Calling all Nature Explorers.....we're back!! It has been too long since my children and I have been into the great outdoors and done some good exploring. I thank all of you who have been patiently waiting for me to return, and again I apologize for being away for so long, but it was needed. During my break, I did some thinking, and thanks to many of your suggestions I am going to make a slight change in the schedule. Following this post, I will wait 2 weeks before writing my update where you will be able to link up with your own posts if you would like. This will give both you and me more time to really enjoy the topics with our children and not feel rushed. At the same time I will post the information for the next topic.
If you are new to the Nature Explorers Club, then read this .
This weeks topic:
Yep, those little furry creatures frantically scurrying everywhere in preparation for winter, or in the southern states, just having lots of squirrel fun. Kids and adults alike seems to be fascinated with squirrels. It could be the effortless way they bound from tree branch to tree branch, or just how intriguing they look as they chew through an acorn. Either way, I like squirrels.
The squirrel is part of the mammal family. A mammal is any animal that feeds its young milk. Many mammals also have hair/fur and have live babies (they do not lay eggs). You may want to discuss other examples of mammals that your child is familiar with. Around the world, there are 365 different species of squirrel. Using a field guide or the internet see what types of squirrels you may have in your area. Where we live in Michigan, there are 4 species of squirrel.
The main characteristics of a squirrel are that they have four legs and a tail, although their front paws have the ability to hold objects like acorns so you may want to say they have two legs and two arms. They also have two ears, fur and whiskers on their nose. Their tail is a very important part of their body. It helps them to keep balance while climbing in trees and jumping from branches. They use it to communicate with others. They wrap it around their bodies to keep them warm and raise it above their head like an umbrella when it rains or snows. They can swim in water and will use their tail like a rudder to direct themselves. And if they happen to fall, they puff their tail up, using it like a parachute to help slow their fall. All together it makes me want a tail too!
The squirrel is considered an omnivore (eating both plants and animals). While their diet mostly consists of berries, seeds and nuts, they will also eat beetles, salamanders, bird eggs and nestlings. As winter approaches in the northern states you can see squirrels frantically collecting and hiding food. This is their "cache" or secret storage of food. The reason they do this is because they do not fully hibernate in the winter. They slow down significantly and only leave their nests when needed, but do not go into hibernation (deep sleep). They return to their cache through out the winter and mostly utilize it in the spring when they are active but the food sources are scarce. (I only say northern, because that is where my experience is, I'm not sure if squirrels act the same in the southern states)
One other misconception about squirrels is that there are black squirrels. There is no such thing as a black squirrel. If you see a black squirrel, it is another type of squirrel in a melanistic phase. This simply means that there is an abundance of pigmentation (black coloration) in their fur. Pigment is what creates freckles on our skin.
If you can, go on a squirrel hunt. Bring pictures of the different species from your area and see how many of them you can find. If you have a good viewing spot, sit for a while and watch the squirrels in their activity. Watch the different ways they move. They leap, hop, walk, climb, stand on two legs, stretch and many times can seemingly defy gravity.
If you are unable to venture outdoors, check out Youtube. They have several videos of squirrels doing many different things. You can try here and here.
Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young"
*Pretend to be a squirrel. Hop, gallop, leap or even try walking on a straight line. (pretend its a branch) Add more depth to this activity by dressing as squirrels. Wrap a scarf around your waist, leaving a "tail" and add construction paper ears to a hat.
*Make acorn beanbags using brown felt and beans or rice as stuffing. You can play toss with them, or squirrel hide and seek. One person is the squirrel and hides the acorn, while the others try to find it. This can be done indoors or out.
*Do an experiment to find out what squirrels will eat. Lay out different foods like nuts, fruit vegetables, etc. in a place where you can observe. See which foods are eaten first.
*Make your own identification cards by looking up pictures of the squirrels from your area and printing them out with interesting facts about them. You can take these when you go out to look for squirrels.
*Do a peanut hunt. This is just like an Easter egg hunt, except you use peanuts in the shell or any other kind of nut in the shell. This is just like the squirrels looking for their food in the winter.
*Make a hand and finger squirrel tree. Here is a great post explaining how to paint a tree with your hand. You can then add in squirrels by using 2 fingerprints as the body and head and several more as a tail. Use a pen or marker to add the finishing touches of eyes nose and mouth.
* Write a poem or story about squirrels. It doesn't have to be long, or rhyme, just let your child describe something they saw.
* This last activity is straight from the book, but too complicated to share, so I thought I would do a quick video. It's not a perfect video, but it gets the point across.
I hope there is something here that you and your children will enjoy. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share. Two weeks from now I will post an update with pictures of what me and my children did and you will have a chance to link up with that post if you would like to share how you and you kids explored nature.
Remember whether its squirrels or some other topic, it doesn't matter, as long as you are exploring and enjoying nature. See you in two weeks!