Sunday, March 13, 2011

Outdoor Hour Challenge Winter Series #9 Mammals and #45 Squirrels

This week for part of our homeschooling science lessons/nature study, we are focusing on mammals.  The Outdoor Hour Challenge website has a series of Outdoor Hour Challenges for the Winter Series.  We did two different challenges this week since there is some overlap:  #9 Mammals and #45 Squirrels. 

First, we did the activities for mammals.  (Text in bold typeface is from the Handbook of Nature Study website; text in italics are quotes from the book Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock); and text in plain/standard type are my words.)

1. Keep a record of animal tracks you have observed in the snow or mud. Record your findings in your nature journal along with a drawing, the date, the weather, the time of day, and the type of animal if you have identified it at this time.

Today we observed several wild animals tracks in the snow (which is melting quite a bit with the warmer temperature today) including: rabbits, squirrels, and variety of birds.

Rabbit tracks in the woods next to the driveway.

2. Compare a dog’s and a cat’s footprints in the snow or mud.

This was fun for the girls to do.  Sophia brought Shadow outside and made some paw prints in the snow.

Sophia helping Shadow make paw prints.

Olivia made sure that the dogs didn't interfere with the paw-printing process:

Olivia holding arrows in her hands
to make sure the dogs don't interfere with
the paw-printing process.

Once the girls had the cat paw prints done, they compared the difference between the cat, dog, and rabbit tracks.  It was interesting to see them all side-by-side.

Different paw prints/tracks:  rabbit (left), cat (top right),
and dog (bottom right).

3. Research an animal that hibernates and record what you learn in your nature notebook. You can also sketch your animal and what its tracks look like.

We didn't do this yet, but will at some point soon.

Just a tawny glimmer, a dash of red and gray,
Was it a flitting shadow, or a sunbeam gone astray!
It glances up a tree trunk, and a pair of bright eyes glow
Where a little spy in ambush is measuring his foe.
I hear a mocking chuckle, then wrathful, he grows bold
And stays his pressing business to scold and scold and scold.
~ Handbook of Nature Study

Next, we moved onto activities that focused on squirrels. 

1. Read pages 233-237 in the Handbook of Nature Study. Use your highlighter to mark the sections with facts you can share with your children. There are plenty of observation suggestions in Lesson 57 on pages 236 and 237. Keep these ideas in mind as you take your nature walk this week.

“The squirrel’s legs are short because he is essentially a climber rather than a runner; the hips are very strong, which insures his power as a jumper, and his leaps are truly remarkable.”

Squirrel running away with a
sunflower seed in its mouth.

“The squirrel has two pairs of gnawing teeth which are very long and strong, as in all rodents, and he needs to keep busy gnawing hard things with them, or they will grow so long that he cannot use them at all and will starve to death.”

“During the winter, the red squirrel does not remain at home except in the coldest weather, when he lies cozily with his tail wrapped around him like a fur neck-piece to keep him warm.”

Squirrel in the woods by the driveway.

"He has no cheek pouches like a chipmunk, but he can carry corn and other grain."

"In winter, he feeds on nuts, buds, and cones...he will take a cone apart, tearing off the scales and leaving them in a heap while searching for seeds."

Scraps from pinecones and gnawed pinecone cores
left by squirrels at the base of a tree.

"When making a jump from tree to tree, he flattens himself as widely as possible and his tail is held somewhat curved, but on a level with the body."

"The tracks are paired and those of the large five-toed hind feet are always in front."

Here is an additional fact sheet on squirrels:

And here:

2. Supplemental reading in The Burgess Animal Book for Children: Read Stories 4-6. Take a few minutes after reading each story to have your child narrate to you some interesting points from the story. Use the illustrations on pages 30, 36, and 41 of the book to get the narration going if they are having trouble getting started.

I have a copy of this book and began reading it earlier this fall.  For some reason, I didn't continue reading it.  Don't know why...the girls enjoy the stories in the book.  Anyway, I read "Chatterer and Happy Jack Join," "The Squirrels of the Trees," and "Striped Chipmunk and His Cousins." 

3. Spend 10-15 minutes outdoors on a nature walk. As you walk, discuss where you might find a squirrel in your neighborhood. Remind your child where a squirrel lives and what it eats. If you know you have a squirrel in your yard or at your local park, take along some nuts or seeds to put out and observe the squirrel eating. Never feed a squirrel by hand. Don’t worry if you cannot observe a squirrel this week. Enjoy your outdoor time and observe any mammals that you come into contact with during your walk.

