Learning where plants and animals fit into the food chain is an important part of your child's primary education.
However, primary school is a distant memory for most of us and phrases like food web or amphibian can have us wondering if we ever learnt about them in the first place! But fear not - these concepts really aren't difficult to grasp and with our educational science guides you'll be equipped with everything you need to know to support your children through their schooling.
So, if your child is in or going into Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 or Year 6, and you want to give them a little bit of extra support this summer holiday, or find some fun ways you can help them learn about food chains in term time, then this is the essential guide for you!
What Is A Food Chain?
A food chain tells us how energy is transferred from plants to animals and on to other animals, through eating.
All living creatures - plants, animals and humans - need energy to survive. Plants get their energy by turning sunlight into food through a process called photosynthesis. Because they make their own food, they are called producers. Producers come at the beginning of all food chains.
Next up in the food chain, or food web, are consumers, which are all living things that eat other living things to get energy. For example, a caterpillar is a consumer because it eats plants and a bird is a consumer because it will eat the caterpillar.
Herbivores are creatures that only eat plants, carnivores are creatures that only eat animals and omnivores are creatures that eat both plants and animals.
A predator is an animal that eats other animals, and prey is the animal that gets eaten by a predator.
What Is A Food Web?
Food webs are just slightly more complex food chains, showing how animals might get their energy from several overlapping food sources. For example, a mouse might eat the same plants that caterpillars eat, but the mouse could also eat the caterpillar.
Food Chain Examples
Tree ---> Deer ---> Lion
Plant ---> Insect ---> Mouse ---> Owl
In this food chain, the plant is the producer, the insect is the primary consumer and is a herbivore, the mouse is the secondary consumer and is an omnivore, the owl - at the top of the food chain - is the tertiary consumer and is a carnivore.
What Will My Child Learn At School?
In KS1, your child will have learnt about habitats so should be familiar with different environments in which animals and plants exist - ocean habitats, pond habitats, woodland habitats etc. As part of this, they will have taken a look at some simple food chains and should understand that living things get their food by eating other living things.
KS2 food chains step up a level, looking at animal habitats as entire ecosystems. Children learn that if one component of an ecosystem or food chain changes, that can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the environment. For example, if the plants in a river don't grow because of pollution, the fish will not have enough to eat so there will be fewer of them, and the herons will not have enough fish to eat so their population will be affected too.
The syllabus will look at examples of food webs and chains within specific habitats, such as savannah or rainforest food chains.
Questions on food chains can come up in your child's SATs exams though are typically covered in Year 4.
Some Food Chain Activities To Do With Children
A food chain sorting activity is a really fun way of learning with your child. Print off or get your child to create some pictures of different animals and plants, then see how many different food chain or food web combinations you can get from the images.
Or why not try this? Choose a food that you and your child eat and draw up possible food webs that surround it. Take a beef steak, for example, the human eating the steak will be at the top of the food chain. What does the cow eat? What else might be eating what the cow eats?
Tell your child some fun facts about food chains like...
Did you know that some plants are carnivores? That's right! Venus flytraps and pitcher plants catch insects in their leaves and break them down using a digestive liquid.
Did you know that some animals, like vultures and hyenas, live off eating dead animals? These are called scavengers.
Keywords Related To Food Chains
Herbivore - a creature that eats only plants
Carnivore - a creature that eats only animals
Omnivore - a creature that eats both plants and animals
Scavenger - a creature that eats dead animals
Predator - hunts other animals
Prey - is hunted by animals
Habitat - the natural environment of an animal
Ecosystem - all living things in a specific area and how they interact with each other
Producer - living creatures that make their own food
Consumer - living things that eat other organisms
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