This story was written to introduce the topic of adaptations, within a science unit which focused on Antarctica in particular. I presented it to the class as a picture book with photos, but I have included it here because my students really enjoyed the story.
It was ten full moons after Peter’s hatch-day, when finally, after a lot of waiting, his fourth and final layer of adult feathers had fully grown.
His Mum and Dad were delighted. They spent the next few months showing him their favourite swimming spots, the best places for fishing, how to hold his breath and how huddling can maintain warmth – even on the coldest days.
One thing Peter found difficult to learn, was how to dive gracefully into the water. All his friends had learned to do it, but every time Peter tried, he made a big splash and got water in his beak.
“I think you’ll have to go to summer school Peter,” said his friend Kriella.
“You should be able to dive smoothly by now,” she shook her head sadly.
“What’s so important about diving anyway?” asked Peter. “I know how to get into the water. What else do I really need?”
“We’re Penguins silly. We have to dive for our food. Besides, we’re famous for our great diving skills,” Kriella said.
“My Mum said that Penguins are actually birds. Did you know that?” Peter said, flapping his flippers as if he would like to test that theory.
“Yes, I’ve heard that. But I don’t believe it. We belong in the sea, not the sky. We’re built for ice and cold water,” Kriella said.
Peter looked up into the sky and wished with all his heart he could fly. He loved watching the sea birds land in groups and chatter together on the shore. They looked so graceful with their big powerful wings and long beaks.
“I want to learn to fly,” Peter said.
Kriella looked at him as if he was speaking another language. “Penguins don’t fly, we swim,” and off she went, leaving Peter alone with his thoughts.
Peter turned away from the ocean shore and noticed a piece of ice that looked higher than the rest. He started waddling towards it.
When he got to the highest point he realised it would be a good place to start his flying practice.
Peter closed his eyes and pulled his flippers back. He summoned all his courage and counted, 1, 2, 3…
Off he ran, as fast as his tiny feet would take him. He spread his flippers and stretched forward into the air.
But instead of going up into the sky like a regular bird, he landed with a thump on his rather chubby tummy.
What happened next was something he didn’t expect.
He began to slide.
He was a bit alarmed at first. The wind rushed through his tiny black feathers and he held his flippers out. This made him slide even faster.
“YIPPEE” he began to squeal with joy. He couldn’t believe it, he felt like he was actually flying.
All of a sudden Peter reached the end of the ice and saw the shiny blue water of the sea stretched out below him. There was nothing around him but air. He was flying.
Peter flapped hard like a sea bird taking off, but no matter how much he tried, his flippers wouldn’t keep him in the air.
His large shiny body was going down fast. Peter realised he was going to have to make a water landing.
He pointed his nose downwards, tucked his flippers in and closed his eyes. Whooosh! He slid into the blue sea with barely a splash.
As soon as Peter felt the cool silky water all around him he began to swim. Holding his breath, he swam as strongly as he could.
Peter was exhilarated by his icy slide and brief flight. For the first time in his life, he felt graceful.
I have to try that again, he thought.
Lifting his head out of the water Peter noticed a large crowd of family and friends had gathered on the icy shore.
“That was incredible,” he heard someone say.
“Who would have thought he’d be so brave?” said another.
“I want to try it!” he heard Krielle’s voice above the rest.
Peter held out his flippers and smiled.
“That was the best fun ever. I’m going to do it again.” He waddled past them towards the higher ice.
The younger penguins, who were always keen to try new things, were the first to follow Peter up the slope.
One by one they took turns running and then sliding down the ice – before finally diving into the sea water below.
It wasn’t long before the whole colony had tried it.
“It is remarkable,” they agreed.
“Great for my waistline,” said old Mamma Grey.
Word spread throughout all the penguin colonies.
Penguins everywhere began to experiment with ice sliding.
It became so popular that sea birds began referring to their distant cousins as ‘The Great Ice Flyers’.
And so they are.
Download this story to read to your class: The Flying Penguin – by Sarah Parker
Related lesson resources:
Animals in Extremes – Discovery Channel A great video about the various extreme habitats animals survive in.
Animals in the Antarctica Ice Take you students on a tour through Antarctica to see the various animals which live there.
Splash ABC – Penguin Wave – Catalyst ABC A short documentary style segment on penguins.
Blubber Glove Experiment I tried this experiment with my class and they had a great time. It gives students a hands-on understanding of how insulating blubber is for warm blooded animals who live in icy conditions.
Antarctica Printables – Time for Kids A great range of printable activities for your Antarctica unit.