Family Outings

Newport Aquarium

This weekend we had an amazing family adventure to Newport Aquarium  for the first time! With Emma loving everything about ocean life, this trip was well overdue! Situated right on the Ohio River in Kentucky, Newport on the Levee is filled with restaurants, shopping, and entertainment events that perfectly round out any family visit.


As soon as you enter the aquarium you are greeted with replicas of sea creatures hanging from the rafters. Emma was especially fond of the “Wishing Whale.” I have to give a shout out to the ladies working the front entrance. They were especially nice and friendly as they had little conversations with our kids. One cast member even gave Emma a few pennies to toss to the whale (because mommy and daddy couldn’t find any). It was a wonderful way to begin our first visit.


After exiting the elevator (which was cleverly painted as if we were in a shark cage submerged in water), we were greeted with fish from rivers across the world. It was all we could do to keep Emma from running to each exhibit, she was so excited. I must say, once we saw this tunnel, Matt and I were just as excited!


Emma loved that the fish could swim right over her head! “We’re really underwater!” 🙂


Each display was labeled with info cards so you could read about the animals as you located them in the tank.


This tunnel lead us to the first of three touch pools. The Tide Pool is similar to the touch pool at The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium  where you can feel sea stars, horseshoe crabs and anemone. Rather than being herded through the line quickly, we were able to step to any side of the pool to see the animals. It was also a good height for kids to see. I did have to lift Emma a little so she could touch the bottom, but she could clearly see inside without any help at all. A cast member was stationed behind the pool to answer any questions and to give us more information about the animals we were exploring.


You can see there are several sea stars in the tank. The anemone (in the bottom left corner) were very soft to the touch, almost as if you couldn’t feel them at all! Their tentacles would gently wrap around your fingers and it wasn’t until I went to pull away that I felt them sticking slightly.


There was also a beautiful display of a coral reef. Emma reminded us that coral is an animal and it’s important to help keep them healthy!


As we  explored, Matt and I had fun tinkering with our photography skills! The bright animals against the dark background was great to play around with. I do have to give him a shout out here, since he took several of these with our Canon while I was keeping my Insta feed updated.


When we rounded the corner from the Tide Pool, we came face-to-face with a huge tank filled with…


…SHARKS! If you’ve read my post on Shark Week you know that our family loves sharks! I was a proud momma indeed when Emma was able to correctly identify 3 of the 4 species at the Newport Aquarium! The shark above is a Sand Tiger Shark. This display was kind of tall for Emma to get up close, but was perfect for Lee to stand carefully on the edge. One of the Leopard Sharks swam right by as he looked!



We were at this display for quite some time just watching the sharks swim by. 🙂


It was pretty neat. We were so close we could almost touch them!


When we did manage to tear ourselves away from the sharks, we found the seahorses! We learned some new facts about seahorses (did you know they can move their eyes in two different directions at the same time?) and the kids were able to create their own!


Emma worked on the iPad to design a sea dragon! This cute interactive moment allowed her to display her creation for all visitors at Newport on the TV above.


Once finished, the program gave me the option to have her sea dragon emailed to me. When I received the email, there was an extra bonus fact about sea dragons and a free coloring sheet for when we got home!

Emma's Sea Dragon

The seahorses were beautiful! We saw big ones and dwarf ones that were no bigger than an inch! I also loved the music playing as we looked around. It was very calming and fitting for seahorses!


And yes, those are real animals in there! They look like the plastic leafy stuff you can get for a home aquarium, but in reality they are tiny sea dragons!


There is no dull moment as you walk through the exhibits. The layout is cleverly designed so everyone follows the same path. This way you know you are seeing all of the exhibits, but the path is wide enough that visitors can view the animals at their own pace. Being first-timers, we took our time at each tank and never felt rushed or pushed through to the next section. Newport is also filled with these beautiful murals that reach ceiling to floor! This one shows an extinct sea creature along with an info poster.


