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Animals Up-Close

Encounters with the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home

Animals Up-Close: Learn More


  • Enjoy fun, active learning with hands-on investigations of live animals and rare biofacts.
  • Inspire scientific literacy and inquiry, encouraging students to think critically and creatively. 
  • Promote interest and understanding of STEM with hands-on applications of science.
  • Support Common Core and 3-Dimensional Learning of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
  • We offer a variety of Classroom Programs for Pre-K to grade 12. Click below for more information!

Classroom Program Topics

PreK-K Programs

Mystic Aquarium educators encourage young students to observe the natural world, ask questions, and look for patterns to describe needs that animals have to live and grow. They discover sources for those needs along with comparisons to our own. We also reinforce the important concept of cause and effect and how to respect each other and the environment we all share. All PreK and K programs include a literacy focus through vocabulary building and hands-on activities. We offer three specific programs for PreK and Kindergarten classes.


What kinds of surprises might children encounter in the magical Aquarium suitcase? Clownfish, eels, anemones, flounder, and a shark to name just a few! Learning comes alive as students discover the suitable habitat, (home,) for each of these animals as well as adaptations that equip them for life in the ocean. Suggested book to complement the program: “Hiding in Oceans” by Deborah Underwood


Ocean creatures have countless ways of moving from one place to another. Some use their fins to move, while others walk sideways. Enjoy a fun, active game to find out how each of the players has adapted to successfully move in their ocean home! Kids will become green crabs, clownfish, sea stars, and belugas to discover different ways to move! Suggested book to complement the program: “Move” by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page


Hermit crabs are fascinating creatures, carrying their home with them wherever they go. Sometimes moving to a bigger shell can be quite an adventure! In this exciting class, the story, A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle, will come to life using a costume and props for students to discover a master of camouflage. Suggested book to complement the program: “Old Shell, New Shell” by Helen Ward

Grades 1 to 9 Classroom Programs

Each of the four topics has an option for every grade group from grades 1 to 9. These topics are aligned with crosscutting concepts (CCC) of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and each program within a topic is adapted making use of the appropriate science and engineering practices (S&EP) to address disciplinary core ideas (DCI) for the corresponding grade groups. Mystic Aquarium also embraces the pedagogy of NGSS, where the teacher becomes more of a guide, and students are encouraged to lead each other through their inquiries.

Topic 1 – Animal Adaptations (CCC: Structure and Function)

Younger grades will identify similarities and differences in the adaptations of penguins (birds) and belugas (mammals,) and discover which is more like us. Middle-older grades will compare and contrast sharks (fish,) and belugas in order to understand more about structural and behavioral adaptations and the functions they serve. Additionally, students will learn how important each animal is to its environment and discuss ways to protect them.

Grades 1-3: Belugas vs. Penguins

Grades 4-6: Belugas vs. Sharks

Grades 7-9: Belugas vs. Sharks (conservation focus)

Topic 2 – Classification (CCC: Patterns, Structure and Function)

Younger grades will begin to understand the diversity of animals by understanding some basic characteristics of reptiles, birds, mammals, and fishes. As an excellent introduction to taxonomy and biodiversity, students will have fun while investigating some animal representations, discussing with classmates and figuring out how to start sorting and classifying animals. Older grades dive more deeply into the subject with ocean invertebrates, including three phyla not found on land. Teachers of middle and high school students may also opt for a squid dissection program as an explorative lesson in morphology and classification of invertebrates.  

Grades 1-3: All Sorts of Animals

Grades 4-6: Invertebrate Lab (Squid Dissection also available)

Grades 7-9: Squid Dissection (Invertebrate Lab also available)

Topic 3 – Habitats & Ecosystems (CCC: Energy and Matter, Systems and System Models)

This topic uses the Long Island Sound ecosystem and local aquatic habitats to understand just how diverse and valuable they are. Younger grades will explore our shores in the classroom to discover unique habitats and the animals that thrive there. Middle grades learn about the flow of energy within an ecosystem using a local ocean food web example and the importance of its balance. Older grades focus on parameters used to gauge local ecosystem health and learn about how an ecosystem approach can contribute to the conservation of threatened species.

Grades 1-3: Explore the Shore of the Long Island Sound

Grades 4-6: Eat or Be Eaten (Food chains->pyramids->webs)

Grades 7-9: Long Island Sound Exploration

Topic 4 – Humans and the Ocean (CCC: Stability and Change, Cause and Effect)

Through examples of coral reef animals and their habitat, younger grades will understand how everyone plays an important role in their community, and individuals working together can be more successful in survival. Middle grades can learn about keystone species and how their survival indicates and/or affects the health of an ecosystem such as many amphibians and some specific reptiles. Older grades will investigate case studies to determine ailments of various marine species and how information from their health assessments can contribute to overall species survival. In collaboration, all programs in this topic will discover human impact on those species during their investigations and will discuss possible solutions to help lessen human impact. 

Grades 1-3: Coral Communities

Grades 4-6: Amphibians & Reptiles in Jeopardy

Grades 7-9: Marine Animal Rescue Science

Grades 6-12: Careers Programs

We offer a personalized guided tour focused on careers for a maximum of up to 15 participants at standard, onsite, classroom program rates. We can also accommodate a live, distance learning version of this program and a traveling version for career fairs. Standard virtual program or outreach traveling program fees would apply.

Grades 10 to 12 Classroom Programs

Topic - Animal Adaptations (CCC: Structure and Function)

Comparative Evolution 

This program explains how environmental changes supported the evolution of new species. Students will examine marine mammal skeletons to discover the structural changes whales and dolphins have made to support a fully aquatic lifestyle. This program is a great way for your students to see firsthand anatomical evidence that supports the theory of evolution and the transition from a terrestrial to aquatic lifestyle.

Topic - Classification (CCC: Patterns, Structure and Function)

Population Genetics & Species Survivorship

Exploring the impact of conservation focused research supporting the Endangered African penguin, this program explores the role genetics plays in managing the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and stable.

Topic - Humans and the Ocean (CCC: Stability and Change, Cause and Effect)

Marine Animal Strandings & Veterinary Sciences

Students will take on the role of a marine veterinarian by examining animal anatomy using x-rays and the immune system by looking at individual blood cells to discover how abiotic and biotic factors affect animals’ health. This unique program is designed to enhance your students’ understanding of science concepts and how marine scientists work through hands-on and minds-on activities.


If in need of a more intense lab-based or “Honors/AP” - level of a program, we can offer our any of our Researcher for a Day Programs, listed under the Classes section of our Collegiate pagePlease note that due to the resources needed for lab-based programs that we offer to these audiences, those programs can only be conducted at the Aquarium, and some may also be conducted in a distance learning format. Please contact us for more information.

For more detailed descriptions of teaching standards addressed in our classroom programs click below.

Teaching Standards

For information on programs for college or university groups, click here.

For more information on programs for adult groups, click here.


We can work with you and tailor a program to meet your group’s specific needs. Those looking for a more in-depth experience beyond just one class can contact our Education Department to create an engaging, multi-part program. Activities can take place virtually, at the Aquarium, at your location, or on the coast! Contact the Education Department today at EducationInfo@MysticAquarium.org.


After reviewing the Classroom Program Descriptions, please complete the form in the button below to request a reservation for a group visit and education programs, whether at the Aquarium, at your location, or through distance learning. If you need more information or a quote for multiple/package programs, please contact us at EducationInfo@MysticAquarium.org or 860.572.5955 x431.