Making a bestiary.

Our recent unit study on the unicorn inspired me to combine our naturalist study of ecology with an exploration of history. The fantastic never ceases to coexist with the actual in the minds of children. This is partly because, as GK Chesterton noted, everything under the sun is fantastic and amazing to the attuned mind of a child.

Since Max is learning how to observe, classify, and study nature while reading The Hobbit and other fantasy tales, I thought it might be fun to begin an ongoing project of making a bestiary. Using ancient bestiaries made available online, I created a title page and standard bestiary page to provide an underlying structure to what promises to be a surreal adventure.

To make your own bestiary, feel free to use the resources I’ve created or scuttle them and take your own approach. I’d love to see photos and learn more about your bestiary.

Make A Bestiary

Use an old file folder (with three holes punched in the side) or a binder to collect the ongoing “beasts”. Have your child name (i.e. Max’s Bestiary) and illustrate a title page for his or her bestiary.

Max’s cover page for his bestiary.

Print the Bestiary Introduction page and read it with your child. This offers a brief, wiki-based history on bestiaries and their various forms. If your sunshine is a visual learner, take a moment to explore The Medieval Bestiary and its creatures online before continuing.

Explain how this binder or folder will be your child’s own bestiary to include creatures, both actual and imagined, that they learn about, study, or encounter this year. Add the introduction to your bestiary so your child can re-read it whenever he or she pleases.

Print The Caladrius page, a sample entry for their bestiary, and discuss the the caladrius. Talk about the format and how the illustration gives us a sense of the time and place. Discuss any moral implications to this beast. Do we have another name for the calabrius? Once you’ve explored this sample together, you can add it to your bestiary.

Now it is time to let your little one add his or her first beast to the collection. Download and print a few copies of the Bestiary Book Page (actually, three pages) so you have them on hand should a new beast be discovered while reading or playing.

Ask your child to choose his or her favorite animal for the first entry. Show them how to write the name of the animal in the large blank. Then give them supplies to illustrate the animal in the large box below the blank.

Possible supplies could include:

  • Paper
  • Colored pencils, crayons, and paints for illustrating the beasts
  • Old magazines for making collages or cut-outs of various beasts
  • Glue
  • Yarn and glue for sketching and outlining borders with yarn

Using the sample sheet as model, encourage your child to describe this beast in the large space given for description. What does it do? Is it friendly? What does it eat? How does it look? When do we encounter it? What adjectives describe it?

Then have your child fill in the habitat blank. To get to the answer, ask your child where this beast lives both specifically (its ecosystem and living space) and geographically (its location/s on a map).

Now explore how this beast is presented in various stories, books, and media. What has your child learned about this beast from different sources? Does your child know any stories about this beast? If so, what do the stories teach about the beast? Where do the stories come from? Who wrote the stories or told the tales?

For this section, make sure your child has access to a variety of books and experiences that might enrich his or her exploration of this beast. Examples include:

  • Books with moral fables about animals, like Aesop’s Fables
  • Various Greek and Roman mythologies
  • Norse folklore
  • American Indian legends and myths
  • Asian legends and myths
  • An encyclopedia of animals
  • Grandparents
  • Zoos

Your child can always return to this page and add more as they encounter this beast again at a different point in time.

Help your child think of other names for this beast. Was it called something else in the past? Do we call it something different now? Does it have a scientific name? A genus and species?

Finally, help your child decide how to classify this beast. He or she should try to name their own classification groups as a part of a larger scheme for their bestiary. They can update their Classification categories for bestiary page as they add more categories. Or they can choose more categories and add them now as a guide for future beasts. There are as many different ways to classify creatures as there are ways to eat a bran muffin. Categories might include:

  • Birds
  • Sea creatures
  • Creatures with wings
  • Imaginary creatures
  • Mammals
  • Creatures that heal

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