The next space we found ourselves in was Gator Alley and the Louisiana bayou! Fun jazz played as we walked through the swamps!


Matt and Lee got a kick out of this lizard because it kept nodding at them as they looked at him. Lee would imitate it and the two would go back and forth for a bit! It was quite funny!


What we weren’t expecting to see was Mighty Mike, a 15-foot, 800-pound alligator! Our pictures of Mike do not do him justice! It was very difficult to capture just how big he was! Many walking by didn’t think he was real since he was so still in the water. A cast member working in the area confirmed that he was a real alligator and talked to us for a bit about him and his history.


Lee’s face in this picture says it all! Mike is one big alligator!


Sadly, Mighty Mike has left Newport to rejoin Florida’s Crocodilian Conservation Center. There he will continue to grow and educate others on the importance of our wetlands in America.


Even though mike is gone, two of the rarest animals in the world still remain at Newport: Snowball and Snowflake! They are two White American Alligators. There are less than 100 known white alligators in the world. It was pretty special to see these creatures!


Follow Emma long to Stingray Hideaway where Matt’s year was made! 😉


Stingray Hideaway was beautiful and open. After being mostly underground the entire time, seeing natural light through the windows was very welcome.


This exhibit was also well designed. The path was angled so we could see underwater in some spaces, but then was high enough that Emma could reach into the tank at others.


There was also a small (crawling only) path where the rays were swimming above and around us! Emma loved this!


In the middle of the crawling path was a little “bubble” where you could poke your head out and see above the water. We really enjoyed the way this tank was designed!


Oh, and did I mention that this was the second touch pool?


One of Matt’s favorite animals is a stingray, so it totally made his day that he got to touch and hang out with a few!


We also saw jellyfish! There are roughly 10 pictures of the jellyfish tank on my camera roll, but I’ll only share two with you here. They were very beautiful!



My favorite part of the whole day was a little corridor with glass on all sides (including under our feet) that gave us the perfect view of these guys:


THE SHARKS! We stood and talked with a cast member for quite some time learning about the sharks and other creatures in the largest tank at the aquarium. It is hard not to be in awe of them as they swim over and under you.



One thing was apparent as we continued to interact with the cast members: all of them truly cared about the animals. Not only do all of the animals have names, but all of the cast members know the names along with funny or interesting anecdotes about each.


Along with the sharks and stingrays, there is a 200 pound sea turtle named Denver and a huge grouper named Brutus that live in this tank. There is also a Nurse Shark named Ziggy that likes to hide out under your feet. Ziggy is named such because she grew too big for her original tank (not at Newport). As a result her tail is crooked!


This is my favorite picture of the day!


Oh, and no big deal, this is just me TOUCHING a SHARK in the third touch pool!


The last thing we did was cross the Shark Bridge! This suspended bridge hovers over the shark exhibit.


It took some convincing to get Emma to go across, but she conquered her fear and went across twice! I was so proud of her!


It was a perfect day. We were able to nurture Emma’s love for sea animals while giving her some hands-on experience with them and other biologists. I highly highly recommend a visit to the Newport Aquarium. If you’re looking for more information, you can check out the blog here.

Please know that I am not being paid to recommend this. Our family truly enjoyed our visit. I’m glad we got to experience the wonder together!


Wishing you well,



Learning Through Play, Lesson Planning

It’s Shark Week!

Always being on the move and knowing the importance of play, we don’t really watch TV. With that said, there are only 2 weeks we truly look forward to watching together as a family: NHL opening week, and SHARK WEEK!

Sharks are so fascinating no matter your age. Emma loves learning about the oceans and ocean life in general thanks to shows like Octonauts, the mermaid trend happening now, and her momma always focusing a whole month at school on ocean life. 😉 So, in honor of the 30th Anniversary of Discovery’s Shark Week, I’ve compiled some of my past and present ideas and teaching moments dedicated to Sharks!

