Squirrels are a wild animal urban kids may know as well as rural ones. Get ready for Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21st with some literacy lesson plans.
Read some books:
- The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
- Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution
- Nuts to You! by Lois Ehlert
- Gray Squirrel at Pacific Avenue – a Smithsonian’s Backyard Book
Online resources with background info:
- National Geographic has photos, maps, and background info.
- BBC Nature has lots of photos and information
- Scientific American reports on “Project Squirrel” in a very accessible article.
- Learn to say squirrel in hundreds of languages. This is a fairly frivolous exercise, but as a linguistics student, I learned that “squirrel” is an odd word in many languages. As far as I know, there is no official explanation for this fact, so you might as well enjoy it and get a little global awareness out of it.
- Practice S and Q with a worksheet.
- Jan Brett’s Rodent Worksheet includes squirrels.
Let students explore these books and websites and collect information about squirrels. Then have each student write a sentence (or, for older students, a paragraph or essay) about his or her favorite squirrely discovery. Older students can write about how their new knowledge meshes with their prior experience of squirrels.
Step it up with classic squirrel literature.
Henry David Thoreau described the squirrels near his home in New England:
Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the dawn, coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house, as if sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the winter I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had not got ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by watching the motions of the various animals which were baited by it. In the twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would approach at first warily through the shrub oaks, running over the snow-crust by fits and starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, with wonderful speed and waste of energy, making inconceivable haste with his “trotters,” as if it were for a wager, and now as many paces that way, but never getting on more than half a rod at a time; and then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were fixed on him, — for all the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl, — wasting more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk the whole distance, — I never saw one walk, — and then suddenly, before you could say Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch pine, winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators, soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time, — for no reason that I could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I suspect. At length he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable ear, frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the topmost stick of my wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in the face, and there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear from time to time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked cobs about; till at length he grew more dainty still and played with his food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the ear, which was held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from his careless grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting that it had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again, or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to hear what was in the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and plumper one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the while, making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizontal, being determined to put it through at any rate; — a singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow; — and so he would get off with it to where he lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about the woods in various directions.
This makes a good passage for practice with deciphering difficult language, since it describes something familiar to many students. Divide students into groups and give each group a sentence to figure out and rewrite in their own words. There are only half a dozen sentences, and the first few are fairly short.
Finish with a writing assignment. Squirrels are fairly common school mascots (that’s the Hendrix College Flying Squirrels below). Now that they’ve learned about squirrels, how do students feel about squirrels as a team mascot? How do squirrels compare with other mascot animals like tigers and lions?