Natural History in Your Backyard
Nature study is part of a well-rounded homeschool education, especially if you espouse the Charlotte Mason style of teaching. Miss Mason thought that the science learning of young children in elementary school should primarily revolve around direct observation of nature.
Those first-hand natural history lessons are complemented by the keeping of a nature notebook or journal where the student records his observations, stores sketches, and attaches leaves or pressed flowers.
One of the easiest places to start nature study is in your own back yard or neighborhood park. If you have squirrels, you have a wonderful nature study topic. These active mammals make for a very fun observation study.
- Sit on the porch with a pair of binoculars and focus up close on the squirrels' tail twitching and silly antics.
- Stay inside and peer through a window at squirrels' tree climbing prowess.
- Get quiet and listen to the squirrel "language" of chirps and chatter.
A Handy Tool for Watching Squirrels
Seeing With More Precision
Outline of a Squirrel Nature Study
You may mix up the order of the components, but here are some suggested activities for a nature study of squirrels.
1. Observe squirrels for at least 20 minutes.
2. Generate some observations and questions based on what you saw. These can be discussed orally or written down.
3. Read The Handbook of Nature Study (or another field guide) for general information about squirrels, seeking to confirm your observations and to answer any questions you have.
4. Continue to observe squirrels at various times of the day, making notes in your nature journal. Try to capture their actions on paper either through descriptive words or through sketches. Use binoculars if possible to observe in more detail.
5. Supplement your squirrel study with some living books about nature. (See the list of free, public domain books about squirrels below.)
6. Collect everything you've learned about squirrels in a written narration on notebooking pages (printables linked below). Include both what you've read and what you've personally observed.
Can You Identify a Squirrel's Nest?
Things to Look For When Observing Squirrels
When you are watching squirrels, look for these things:
- How do the squirrels move from place to place? Running, leaping, crawling?
- How do squirrels seem to communicate with one another? Can you hear them?
- Does there seem to be a squirrel bully or leader?
- Can you identify any young squirrels? How do you know?
- Are there any places the squirrels seem to especially like?
- Do you see any squirrel nests in the trees? Do you ever see the squirrels going to them? Do you see a squirrel building a nest?
- What are the squirrels eating? What are their eating habits?
- What kind of squirrel is in your backyard? Grey squirrels, fox squirrels, red squirrels, or flying squirrels?
Feed the Squirrels
Three Common Squirrel Species
Squirrel Notebooking Pages
- FREE --Squirrel Notebooking Pages
Hearts In Training blog generously offers these two free printables with full color graphics.
- FREE -- Squirrel Unit and Lesson Plans
Lesson plans plus printables for a study about squirrels.
- FREE --Animal Behavior Observations
Although not specifically for squirrels, the observation worksheets in this PDF are well designed. There is a chart of animal behaviors that makes note taking easy.
Using the Handbook of Nature Study
The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Bostford Comstock is something of a nature study bible for Charlotte Mason educators. Covering a broad range of living and non-living things in nature, The Handbook of Nature Study is a good starting point for questions about what you observe during nature walks. Consider it a natural history curriculum spine.
The Handbook covers squirrels and includes a charming story of Furry, a baby squirrel found by a naturalist and nursed to independence.
The print version linked below is a thick (887 pages), paperback book with black and white illustrations and photos. It is the complete, unabridged version and includes study or discussion questions at the end of each section.
In addition to the Handbook, there are many excellent living books in the public domain that deal with squirrels. See the list below for these titles, many of which were recommended by Anna Botsford Comstock for further study.
Free Books in the Public Domain About Squirrels
- The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton Burgess
Chapters 4-5 include information about squirrels, told in a whimsical style with Mother Nature presiding over personified animals. If you prefer to listen to this book, go to Librivox.org for a free audio version.
- Squirrels and Other Fur Bearers by John Burroughs
The first chapter in this public domain book is about squirrels. This title is also available in audio format, free at Librivox.org.
- Bannertail: The Story of a Gray Squirrel by Earnest Thompson Seton
Bannertail is the main character in this living book about squirrels. Bannertail's actions are explained through a narrator. (Animals do not "talk" in this book. Mother Nature is referenced.)
- The Pet Book by Anna Botsford Comstock
PP. 75-83 deal with squirrels.
More Books About Squirrels
- Harvest Moon by Hand: Outdoor Hour Challenge #45 Squirrels
Ann shares her children's wonderful squirrel nature study, including studying footprints and an experiment about squirrels' eating preferences.
- Animal Behavior Study for Kids -- Watching Squirrels
Detailed information about the Animal Behavior Study for Kids -- Watching Squirrels for grades K-8 students, educators and parents.
- Outdoor Hour Challenge #45 Mammals: Squirrels
From the Handbook of Nature Study blog
Observe Squirrel Communication
Christine Mulberry on March 26, 2011:
Not being a homeschooler I hadn't heard of Charlotte Mason, but from what I see here, I would be a fan. I grew up in a rural area and spending time oberving is to me the best way to really learn about things in nature. The attention to detail and the patience to study things carries over into many things.
Jimmie Quick (author) from Memphis, TN USA on March 10, 2011:
Thanks for the confirmation, naturegirl! Observation skills are also important for writing. :-)
Yvonne L. B. from South Louisiana on March 10, 2011:
Wonderful unit of study. When I was a teacher / school librarian, I would do a lot of observation activities with my students. Good observation skills are the first step toward being a good scientist.