Fur, Feathers & Scales

Children will explore different kinds of animal coverings.

Lesson Objective

The children will explore different animal skin coverings and compare them to their own skin.


What You'll Need

  • Pictures of animals with skin coverings that match the samples below (see Lesson Tips)
  • Pieces of furry, animal-print fabrics such as zebra, leopard, tiger, and so on (available inexpensively at fabric stores) – 1 small square per child
  • Feathers (real or craft) – 1 per child
  • Faux leather (available inexpensively at fabric stores) – 1 small square per child
  • Faux reptile skin (available inexpensively at fabric stores) – 1 small square per child

What To Do

  1. Point to your skin, and ask the children what the stuff that is covering your body (“skin”) is called.
  2. Explain that skin is a protective covering for our bodies. Hair on our bodies also helps protect us.
  3. Ask the children whether they know of any other living thing that is covered with skin.
  4. Tell the children that they will be comparing different coverings on animal bodies.
  5. Display the animal-print fabrics, feathers, leather, and reptile skin.
  6. Choose one of the fabrics, and ask the children to describe what they might know about this animal skin; repeat for the other skin coverings.
  7. Distribute the fabric samples to the children.
  8. Ask the children to describe how the skin/fur/feather feels.
  9. Have the children describe how the animal fabric is different from their skin.
  10. Discuss how animal skins are helpful to animals (see Did You Know).

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Tell me any animals you know that have skin like this.
  • Tell me why you think humans are not covered with fur or feathers.
  • How do fur/feathers/scales help the animal?
  • What would happen if the animal’s skins were all mixed up?
  • What would a tiger look like with feathers? An elephant with leopard spots?
  • Tell me why you think alligators have skin instead of fur or feathers.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • At the science center, place the fabric swatches, feathers, and skin with pictures of animals available to sort accordingly.
  • In the art area, place smaller scraps of animal fabric swatches, and invite the children to create an animal using any combination of animal skins that they like.
  • If you have a class pet, have the children observe its covering. What type of covering does it have? How does the covering help the animal?

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children describe the different types of animal coverings?
  • Could children name different animals that match the coverings?
  • Were children able to explain the difference between animal coverings and their own skin?


Did You Know?

Animal skins have changed over time, as animals have adapted to their environments. Most mammals have fur or hair to help keep them warm and protect them from the Sun’s rays. Birds have feathers instead of fur. Feathers are lighter, making it possible for birds to fly. Their feathers also protect them from water and temperature changes. Reptiles have tough skin covered by rigid scales for protection and to prevent dehydration. Their scales are waterproof because they spend much of their lives in the water or in very humid areas.

Animal colors and patterns help them blend in with their surroundings. A tiger’s stripes blend in with golden brown grasses, and the black blends in with the shadows in the grass. Jaguar and cheetah spots blend in with shadows and sunlight reflecting on the foliage around them. Some animals have body coverings that help them hide from predators. Animals like zebras have stripes that blend together, disrupting their individual outlines. This confuses predators when the animals stand in groups. Solid-colored animals blend in to their environments—such as the polar bear or arctic fox, both of whom live in snow-covered lands.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • animal – one of a large group of living things that is not a plant.
  • skin – the thin outer covering of the body.
  • fur – the soft, thick hair that covers the bodies of certain animals such as a bear or rabbit.
  • feather – one of the soft and light parts of a bird that grows from the skin and covers the body.
  • scale – one of the many small, hard, thin plates that cover fish, reptiles, and certain other animals.
  • covering – something that is put on or that an animal has on its body for protection.

Lesson Tips

  • Animal-print fabrics, faux leather, and faux reptile skin can be found inexpensively at fabric and craft stores, discount department stores, or online. Cut large samples into several pieces so that each child has a small piece to examine.
  • Search online for printable pictures of animals that have skin coverings that match your samples.
  • Some children may not be familiar with animals and their different types of skin coverings. You may find it helpful to read the book, Do Frogs Have Fur? A Book About Animal Coats and Coverings, by Michael Dahl as an introduction to this lesson.


  • I See Animals Hiding by Jim Arnosky
  • Stripes, Spots, or Diamonds: A Book About Animal Patterns by Patricia M. Stockland
  • Lots of Spots by Lois Ehlert
  • Look Once, Look Again: Skin & Scales by David M. Schwartz

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

While we believe that the books and resources recommended may be of value to you, keep in mind that these are suggestions only and you must do your own due diligence to determine whether the materials are appropriate and suitable for your use. PNC has no sponsorship or endorsement agreement with the authors or publishers of the materials listed.

Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS