogs croaking. In an urban environment, they may hear cats, dogs, pigeons, some songbirds, or many sounds coming from insects they cannot identify. They can explore the world of animal sounds further with books or on the Web.
  • 3. Read a poem about a wild animal to the students and have them draw a picture to illustrate the poem or what they felt when they heard it.
  • 4. Have students write a poem about a nocturnal animal that they have seen or know about. They could also write a companion poem about a diurnal animal. Alternatively, half the class could write about a nocturnal animal, and the other half about a diurnal animal.
  • 5. Have students find a poem or story about animals in the library and read it to the rest of the class.
  • 6. Have students draw a picture of a favorite outdoor place and their favorite animals that live there. Ask them to tell the class why they find these animals interesting or exciting.
  • 7. Have students make masks of the animals in the Mow Wow movie and, wearing the masks, talk to each other as if they were the animals. Then have one student come into the group unmasked and have the masked animals talk to that student about their lives and how they would want people to treat them.
  • 8. Consult “Facts about Animals” to bring in more information about the animals in the movie. When appropriate, read sections aloud to your students and open up discussions and answer sessions.

Have the younger or less advanced students do a spelling and writing exercise with the simple animal names below. Combine this activity with drawing pictures of the animals. This is also a good activity for your ELLs (English-language learners).

Click here to download a student worksheet containing these words.

squirrel (bonus!)
salamander (bonus!)

Older or more advanced students write short simple sentences to answer selected questions discussed in class about the movie Day and Night.

Click here to download a student worksheet containing questions about Day and Night.

Kindergartners identify nocturnal and diurnal animals and talk about their lives and color pictures and tell stories about them.

Click here to download a worksheet for kindergartners to identify animals as nocturnal or diurnal and then talk about their lives.

Click here to download a worksheet for kindergartners to color animals, indicate if they are nocturnal or diurnal, and then tell stories about them.

Next: Glossary & Resources

Mow Wow Glossary

Click here to download a worksheet for students to give the meaning of the Glossary words and then write an original sentence for each word.

  • environment – all the living and non-living factors that surround an organism, including such things as other organisms, food sources, the weather, and the landscape. The term environment can apply to the area immediately surrounding an organism or encompass an area of greater scale from a salt marsh to a mountain range to the total global environment.
  • habitat – the local environment in which an organism lives.
  • shelter – something that affords protection, that allows an animal to carry out its activities in safety.
  • nocturnal – active at night.
  • diurnal – active during the day.
  • pollution – anything that contaminates the environment, such as chemicals dumped in a river or car exhaust. Some things that are beneficial in some situations may act as pollutants in another; carbon dioxide is a good example.

Suggested Online Resources


Suggested Books

  • Amphibians (Animal Babies), Rod Theodorou
  • Frogs and Other Amphibians (What Kind of Animal Is It?), Bobbie Kalman
  • Little Rabbits (Born To Be Wild), Colette Barbe-Julien
  • An Owl, That’s Who!, Autumn Leigh

Note: All these books are also available as Spanish-language editions.

Next: Unit 2 –Who Lives in the Backyard