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Life through a lens: Arctic tundra

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By John Davisteacher and freelance writer

Feel the experience but not the cold, by exploring the Arctic tundra from the warmth of your classroom!

The lands that lie inside the Arctic Circle are freezing, desolate and inhospitable places. Snow and ice cover the landscape for much of the year, and even the earth that remains is almost permanently frozen. Yet, like the people who live and work there, hardy and specially adapted creatures do prosper; while plants burst into life whenever brief opportunities arise.

Illustration of a moose

Have plenty of maps, charts and diagrams on display so that the children can locate the polar regions at either end of the globe. Focus in particular on the region inside the Arctic Circle and the areas usually known as the Arctic tundra. Take this opportunity to differentiate between the two polar regions. The Arctic is essentially a frozen sea of drifting ice surrounded by land, while the Antarctic is a frozen land surrounded by a vast, icy ocean. Tell the children what the word ‘tundra’ means, and point out the extent of the Arctic tundra in the northernmost parts of countries like Canada, Russia and Finland.


  • Consider how most of the creatures living in the Arctic region have features that enable them to survive in freezing temperatures for much of the year. Whales, seals and walruses are coated with thick layers of blubber, while polar bears, wolves and reindeer have thick fur coats to keep them warm. Why do some animals, like Arctic stoats and hares, have coats that turn white in the wintertime? What triggers off these changes?
  • Find out more about snow, ice and frost, and how they are formed. Collect temperatures from outside the school building during the winter months and record the data using charts and graphs. What instrument is used to measure temperature? How do we record temperatures when they drop below freezing point? Why does frost form? Why is ice so slippery? Measure any snow that falls in millimetres. Why is snow white? What shape do snowflakes have when they are magnified?
  • Use pictures to show the children how people who live in Arctic regions keep themselves warm. From which materials do they traditionally make their clothing? Where do they obtain these materials? Discuss how the children keep themselves warm outside when the weather gets cold. Test out different kinds of materials used to make coats worn to school in the winter, to see which are the most effective. How is it best to keep feet and hands warm? Why is it recommended to wear a hat when it is cold? Are four thin layers better than two thick layers for keeping us warm?
  • In simple terms, talk about how global warming and climate change is beginning to affect life for animals, plants and people inside the Arctic Circle. What will happen to the ice if temperatures continue to rise? Why could this have serious consequences?