Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Secret Squirrel

Originally published 4/09/2011 at

You can have kids do this activity in your backyard on their own. (If you live in a city, you can take them to a park.) Ask them to spy on the local wildlife. By local wildlife, I mean squirrels, birds, snakes, lizards, spiders, or whatever other non-threatening animals the kids are likely to find in at home. If neither you nor the kids are certain what animals are out there, then the kids will need to go on a scouting mission.

Depending on your children’s temperament, they can transform themselves into spies, wildlife biologists, or nature photographers. They can decide what they will need with them to complete their mission.

Encourage the kids to dress in colors that will allow them to camouflage with the natural surroundings. Many diurnal (daytime) animals can see in color since daylight allows them to determine if food, such as berries, are ripe. Kids should also take a mechanical pencil (no worries about dull points) and notepad with them and/or bring their camera.

Now, if kids have only ever paid attention to wild animals moving around in enclosures and exhibits, they may not know what to expect from the critters in their backyard. Before heading outside, ask the kids how the animals would respond to a creature or two running around the yard and making a lot of noise. If the kids agree that everything, including a few amoebas, would go into hiding, then ask them how they should behave.

Sneaking, walking on tiptoe, walking slowly, freezing in place, hiding, using peripheral vision (looking out the corner of one’s eyes), being quiet, etc. are all good behaviors for encouraging animals to behave as if those wild humans aren’t suddenly going to start snacking on chickadees.

On a scouting mission, the kids’ job is to find out what animals are moving around in their yard during the day. They should sit or stand in one corner of the yard for five-to-ten minutes; afterwards, move to another corner. Kids should repeat moving to other locations as desired. Kids can take notes, describing what they see, where they see it, and what the creatures were doing.

Kids can use these notes for another expedition, this time focusing on one of the animals. Their goal for this more specific exploration is to observe and record five different behaviors of this animal. It is a bit of a thrill to get animals that normally shy away from humans to act as if you aren’t there and go about their normal activities.

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