Winter Weekend Pictures
Notes at the End of the Day

Squirrel Nutkin ~ A Wintertime Nature Study

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But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He bobbed up and down like a little red cherry, singing ~ "Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!"

It was an exciting day in the Riverwood yesterday ~ we were visited by not one, not two - but THREE little red squirrels! I took lots of pictures of the cute and crazy little things -though I couldn't get them all in one shot. While one was eating happily at the top of the cage-feeder, the other two were fighting like crazy, chasing each other all around the rhododendron bushes, lol!

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Grasping a seed in his tiny paws.

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Diving back down for more ...

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The perfect perch for a squirrel of this size.

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And the tray feeder fits even better!

The red squirrels now visit our feeders at least twice a day (not always three at one time, but often, two) and they are such a delight to observe! They are fast and furious little creatures! The boys and I keep our eyes on the windows as we work through the day and if one of us spies a "Red Tail" (as we've named them) we sound the "alarm." Pencils are put down and books are dropped - we dash to the windows to observe. 

Squirrels, red or gray, are a perfect winter-nature study subject; they're active and highly visible at this time of year. Red squirrels are not as common in America as they are in England, but if you are at all familiar with the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, then you know a little about them. They are much smaller than a gray squirrel, with coppery-brown fur and a fiery personality. They move fast and make a lot of noise when agitated (chuck-chuck-chuck-chuuuuck!). Really, they're a riot to watch. If you live near a conifer woodland you most likely have red squirrels living nearby; they are just harder to spot than the plentiful grays.

The following suggestions are geared towards younger children, but more advanced activities could be added for including older kids in the study. Most homeschoolers I know are teaching multi-ages at once - for me, I am tailoring this study to my kindergartener (Earlybird) and 4th grader (Crackerjack). My 8th grader (Bookworm) will tag along just for fun. :)

~Notes for a Squirrel Nutkin Nature Study~

 Read The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, first and foremost.

Look for squirrel tracks in the snow. This book shows the difference between a gray squirrel's tracks and a red's. (It's mostly the size.)

Learn about red squirrels online.
Find lots of information at Wikipedia.
Here's a neat kids' page by the Kluane Red Squirrel Project.

Make up an observation chart to keep track of squirrel visits and behaviors. (If I can figure out how to do it, I will link you the chart I made up for the boys - tracking red or gray, time of day, and behavior.)

On a blank map of the world, color in the areas that are inhabited by red squirrels. If you are reading The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, locate The Lake District in England.

Older children could research the plight of the red squirrel in the UK.

Read about how Squirrel Nutkin came to be in the pages of The Ultimate Peter Rabbit: A Visual Guide to the World of Beatrix Potter.

Write a little nature story in a letter to a friend. (You could have the children draw pictures and then write in the storylines they dictate.)

See how many squirrel names (like Nutkin, Twinkleberry, etc.) you can come up with.

Make little twig or bark boats to sail across a lake. (Or pond, stream or a good size puddle, even.)

It would be fun to make little sacks with which the children could go "gathering nuts." (These could be simple drawstring bags made of cotton or felt.) Use acorns (real or wooden) to count and sort. Hide them around the house and have the children go on a nut hunt.

Red Squirrels are very fond of spruce cones. See if you can identify - and differentiate - pine trees from spruce trees in your yard, neighborhood or nearby park. Use a good tree field guide to do this, or ask a ranger to help you.

Host a "Squirrel Nutkin" tea for your friends (or family members). Serve treats reminiscent of those mentioned throughout the Potter stories. Ask each guest to name which Potter story is their favorite, and why.

A few great books featuring red squirrels:

(This is a chapter book, a great family read-aloud. I did a Book Group lesson on this last year.)

Read the wonderful tale of "Furry," Anna Comstock's pet red squirrel. You can find it, along with a very informative chapter on red squirrels, in her Handbook of Nature.

If your children are into puppet play, Audubon makes wonderful nature puppets including a red squirrel and owl. They're not technically puppets, but can be used in dramatic play or storytelling. When you squeeze their bellies they "chuck" and "screech" accordingly.

We happen to have the tip of of red squirrel tail on our nature table! (It's not as gruesome as it sounds - read the full story here.)

Nutkin antagonized Old Brown owl with riddles. Check books of riddles out of the library to enjoy together.

The current issue of National Geographic Kids (February) has a wonderful article about Heinz, a baby red squirrel who was rescued after a storm.

I happen to love this dear little poem by Marchette Chute called "Politeness." It would be easy for a young child to memorize.

I met a squirrel the other day
And spoke to him in a friendly way.
I couldn't pat him on the head
But I gave him several nuts instead.
He took them from me one by one
And waved his tail when he was done.
And he was happy, I could tell.
We both behaved extremely well.

***

If you have a neat squirrel story, picture or activity to share, please let me know. I'd love to compile them and share them here at my blog! And of course, I'll be sharing our own Nutkin adventures as this little study unfolds. :)

In the meantime, have a wonderful day. It's just starting to snow here - we're in for several inches by day's end.
A good day to keep our eyes on the feeders!
See you all again soon!

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