Continents and Oceans Background Information for Teachers and Families

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about geography, continents, and oceans.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Continents and Oceans. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

The world is a big place! Help children develop a better understanding of geography and learn about the world around them. In this movie, children will learn about Earth’s continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. Children will learn a few key details about each continent, including their location on a map. They will also explore our planet’s five oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern, and Arctic Oceans. We recommend looking at maps together and helping children find their own location and other places of interest around the world. You may want to screen the Reading Maps movie as a review.

Remind children that a continent is one of Earth’s large landmasses. It is important to note that some cultures divide the continents differently. For example, some people group North and South America as one continent because it is separated only by an isthmus; others consider Europe and Asia as one continent since it is one land mass divided by the Ural Mountain range. But many people feel that the enormous historical and cultural differences between the Americas, and between Europe and Asia, justify their separation into distinct continents.

Most people agree that there are five main oceans in the world. The Arctic Ocean is in the far north, and the Southern Ocean surrounds Antarctica. The Pacific Ocean is to the west of the North and South Americas, while the Atlantic Ocean is to the east. The Indian Ocean is bordered by Africa, Asia, and Australia. Remind children that there are other smaller bodies of water, such as the Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Look at a map together and point out other bodies of water. Are any bodies of water near your school visible on the map?

Find North America on a map. Remind children that North America includes the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico. It also includes Central America, which is the long, narrow part of the continent that connects to South America. Discuss different landforms in North America together. You may want to review the Landforms movie together. Remind children that plains are wide, flat areas of land that often have rich soil. The Great Plains covers over 500,000 square miles of the central United States and Canada. The Rocky Mountains also covers parts of the United States and Canada—they stretch over 3,000 miles from the southern part of British Columbia in Canada to New Mexico in the United States. What are some other noteworthy landmarks in North America? Discuss with children and look at their location on a map.

Remind children that the Equator is an imaginary line that goes around the middle of the Earth. Most of South America lies in the southern hemisphere, the area below the Equator. The Amazon rainforest is in South America and it is the largest rainforest in the world. You may want to screen the Rainforests movie as an extension, and highlight differences between North and South American climates and rainforests. South America is also home to the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes Mountains. This mountain range is over 4,000 miles long and extends across seven countries.

Show a map of Africa and point out that parts of Africa lie in the northern hemisphere and other parts lie in the southern hemisphere. The largest desert in the world is the Sahara Desert and it is in Africa. This desert covers nearly 3,700,000 square miles and is almost as large as the entire United States. Africa is also home to the longest river in the world, the Nile River. Help children understand that people have been relying on the river for thousands of years, not only for drinking water but for food and transport. You may want to view the Ancient Egypt movie as an extension. Many children are familiar with animals such as giraffes, elephants, zebras, lions, cheetahs, and hippos. These are animals that are native to Africa and in some cases the only places where they are found in the wild.

There are about fifty countries in Europe, but twenty-seven of them have come together to form the European Union to share resources and exchange in commerce more easily. The Alps are a mountain range that stretches across parts of Europe. In northern Europe there are fjords, which are long, narrow inlets with steep sides. Fjords are created by glaciers, or large, slow-moving bodies of ice that cut large valleys.

Asia is the world’s largest continent and the most populated. About 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia. The world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, is in Asia, on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Mount Everest is nearly 30,000 feet high. Asia is also home to the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea, which is a salt lake on the border between Israel and Jordan. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water—over 8 times saltier than the oceans—and is about 1,385 feet (422 meters) below sea level.

Australia is the smallest continent. Help children understand that Australia is not only a continent, but also a country! Australia is entirely in the southern hemisphere, which is why people call it the land “down under.” The Outback is the remote, arid region of Australia that is far from urban areas. But, Australia is also home to rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest reef system in the world and the largest structure made by living organisms, the coral polyps. It can even be seen from space! You may want to view our Ocean Habitats movie to learn more.

Antarctica is the southernmost continent and it is where the South Pole is located. Help children understand that the continent is cold and windy and frozen in ice all year long—even in the summer. Although it is not hot like the Sahara, Antarctica is still considered a desert because its maximum rainfall is approximately eight inches along the coasts, with even less inland. There are no permanent residents in Antarctica, but scientists do visit there for research.

Understanding about the different continents and oceans helps children build a better understanding about the world around them. Introduce them to places and cultures beyond their everyday experiences, and teach them their role as responsible global citizens.