In the classroom, we would spend the first week or so doing multiple projects that would transform the room. Before opening the classroom for the unit, I would use blue streamers to make “ocean waves” across the ceiling using the drop tiles. It was dual purpose as it set the tone for the upcoming unit and looked great too! As we learned about different species of ocean animals, students would use materials at the art center to create their own version like this sea turtle. We would then hang up the animals in our floating ocean. Other animals I’ve used included jellyfish, clown fish, angelfish, and seahorses.

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Some other projects included these 3D ocean waves made from construction paper and glue. This activity is great for working on scissor skills since the students can cut their own strips of paper. I love it because it gets them thinking outside-the-rectangle of traditional 2D art and challenges them to take their artwork to the next level.

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I love using sensory materials in new ways. To make these jellyfish, students first used paint to make the watery background. We then used some bubble wrap I had recycled from a package to create the large part of the jellyfish and pipe cleaners for the tentacles.

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Did I say how much I love using sensory materials?! The coral was a tricky task for my 4-year-olds to cut out. By gluing on rice we added some texture as we worked on our fine motor skills. If you haven’t already, check out my post on how easy it is to turn plain rice into Rainbow Rice!

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I love this perspective project below. This is a picture of my finished painting (I love doing the projects alongside the students). There are two ways you could set this up: pre-mix the paint colors and have students order by shade, or have the students mix the colors themselves. To get it set up use 3 paint colors: white, blue, and black and about 10 mixing cups labeled 1-10. In the first cup place just white paint, and in the 10th cup just black paint. Cup 5 would be just blue paint. Then challenge the students to use a combination of blue/white and blue/black paint to create a gradient that flows smoothly from cup 1 to 10. This does take some trial and error, but definitely meaningful! To create the “ocean floor looking up” perspective, start with a white circle anywhere on the paper. Then paint in circles starting from cup 2 and slowly move out to cup 9 as you work toward the edge of the paper. Use the black in cup 10 for the shark silhouettes.

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Hands-down my favorite project of the week was our life-sized drawing and painting of a great white shark that hung in our ocean from the ceiling. We made our great white 15 feet long. It was a challenge to keep it hanging all week (it was pretty heavy) and sadly I do not have a picture! My SECOND favorite project is below.

Sometimes I give my students a pattern to cut from (like the coral) and sometimes I do not. In this case, I did not give any patterns but had students draw and cut out their own shapes. We started with the large triangle and then added a semicircle for the mouth. Four circles helped create eyes, and triangles for the teeth. How cute did these turn out?! I love how they all look unique!

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More recently, I posted on Instagram about this invitation to play I set up for Emma. We found this tube of sea animals from Safari Ltd and we had to pick it up! While she was napping I had fun setting up this little world for her to explore. She loves the kinetic sand and I love it because there’s no mess! I also threw in a couple of seashells I had on hand because why not?


The blue tray is from a set of 4 we purchased from Lakeshore. We use them all the time for lots of projects. They’re fantastic!


You can’t quite see it, but I also found this amazing t-shirt at Target! Being the amazing budding marine biologist that she is, she immediately knew what it was and double-checked that the animals pictured were in the correct zone. 🙂


Sadly I do not have pictures of the “meat and potatoes” of our Shark unit which culminated in mini projects focusing on a different species of shark for each child. They were very similar to our engineering projects where students researched and documented facts about their shark, created and labeled a digram with their body parts, and charted where in the oceans their shark lives. When the week was complete, the class could name around 15 different shark species and some of their characteristics.

With Emma’s deep interest, we are looking into a long weekend at Newport Aquarium so she can explore the sharks and other animals up close and personal. Now that I’m able to focus my teaching on my children, I’m hoping to be able to immerse them in real life situations when their interests pique. Until then, our family will continue to enjoy sitting together on the couch learning from a distance as we watch Shark Week.

Wishing you well,