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Carnival of the Animals

Curriculum Guide

Carnival of the Animals Curriculum Guide
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Saint-Saëns lived from 1835 to 1921 and was the quintessential “Renaissance Man”, excelling in many different fields.  He was not only a child prodigy in music, but also exhibited amazing skill and excellence in numerous other subjects.  He was well-versed in science, mathematics, and language, and frequently wrote articles on these subjects.  Saint Saëns even wrote a collection of poetry, though it is less well-known than his other works.  ​



What does it mean to be a “child prodigy”?  Mozart is probably the most famous child prodigy in music, but Saint Saëns, Sergei Prokofiev, Frederic Chopin, and Felix Mendelssohn were among the other musician/composer prodigies throughout European art music history.  A “child prodigy” in any field is one who shows the skill  and excellence of an adult by his or her teen years.  Most musical prodigies were performing and composing before the age of 12.  Choose one of the above musicians and research his childhood.  What do you think it would be like to exhibit such talent, and have such high expectations from teachers and parents, at such a young age?  How would your life be different now if you were like Saint Saens or Mozart? 

The turn of the 20th century was a fascinating time for science, culture, and the arts, and Saint Saëns was undoubtedly influenced by the happenings in Europe and around the world.  Explore some of these events and people contemporary with Saint Saëns.

  • Scientists: Marie Curie, Nobel Prize-winning chemist; Louis Pasteur, chemist and microbiologist; Albert Einstein, physicist

  • US Civil War (1861-1865)

  • Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871)

  • Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, US presidents

  • Authors Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lewis Carroll, Victor Hugo, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost

  • Painters Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, James Whistler, and Pablo Picasso

  • PT Barnum opens his “Greatest Show on Earth” in 1871

  • Opening of the Suez and Panama Canals

  • Henry Ford builds his first car, 1893

  • Composers Johannes Brahms, Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, Richard Wagner, Nicolai Tchaikovsky, Gustav Holst, Jacques Offenbach, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Johann Strauss II

  • First modern Olympics held in Athens, Greece, 1896

  • World Exhibition in Paris, 1900, for which the Eiffel Tower was built

  • Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully fly powered airplane, 1903

  • The sinking of the Titanic, 1912

  • E. H. Shackleton leads Antarctic expedition, 1914-1917


Print off any of these timelines from Donna Young’s site and enter Saint Saëns dates.  Add some or all of the people and events listed above and research more if you are interested!  Choose one to learn about and share with your family at dinnertime.


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Scientists classify, or group, animals based on what characteristics they have in common. The classification categories (from most general to most specific) are: Kingdom (such as Animals or Plants), Phylum (such as Chordates or Arthropods), Class (such as Mammals or Aves), Order (such as Marsupials), Family, Genus, Species. The scientific name of an animal includes its genus and species, and sometimes subspecies, and is in Latin. Explore the Animal Kingdom with these fun links, games and lesson plans.

In Carnival of the Animals, Saint Saëns wrote specific music for:

  • the lion

  • hens and roosters

  • wild donkeys

  • tortoises

  • the elephant

  • kangaroos

  • fish in an aquarium

  • the cuckoo

  • birds in an aviary

  • the swan


Choose two of these animals and write a few paragraphs comparing and contrasting them. How are they similar?  How are they different? Research and classify them the way scientists do, copying down their scientific names. Illustrate your findings.



  • Here is a Pinterest board by a Montessori educator with links for a zoo animal unit study.



  • Male cows are called bulls, female hogs are called sows, young ducks are called ducklings, and a male goose is a gander. Explore the names of the male, female, and young of different animal species at Enchanted Learning.  


Saint Saëns was from France.  Let’s learn about this beautiful country and its landmarks!

Purchase and play the game "10 Days in Europe" to learn more about, and practice, your European Geography. Europe was the center of Western art and music in the times of Saint Saëns and still plays a main role in the development and celebration of the arts.

  • Play this online game to test your European Geography knowledge



  • Choose one of these photos of places in France and try to copy it with art materials. Use pen and ink, watercolors, pastels- anything you have on hand.



  •  Print out this map of France. Get out an atlas and label the capital (Paris), the neighboring countries, major rivers and bodies of water, and geographical features that are important.


