Learning from the Animal Kingdom – Squirrels
The fourth in a five-part series about lessons we can learn from the animal kingdom
by Philippa Rae
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To celebrate squirrels and the benefits of forward planning.
Preparation and materials
Have available some images of red and grey squirrels and summer and winter dreys (squirrels’ nests) and the means to display them during the assembly:
- a red squirrel, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hmvptfc
- a grey squirrel, available at: http://tinyurl.com/onx7cqt
- a summer drey, available at: http://tinyurl.com/heltge8
- a winter drey, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hxckhz3
You will also need the following YouTube videos and the means to show them during the assembly:
- ‘Funny squirrel hiding nuts’ (1.25 minutes long), available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6T_1QGxPW8
- ‘Squirrel looking for his nut(s)’ (1.26 minutes long), available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK5rHcezGhQ
Show the images of the red and grey squirrels.
Ask the children if they can identify the animals and if they have ever seen either of them.
Tell the children the following facts.
- Squirrels are small mammals.
- They are very adaptable and live mainly in parks, embankments and woods, although you can find them almost anywhere.
- There are approximately 280 types of squirrel, although it is mainly red and grey squirrels who live here in the UK.
- Red squirrels have lived in the UK for thousands of years and are now classed as endangered.
- Grey squirrels have only lived in the UK for around 140 years.
Point out that the grey squirrel is the most common type of squirrel in the UK, so it will be the main focus for the assembly.
Ask the children if they know what the word ‘hibernate’ means.
Listen to a range of responses.
Explain that hibernation differs from regular sleep in that it is a state of inactivity and decreased metabolism. Some animals, such as dormice and hedgehogs, hibernate for the cold winter months, but although squirrels become more inactive and stay in their nests at this time, they don’t actually hibernate. This is because they cannot store enough energy to survive for long periods without food. In order to survive this time when food is scarce, squirrels plan ahead by collecting nuts during the autumn and hiding them in many places.
Show the YouTube video ‘Funny squirrel hiding nuts’. It is 1.25 minutes long.
At a later date, the squirrels can find where they hid their nuts. They usually do this by smell.
Show the YouTube video ‘Squirrel looking for his nut(s)’. It is 1.26 minutes long.
Squirrels live in nests called dreys, which are made from twigs and lined inside with natural materials such as dry grass, moss and feathers. Dreys are about the size of a football and built in the branches of trees. Summer dreys are quite flimsy and built high up. However, to survive the winter, squirrels build large, thicker dreys, usually on a strong branch close to the trunk.
Show the images of summer and winter dreys.
During the winter, squirrels need to keep warm and will spend most of their time in the drey, only coming out when they are hungry. Therefore, it is very important that squirrels store away enough food to survive until the following spring.
Ask the children what they think we can learn from squirrels.
Listen to a range of responses.
Explain that squirrels demonstrate the importance of planning for the future.
Explain that there are many ways in which planning ahead could be important.
We could save our money for something more expensive that we would really like, rather than spending it on sweets that will disappear quickly! This can help us to get ready for the future when we want to save up for even bigger things such as buying a car or a house.
We could work hard in school at our lessons or by practising a hobby or talent. This could open the way for us going to university or getting a good apprenticeship or job. It could even open up the way to us becoming an Olympic athlete. If we want to achieve any of these, we need to work hard now in preparation.
We could work hard at building good relationships with people. It takes time and effort to build good friendships. It is easy to be friends when things are going well and everyone is happy. However, there will be times during everyone’s life when people are sad or unhappy or things go wrong. Real friendship means sticking with the people we care about when things are not going well. When we do, it can lead to security and a special sense of belonging in the future.
Time for reflection
Squirrels show us the importance of forward planning. They show us the importance of putting in time and effort, even if it means making certain sacrifices for a more secure or successful future. A squirrel only stores a few nuts at a time, but when they are dug up throughout the winter, they keep the squirrel alive and well. Putting effort into our work, play and relationships now will make a big difference to our futures.
Can you think of a time when you put in extra effort for something you wanted? Maybe you wanted to be in a school sports team. Maybe you were learning lines for a part in a play. Maybe you saved up for something that you really wanted.
How did it feel when you achieved that?
Let’s all enjoy the things we do each day, but let’s always bear in mind that what we do affects the future.
Please help us to be grateful for all that we have.
Please help us not to take things for granted.
Help us to enjoy each day while remembering that our actions today have consequences for the future.
‘From the tiny ant’ (Come and Praise, 79)