A fabulous resource for talking about nature with young children is Discovering Nature With Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth. These authors have really thought about all aspects of exploring nature with young children and have presented their ideas in a practical and useful guide. Many of the ideas for this experience I borrowed from this resource.
After our bird nest explorations the children were beginning to talk about other animals that live in nests. Since all the leaves had finally fallen from the trees in our neighbourhood, more nests had become visible. I had a book about squirrel nests, and many children said that they had spotted some squirrel nests in the trees on their way to school. I thought that this could be a good focus for our nature walk.
In order to prepare the children for our nature walk goal, we looked again at our squirrel nest book and found some pictures of squirrel nests online. We asked those children who had said they had seen squirrel nests already to give us some pointers on where we should look. Here were some of their suggestions, which I recorded on the SmartBoard.:
“Look in the tree branches.”
“You have to look up!”
“Look for a big nest. Bigger than a bird’s nest.”
“Look for a clump of sticks and leaves and mud.”
To build excitement for our squirrel nest hunt, I also provided the children with materials to make ‘binoculars’ (of the paper tube variety…). Small details like this can really help build excitement and help children focus on the goal at hand. I could tell my students felt like professional science explorers with their handmade binoculars in hand.
On the walk we found so many squirrel nests! The children were busy running from tree to tree, shouting and pointing upwards. The highlight of the walk was the tree we found with not one, but 5 nests, which one of my students referred to as a “squirrel apartment building.” The noisy excitement was only quelled when we happened to spot a grey squirrel on the lawn nearby. The children immediately understood that we needed to keep quiet and calm in order to see what the squirrel was up to. We watched as the squirrel scrambled into a pine tree and looked down on us. We wondered what he was thinking about. In our follow up discussion the next day, our brief encounter with the squirrel produced a lot of questions and predictions from the students:
A.M.: I wonder why the squirrel ran away.
Y.T: I wonder why the squirrel was watching us.
J.K: Maybe the squirrel thought we might put him in a cage.
J.M.: I think the squirrel ran away because he thought we were going to eat him.
F.S.: I wonder why squirrels are afraid of people.
Some other questions that arose were:
I wonder why squirrel nests are bigger than birds’ nests.
I wonder how many squirrels live in one nest.
I wonder if squirrels have acorns in their nests.
I wonder how squirrels know how to make nests.
As a follow up to our nature walk, we created a provocation at the science table that asked the children to make a nest for our little squirrels. Again, it was another way for children to ask questions, demonstrate what they learned from our discoveries, and connect more deeply with the topic.