  • Print out the flag and color it in. France has red, white and blue in their flag just like we do. Read about the meaning of the colors in this article. Not everyone agrees what the colors mean!


Paris is the capital of France and has a rich history and many famous landmarks. Saint Saëns was born in Paris in 1835.

  • This website shows an interactive panorama of Paris.  Direct the camera, zoom in and out, and click on different landmarks to discover some of the sights.


  • Here's a travel video showing a 24-hour visit in Paris, including cafes, museums, the streets of the city, etc. (Parents, there is a section of “nightlife” which shows some social drinking. Use your discretion.)


Research one or more of the following landmarks in Paris.  Answer these questions: Why was it built?  Who built it?  When was it built?  With what materials was it built?  Then recreate it in a sketch, drawing, or sculpture.


  • Notre Dame Cathedral (The official site for the cathedral has a children’s section.)

  • Eiffel Tower

  • La Louvre 

  • Arc de Triomphe

  • Sacre Coeur

  • Pantheon

The French people are very proud of their beautiful language.  Explore the following websites and learn some French words.

  • Enchanted Learning has a mini book of French animal words to print off and color.

  • This page has the English and French names of dozens of animals, a recorded pronunciation of each, and games you can play to reinforce learning.

  • More games can be found at this site.

  • The BBC has a list of animal names and their pronunciations as well, with a child speaking instead of an adult.

Here's a great page about the Eiffel Tower and its architect, Gustave Eiffel - The Lifts of the Eiffel Tower

Language Arts
Language Arts

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As the Maestro mentions on the CD, onomatopoeia is a literary device which equates the sounds of words with the actual meaning of the word.  For example, “hiccup” and “achoo” sound like the actions themselves, and “hee-haw” is the sound a donkey makes.  Can you think of any more of these types of words? Here’s a lesson on onomatopoeia for young children.

Alliteration is repetition of a speech sound in a group of words that are near each other. Common tongue twisters are alliterations, such as “Sally sells seashells by the seashore”, or “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”, but you will often come upon alliteration in poetry or novels.  Here are a couple of articles with further explanation, and examples, of alliteration.

Another fun literary device is the hyperbole, or literary exaggeration, often used to create strong feeling.  If you’ve ever said, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!” you’ve used hyperbole.  Has your mom ever said, “I’ve told you that a thousand times!”?  That’s hyperbole.  See some more examples here.  


Now, write your own poetry using these literary devices.  They each create such wonderful variety in writing!


Poetry is a type of imaginative writing that uses sound, rhythm and language to express feelings and thoughts, and elicit an emotional response from the reader. Some poems rhyme, but many do not. Explore poetry with the following links and suggestions:



  • Find a great poetry unit study that includes different literary devices (such as imagery and personification) here.


  • Ogden Nash is the poet who wrote the text for Carnival of the Animals.  Find the text and a brief unit study at this website, Now choose another animal, not represented in Saint-Saens work, and write your own poem in the style and rhyme scheme of Ogden Nash’s poetry.

Explore these other poets who write humorously for children:

  • Shel Silverstein (click for official kids’ site) was a creative and hilarious poet who specialized in imaginative and inventive characters and events.  Check out his books from the library.  His poetry ranges from typical rhyme to non-rhyming, and are great for reading aloud!


  • Dr. Seuss- do you think of Dr. Seuss as a poet?  He was one of the best!  My personal favorite is the nonsense poetry of Fox in Socks.  Work up a good rendition of the Tweedle Beetle section, just for fun.  Here is the official Seussville site.


  • Edward Lear was known for his limericks and nonsense poetry.  Here is his entire “Book of Nonsense” with illustrations, available for free online.


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Impressionism is a genre of painting that originated in France in the mid-1800’s.  Here is an excellent slide show-type presentation with information about the style of impressionism, the artists and their life, the city of Paris, and the culture in which Impressionism was born.  (Includes a bit of artistic nudity, parents should use their judgement.)  The presentation requires Flash player on your computer.

Get a few books from the library (big ones, so you can really study the paintings) on the following artists.  Use any of these notebooking pages to record your observations and thoughts. 

