Buffalo Lesson Ideas & Book List

We watch a lot of animal documentaries in our house.  In fact, my son (turning four years old next month) once told me, “Mom, I don’t really like kids’ TV shows.  I just like documentaries.”  We stumbled upon an excellent buffalo documentary on YouTube, titled Thunderbeast.  It has played an unnamed number of times in our home over the past couple of months.

My son has really developed a fascination with these impressive animals, probably as a result from one of our summer outings to the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.  He had quite literally begged me for “buffalo school” for nearly a month before I finally caved and put together a unit for him.  My hesitation did not come from a particular objection to the buffalo, but rather from the fact that I had been unable to find many resources online for a print-n-go buffalo unit.

I began brainstorming.  I knew I wanted to use many of the items we had on hand, my son’s buffalo toys for example, and I remembered that he really enjoyed the Johnny Appleseed lapbook we did back in August, so I thought another lapbook would be a neat way to collect everything we learned.

Math: Following the idea behind this lego & dice counting game, we made a long, curvy path out of legos.  Our game pieces were two tiny buffalo, babies who had lost their mommy!  The mommy was waiting at the end of the trail, and pacing on the sidelines was the wolf.  My son was very excited to reunite the buffalo calves with their mommy and triumph over the wolf!  We used only one die, although you could easily use two for counting to higher numbers; just be sure to make your trail longer if you go that route!

Lapbook: I quickly realized that my inhibitions about making my own lapbook from scratch were unwarranted.  In fact, I am feeling an unexpected sense of freedom.  The sky is the limit and I am breaking free of printables!  (Our budget is going to thank me for that one… that ink costs an arm and a leg!)  After looking over many different animal lapbooks from homeschoolshare, I decided to make my own mini-books, based on buffalo facts that would interest my son.


We had a map showing where the Great Plains are located, a coloring page of the prairie, and several lift-a-flap books: buffalo diet, buffalo predators, and uses of the buffalo.   I also printed out blank black-and-white buffalo templates and I wrote fun facts about the buffalo as we read.   Creating my own mini-books had one distinct advantage: my son is a pre-reader, so whenever possible, I used pictures rather than words.  For example, in the buffalo diet booklet, I used a picture of grass and water; in the predator booklet, I used pictures of wolves, mountain lions, and bears.  He was so excited to be able to show his daddy his lapbook each night and narrate it without any
help from me.
DSCN5011DSCN5008I found a lot of information for the scientific portion of our lessons from these websites: http://www.animalfactguide.com/animal-facts/american-bison/ and http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/american-bison/.

Buffalo Book List

We had a lot of fun reading books about buffalo in addition to the hands-on activities above.  Here are some of our favorites:

Grandfather Buffalo, by Jim Arnosky
This is a sweet tale about an old buffalo who trails behind the herd.  The illustrations are delightful and the story has a poignant lesson regarding multi generational relationships.  Grandfather Buffalo was hands-down my favorite out of our stack of buffalo books.

The Buffalo are Back, by Jean Craighead George
Breathtaking illustrations accompany the enchanting history of the buffalo and how its rise and fall affected the Prairie and its People.  I learned quite a bit while reading this to my son, which is always a plus for me!  The words to picture ratio is a bit high for younger children; my son is four, but is particularly interested in this subject, so he was hanging on every word.

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick
A whimsical addition to our buffalo unit, this quirky book make my son chuckle a bit.  He is my little scientist though, and wasn’t as interested in this book as the others.  Check this book out for a lighthearted take on the buffalo.  (Think the buffalo version of Jane Yolen’s How Does a Dinosaur Books.)

Buffalo Before Breakfast, by Mary Pope Osborne
Our first attempt at a read-aloud chapter book was a smashing success thanks to this engaging tale.  I was a bit hesitant to try a read-aloud with such few illustrations – half-page and full-page illustrations are scattered throughout the book – but my son loved it!  A word of caution: there are references to some of the Lakota practices and belief systems.  If those passages contradict what you are trying to instill in your child at home and that is something you would want to guard your child from until he/she is old enough to understand it better, it is quite easy to omit those sections as you are reading aloud.