Big Smelly Bear and First Grade STEM

Want to hear some first graders giggle?

Just say these words, "Smelly Bear..."

I promise they will roll on the floor. I have no clue why, but those words are giggle inducing. I discovered this one day when I read the cutest little book to them and we followed that with a STEM Challenge! Trust me on this- read a book to them and they will build anything.

STEM Challenges for first graders work perfectly after reading a book! This blog post is about building bear cages!

It's a perfect formula! We built Bear Cages, of course!

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

Bear Cage Materials

When we started this challenge I just opened my cabinets and unloaded things I had! Here's what we used:

  • craft sticks
  • construction paper
  • pipe cleaners
  • masking tape
  • craft foam sheets
  • straws
  • counting bears
We use so many craft sticks that I buy them in large quantities like this:

For my first and second graders, I use the wider sticks. For this challenge, each group was given 10 craft sticks, 10 straws, 1 pipe cleaner, 1 piece of craft foam, construction paper from the scrap box, and tape.

For the tape, I cut about 12 pieces and stuck these to the sides of their tables and replaced it as needed. I have found that first graders have a lot of trouble cutting tape and we waste less if I cut it!

How About a Bear Cage!

STEM Challenges for first graders work perfectly after reading a book! This blog post is about building bear cages!

After reading the book (we used Big Smelly Bear) I very excitedly told the kids that if we had a bear show up we would need to keep it safe from harm, like cars driving around. And, of course, we would need to keep ourselves safe. What if we could just build a nice bear cage? 

So, the group in the photo above did that! Notice the cute little door!

STEM Challenges for first graders work perfectly after reading a book! This blog post is about building bear cages!

The group above was thinking about what kind of habitat a bear might actually live in and they made their cage look like a cave! Not sure, what they were thinking with all those craft sticks, but I do find with younger builders that they often think if they have materials they need to use them. This is why limited materials are better for them.

The good thing is you can recycle craft sticks. At the end of class have kids take their structures apart and save things you can reuse!

STEM Challenges for first graders work perfectly after reading a book! This blog post is about building bear cages!

Doesn't the one above just make you smile! The straws are meant to be the bars of the cage, but they couldn't get them to stand up. The solution was just to wrap a long piece of tape all the way around.

STEM Challenges for first graders work perfectly after reading a book! This blog post is about building bear cages!

On the right above is a craft stick cage. I was pretty intrigued by the way they got those sticks to stand upright.

On the left is a condominium bear cage! It even has a palm tree! Yes, these were first graders, but this group had a parent volunteer that was really enjoying building with them.

Ready for some bear books?

I have several that are just fabulous for introducing your bear cage challenge! Take a look!


Don't Wake Up the Bear by Marjorie Dennis Murray



A sleeping bear is in his cave and warm and comfy. Along comes a rabbit that wishes he could curl up beside the warm bear and he does. Soon, another animal stops by and joins the sleeping bear. As more animals come they all tell each other to be very quiet because they do not want the bear awake.

One of the last to arrive is a little mouse that curls up inside the bear's ear and gets warm. And you can figure out what happens next as the mouse begins to have the sniffles. Eventually, the mouse will sneeze and the bear wakes up. When this begins to happen it is a great spot to stop and let your kids guess what will happen with the mouse! (The bear does wake up, but he saunters off and completely ignores all the animals!)

Fun little book and a quick read- perfect for setting up your Bear Cage Challenge!

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens



What a delightful book this is! And funny! Your kids will love seeing the hares trick the bear!

The bear owns some land, but he is very lazy. Down the road lives the hare family with tons of children (The photo of the hare family with rabbits all over the place is pretty amusing!)

The hares decide to go into business with the bear. They ask him to allow the use of his land to grow crops. They will do all the work and all the bear has to do is choose - Tops or Bottoms. He agrees and chooses tops.

The hares plant crops that have leafy tops with the food on the bottom- like carrots and radishes. Bear gets the green leaves. Of course, Bear is unhappy so they repeat the planting and Bear chooses the bottoms. He is tricked again because the rabbits plant leafy plants like lettuce and broccoli and all the bear gets are the roots.

For the last planting event, the bear chooses tops and bottoms and the hares plant corn. They grab all the corn from the stalks- claiming this is the middle of the plant! Tricked again!

Your kids will laugh all the way through this book - and they will learn a little about crops!

Koala Lou by Mem Fox



Yes, I know a koala is not a bear. You can do two things with this book- read it and let the children learn that a koala is not a bear or change the challenge to a koala cage instead of a bear cage. Either way, it will work because this book is the best ever! (And the kids will learn that a koala is not a bear!)

Koala Lou is a little, much-loved koala that is trying to get her mother's attention. Her mother reminds her often,
"Koala, Lou, I do love you!"
But, there are too many brothers and sisters and Koala Lou is not getting the attention she needs. She decides to enter the Bush Olympics and if she wins her mother will love her again. Koala Lou races in a tree climbing event and loses. The book ends happily as the mother assures Koala Lou she does love her and always will! Sweet, sweet book.

I was lucky, lucky, lucky many years ago to be at a conference where I met Mem Fox after listening to her read this book aloud to the crowd. Amazing!


 Big Smelly Bear by Britta Teckentrup



Oh, how we love Big Smelly Bear! The bear never bathes or brushes his hair. And he smells bad. Bad. One day he has an itch he just cannot reach and he asks for help from Big Fluffy Bear. Fluffy Bear insists that Smelly Bear take a bath first and it all ends well.

First graders adore this book and it sets the stage perfectly for your Bear Cage Challenge!

Great books, fabulous STEM ideas, and loads of building fun for your smallest engineers!

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