  • Claude Monet


  • Edouard Manet


  • Auguste Renoir


  • Mary Cassatt (American who later moved to Paris)


  • Edgar Degas


  • Gustave Caillebotte


  • Berthe Morisot

This Google search brought up thousands of images of impressionist paintings and can help you get a basic idea of the style.  Notice the impression of light, and the way the images are not photo-realistic, but rather suggest the subject with color and short, noticeable brushstrokes. 

Here's a lesson plan for Impressionist-style art projects (3+).


Create puppets for each animal in the piece and explore movement while you listen.  Saint Saens was brilliant in choosing the instruments, tempo (speed of the music), and melodies for each section.  Can you show the music with your puppets, body and even props?  


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Many composers over the centuries have written music to emulate animal sounds.  There is so much inspiration in the animal world! 

Peter and the Wolf, by Sergei Prokofiev, is the classic tale told in both text and music.  Each character has its own instrument(s) and theme. 

The character Papageno is a bird catcher who looks somewhat like the birds he loves.  In Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), Papageno has a wonderful little song (“Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja”) he sings about himself.  Can you hear the bird calls?  How many do you hear?

  • Simon Keenlyside, baritone (The song ends at about 2:45 and is followed by some dialogue.  This recording has English subtitles so you can see the translation.)


Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee was originally written as an orchestral interlude for an opera, but has been arranged over and over again for different solo instruments and instrument combinations.  Listen to these different versions.  Discuss the challenges inherent in each one.





  • Duetto buffo di due gatti (Duet of two cats), by Rossini, is a humorous duet for two female singers sparring (as cats, of course).  How does the composer highlight the element of conflict for the two singers?

Erlkonig, by Franz Schubert, is an art song about the legendary ErlKing.  The singer plays the parts of the narrator, father, dying son, and the Erlkonig himself as he seeks to take the boy into death.  The piano is the galloping horse throughout the song.  Can you hear the singer change his vocal tone and expression for each character?  Here is the text of the poem, which is by Goethe.


Program music is music that tells a story, or is associated specifically with something outside the music (a painting, character or event). Carnival of the Animals is obviously wonderfully-composed program music. Absolute music, in contrast, is music that was simply written for its own sake, without trying to express anything but the music itself. In visual art, paintings, drawings or sculpture that do not try to represent something specific are called “abstract”. In addition to the programmatic music linked above, here are some others:




  • Eric Whitacre “Cloudburst” Listen to the storm toward the middle and end of this piece.


  • Beethoven Symphony #6, mvt. 4 “Storm


  • Copland, “Hoedown” from “Rodeo


  • Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells, from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky.  What characteristics do Mussorgsky’s chickens share with Saint Saens’?  How are they different?


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The amount of animals in our world is astounding and their variety invites discovery!  Animals are big and small, heavy and light, tall and short, with many other characteristics and opportunities for sorting.  Sorting into groups is an important preschool math activity.

Explore some of these concepts: size (weight, height), number of young/eggs, habitat, predator/prey, herbivore/carnivore/omnivore, etc.


If you can get your hands on a collection of realistic looking animal toys (the Toob sets have always been a hit in our home), you can spend hours finding ways to sort and discuss them.  If you don’t have a set to use, spend some time printing out images off of the internet and laminating them.  Here is a wonderful set of free printables  (scroll to mid-page on the left) to laminate and use to sort and classify (overlap with science).


Comparison for older children can include the use of fractions, decimals and percents to work with concepts surrounding the animal kingdom.  For example:

  • A baby panda is 1/900 of the mother’s weight.  If a baby weighs 5 oz at birth, about how many pounds is its mother? ​ (answer: 4500 oz divided by 16; round down to 281 lbs)


  • In a group of animals, 20% of them had two legs, 40% of them had four legs, 30% of them had fins, and 10% of the had neither legs nor fins.  If there were 75 fish, how many of the other kinds of animals were there?  And what types of animals could they be? (answer: 75 fish, 25 neither legs nor fins, 100 four legs, 50 two legs)


  • Make up more problems like these for your children to solve.


  •  Here is a great Pinterest board full of links to activities on percents, decimals, and fractions for elementary students, some with an animal theme.



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