I've been waiting to do the nature walk until the weather was warmer (there was another series of cold days with snow and ice).  Today was - as Olivia said - "a glorious day."  It was...for us and the wildlife. 

We filled all the bird feeders and within five minutes of coming inside, taking our coats and boots off, and walking to the living room, there were more than a dozen birds outside at the feeders.  We were amazed at how quickly they came.  It was as if they were waiting for us to fill the feeders.

Olivia got a bit closer to examine
the tracks in the snow.

As we walked around the front yard, Sophia was excited to discover that an animal had brought over a stash of berries from the tree and were eating them under the pine tree.  After she pointed that out, we found several more areas where the red berries were brought and eaten.

Sophia examining the berries brought by
an animal to an area by the pine tree.

The girls are measuring the distance between the tracks
(one set is by Olivia's feet and the other by her elbow).

We were excited to see some of the trees having buds.  Spring is definitely right around the corner now!

Buds on the northern magnolia plant
which has beautiful white flowers in the spring.

4. For your nature journal you can write out your observations from your squirrel watching. Use the observation suggestions for ideas to include in your entry: describe the color of the fur, how the eyes are placed, what do the paws look like, how does the squirrel climb up and down a tree, the sound the squirrel makes as he expresses himself, show the tracks that the squirrel makes in the snow.

As I was looking at learning activities that can be done that relate to squirrels, I came across another homeschooling mother who did the challenge and had some great ideas.  One of the activities that we thought would be interesting was to make a "Squirrel Buffet" - basically, an experiment to find out what squirrels will eat.

Squirrel Buffet.

We filled a 12-compartment egg carton with 12 different items; and a 6-compartment egg carton with the same items that were in compartments 1-6 of the larger carton. 

Olivia with her squirrel buffet.

We included:

1. Dried cherries.
2. Coconut.
3. Goldfinch food.
4. Raw sunflower seeds.
5. Wheat thins.
6. Shell corn.
7. Homemade granola.
8. Dates.
9. Raisins.
10. Chex mix.
11. Dreid apples.
12. Applesauce cake with frosting.

We'll take a look each day to see how much and what type of food is eaten by the squirrels (and perhaps rabbits and birds).

Here's where I saw the idea for the squirrel buffet:

Sophia by her squirrel feeder and
corncob pathways she made. 

Sophia spent time creating multiple pathways that led to her squirrel buffet.  The pathways each have shell corn in them to entice the squirrels to the buffet.  In front of the buffet is the squirrel feeder that the girls built earlier in the winter.  Olivia spent some time putting new corncobs on it since they corn was eaten off the other ones that were on it.

Olivia putting new corncobs on the squirrel feeder.


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

I love the idea of comparing all the different mammal footprints....great way to learn!

The squirrel buffet made me smile and we might just do that here with our resident squirrels.

So many great things in your entry and so much fun. You did have a "glorious day"!

Thank you so much for sharing your link with the OHC for both of these studies.

Martianne said...

What a gorgeous homeschool, home and blog you have. Thank you so mcuh for directing me to it through your comment at Training Happy Hearts. I am going to really enjoy reading more here as I have time. Your outdoor learning is what I have been WANTing to do, but have yet to discipline myself for. I know it would be great for my kids, who already love the outdoors so much. Your log of Nature Studies is inspiring!

Phyllis said...

This is such a lovely post. I love the way you have made your nature study so thorough and branching out in all ways. Love it.

Monica said...

What a great post, I loved reading it and what an amazing way for your children (and now others) to learn!!
I'm participating in the Waltz on by Wednesday blog hop and I’m now the newest follower of your great site. Hope you have a chance to check out my blog, have a look around and maybe follow me back!!

Kortney said...

Hi! I'm a new follower from the Wednesday hops!! Hope you are having a great Wednesday!
Happy Hopping

Richele said...

Okay, I'm betting those squirrels will eat everything at the buffet.
We lined up a battalion of gingerbread men outside in the snow after Christmas. We laughed 'til we cried as we watched the squirrels kidnap each of them.

Your cat was remarkably cooperative for the paw-printing!

Thanks for the CM-carnival submission. Hope to see you there again!

Jimmie said...

This is a great squirrel study! I am going to link to this on my squirrel nature study hub.
And thanks for submitting this to the Hands on Homeschool Carnival. I would like to use one of your pics (the egg carton with the foods) in the carnival. If that's not okay, please let me know.