By perusing our Geodessee blog you may have noticed we are big fans of science and especially the study of animals. So when Pilar told me she wanted to make some animal classification cards I got very excited to jump on the computer and do some research about the topic.
As it turns out, learning about animals and how they are classified is even more interesting and challenging than I imagined. Moreover, I found some great resources that I want to share with you here.
Below you’ll find comprehensive instructions on how the animal types are broken down and how to introduce them to your child. And if you read till the end you’ll find some more links to great resources to continue the studies.
Our Montessori 3-part cards give kids the opportunity to learn with bright, colorful and engaging materials that stimulate the senses and inspire them to learn more and more.
The cards in our shop are ideal for this activity and are designed for kids aged 6 to 9. However, they can also be introduced to younger kids, 3 to 5, with just a few classes of animals at first, then gradually integrate more into the lesson as they get older.
Why do we classify animals?
There are many reasons why we classify animals. For one, scientists classify them to make it easier to study the similarities and differences between them. For example, both fish and insects lay eggs, or both fish and amphibians can breathe underwater. The more features they have in common the more specific the groups become.
They also classify them to determine which are safe and which are a potential danger to us, such as poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. But perhaps the most important reason, in my opinion, for classifying animals is to see which are becoming endangered and which have healthy numbers in the wild.
“classifying animals really depends on the distinct features they have”
The different groups of animals are written in Latin so that scientists from different countries can study and discuss them with each other without getting confused.
How are they classified?
All organisms on Earth are divided into kingdoms, including plants, fungi, protists, archaebacteria, eubacteria and animals. But we are only focusing on the animal kingdom here and there are many classifications within it.
Here’s how they look (in parentheses are examples of each):
- Kingdom (Animalia)
- Phylum (Chordata)
- Subphylum (Vertebrata)
- Class (Mammalia)
- Order (Carnivora)
- Family (Felidae – cats)
- Genera (Panthera – big cats)
- Species (Panthera tigris – tigers)
The animal kingdom is divided into several phyla (plural of phylum) and the animals in our cards focus on the two most common and easily identifiable for kids: Chordata. Within this phylum are the subphyla vertebrates and invertebrates.
Vertebrates are all animals with a spine or backbone, like horses. Although invertebrates are not recognized as an official taxonomic subphylum, the name is recognized in academic circles as a term of convenience that describes animals which are not vertebrates or animals with a soft body, like squids, or have an exoskeleton, like crabs.
Although there are more classes of vertebrates, like mammals and reptiles, the majority of animals in the world are invertebrates, like insects, that make up an estimated 97% of all species on the planet!
Since going deeply into every group of animals within each class is beyond the scope of this article I will focus on the 5 main classes within the vertebrates and 3 in the invertebrates:
Mammals: dog, tiger, rabbit, deer
Birds: parrot, owl, flamingo, parakeet
Fish: shark, clownfish, lionfish, seahorse
Amphibians: frog, toad, salamander, blindworm
Reptiles: snake, lizard, tortoise, crocodile
Arthropods: butterfly, ladybug, spider, crab
Mollusks: snail, octopus, squid, slug
Cnidarians: sea anemones, coral (hard and soft), jellyfish
Mammals are warm-blooded animals characterized by the presence of mammary glands that in females (and rarely males) produce milk for nursing their young, a brain with a neocortex, fur or hair, and three middle ear bones.
Birds are a group of warm-blooded animals with feathers, toothless beaked jaws, lay eggs with their offspring, and have a strong yet lightweight skeleton. Most birds can fly while others are flightless, like chickens.
Fish are aquatic animals that breathe underwater using gills and lack limbs with digits. Some have bone skeletons while others have cartilaginous skeletons, like sharks. Fish have vertical tail fins while mammals who live in the sea, like dolphins, have horizontal tail fins.
Although they can live in a variety of habitats, most amphibians begin life in fresh water as larvae hatching from eggs and go through metamorphosis to become adults. Amphibians are unique animals because they can live both in water and on land using lungs or their skin to breathe. Some smaller species don’t even have any lungs.
Reptiles are very similar to both amphibians and birds since they lay eggs. But they use lungs to breathe and have dry scaly or plated skin, like lizards. Though many live in water most live on land and are carnivorous, meaning they eat other animals. But perhaps the most unique feature of reptiles is that they are cold-blooded. So instead of having fur to keep them warm, like mammals, they rely on the air or water temperature to stay warm.
Arthropods are an enormous part of the animal kingdom. These include, but are not limited to, all insects, arachnids, and crustaceans. They are invertebrates because they have exoskeletons instead of backbones. But the most distinguishing features of arthropods are segmented bodies and paired jointed appendages or legs.
Mollusks, like amphibians, can live in both water and terrestrial habitats, like snails, and are the largest class of ocean dwellers making up 23% of all organisms. Though many live in shells, like mussels, the majority have a mantle as their exterior body structure.
Cnidarians are an unusual type of animal because they have many unique and bizarre features. They are characterized by their gelatinous, usually circular bodies, like jellyfish, but can also have tentacles and nematocysts, or stinging cells. They use these to either protect themselves or catch food. Some hard corals create calcium carbonate cases or houses to protect themselves and build communities. But the strangest feature about them is they only have one orifice for both ingesting and excreting food, so their mouth is also their anus.
How to use our cards
After reading these descriptions with your child, they should be referred to in the lessons with the Montessori cards. For example, when they choose a card and it’s a mammal, they should say what features the animal has or where it lives to determine why it belongs to its class.
This is also a great opportunity to go over body parts of animals so that they can better identify the various features they have. We have some felt boards for this activity in our shop or you can find many good printables in the links below. If you have never worked with Montessori 3-part cards before this is a comprehensive article that describes the process for you.
I like to start with one subphylum and two classes to not confuse with too many cards at first. Have your child lay out the labels on the floor according to the control chart and have them pull control cards (picture and name) from their basket of mixed-up cards. They should lay it on the floor to the side of the labels.
Then you say (pointing to the card):
“What animal is this?”
“And what class is it?”
“Because it has feathers and a beak.”
Then they put the card under the Birds label. After laying each control card from the two classes, they should find the object and label cards to reinforce the vocabulary.
There are a lot of cards in this set so if you wanted to break down the lesson into phases, just put a few classes in your basket and go over the others on a different day. For example, today we do vertebrates and the next day we do invertebrates. After they have done each set enough times and feel confident you can do the lesson with all cards at once.
Conclusion: endangered species
As you may have noticed there are quite a few animals in our cards that are considered endangered species, like tigers and sharks. This is a great opportunity to have a talk with your kids about what that means and how they got that way.
Many animals have already become extinct due to natural phenomena, such as the dinosaurs or the wooly mammoths. But in modern times many have been hunted to near extinction or have become endangered because of deforestation and the loss of their natural habitat.
If we don’t end our destructive ways, these beautiful species will all be extinct within our lifetime. So it’s up to us parents to educate our kids and emphasize the importance of protecting these beautiful creatures or we risk never seeing them again in the wild.
If you are interested in contributing or getting more information about how you and your kids can help, check out the websites from the World Wildlife Foundation and Greenpeace. They have many great resources for you to share with your children.
I hope this article has inspired you to engage your child with more biology activities, and if you are interested in the cards you can find them in our shop.