Patterns, blending, disguise and mimicry are among the many ways an animal can camouflage itself. Lessons on the topic teach kids how animals use camouflage to foil predators or surprise prey. The activities give students a chance to recognize different types of camouflage and create their own versions.

Types of Camouflage

Two zebras in the wild.
Two zebras in the wild.

Introduce the idea of camouflage by discussing the different ways animals hide in the environment. Blending happens when an animal's color is similar to that of its habitat, such as a polar bear's white fur against the snow. Animals that look like an object in the habitat, such as the walking stick insect, use disguise. Mimicry is when animals have coloring or features that make them look like a more dangerous creature. Other animals, such as zebras, have patterns that make them difficult to track. Provide examples of each type of camouflage. Have kids sort the animal pictures into four piles to show which type of camouflage each uses.

Camouflage Experiments

A polar bear and her cubs walking through snow.
A polar bear and her cubs walking through snow.

To better understand camouflage, let the kids play around with objects. Head outdoors and use the grass as the background. In one exercise, students gather several small objects -- such as buttons or ribbons -- that come in different colors. Students predict and test the objects to see which colors blend in best with the grass. Try the experiment on other surfaces, such as sand or dirt, to see if the answers change. For an indoor activity, use pictures of habitats and separate pictures of animals. The kids place the animal pictures on different habitats to see how they fit in. A polar bear will blend in with a picture of a polar habitat, but it will stand out against the colors in a forest, for example. A variation is to hide animals in the classroom that blend in with the classroom. You might hang a polar bear cutout on the whiteboard or a cutout of a walking stick on a classroom plant. Challenge students to spot as many of the camouflaged animals as possible.

Mimicry and Pattern Explorations

Viceroy butterfly with wings spread open.
Viceroy butterfly with wings spread open.

Instead of helping the animal hide amid its surroundings, mimicry makes an animal look more dangerous than it is. An example is the viceroy butterfly. While not toxic, it looks much like the Monarch butterfly, which is toxic when eaten. Other animals, including some butterflies, fish and reptiles, have spots that look like large eyes to trick predators. Show pictures of mimicry, as well as animals with patterns that make them difficult to see. Give the kids a chance to create their own animals that use mimicry or patterning to stay safe. Provide a template of a butterfly, snake, fish or other animal. Kids should decorate the template to make it look like a dangerous animal or with patterns that would make it difficult to track. They can model the templates after real animals or create their own species.

Camouflage Artwork

Fish swimming by a coral reef.
Fish swimming by a coral reef.

Pull together what you've learned about camouflage in a creative project. Each student chooses a particular habitat, such as a desert, rain forest or ocean. Provide nonfiction books about different habitats for reference. The kids use construction paper to design the elements of the habitat. For an ocean habitat, the child might use blue paper as the background with various colors of coral. They also cut out animals that blend in with the environment using camouflage. An alternative is to start with one main animal as the focal point of the artwork. The kids then build the environment around the animal in the picture to illustrate the concept of camouflage.