Montessori PreSquirrels

Bountiful maple seed helicopters aka twirlybirds make Lincoln, Nebraska in early June a paradise for squirrel families. That same bumper crop clogs gutters and downspouts, then sprouts in the wet weather, creating a problem for most homeowners.

LadderMama I am not! An itty bitty misstep climbing down from a gutter inspection proved that. My dad grounded me and took away my ladder privileges. I can't be any help to him if I fall. If I fall, he can't be much help to me. These concepts were brought home to both of us in the few Major Oops seconds that knocked the wind out of me and messed up my back.

The maple seed disaster was also a gift. I couldn't do many of the tasks on my list, but I could sit by the patio picture window with an ice pack and Aleve, staring out at the big maple tree for hours at a stretch. [I couldn't actually stretch or bend or twist...]

The upside of my misadventure was the opportunity to do a lengthy professional observation of a true master class. I just had to make notes of applications for my own teaching. Dad's patio is actually the continuing educational research laboratory for applied squirrel development.

Mother Nature has prepared the perfect learning environment for little squirrels. This particular backyard family has five youngsters enrolled in Squirrel School. The kids were born blind and hairless in April. Their mother nursed them while they lived in a cavity in Squirrel Campus Maple Tree that formerly housed a family of owls. My oldest son, a higher education administrator, would certainly view the maple tree as a living/learning community residence hall!

Peeking out of the nest hole.

My observation period began just as the baby squirrels started spending time out of the nest for their next stage of development. These were clearly preschool squirrels, and just try to say that three times fast!

preschool squirrels
preschool squirrels
preschool squirrels

The Squirrel Tendencies: The practical application of the Montessori method is based on human tendencies— to explore, move, share with a group, to be independent and make decisions, create order, develop self-control, abstract ideas from experience, use the creative imagination, work hard, repeat, concentrate, and perfect one's efforts. The squirrel baby tendencies are the same.

The first tendency of the squirrels is to explore the immediate area around the nest hole, so basically the trunk and lowest, biggest branches of the maple tree. They looked for sunny spots to recline where the big branch meets the trunk, on the "deck" above a big gnarl, or on the big root at the base of the trunk.

Hard to see, but one squirrel sunning on the branch at the left and another squirrel lounging on "the deck" of The Big Gnarl.

Once they had discovered their sunny spots, the squirrels practiced returning to their spot after each new experience. They practiced flattening themselves spread-eagle on their sunny spot, and also cuddling up with their siblings at those locations.

The next day began with the baby squirrels repeating the various "sunny spots" works. Then they began to explore the tree trunk together, and later individually, often returning to the sunny spots or to the nesting cavity. They were excited to discover gnarls that catch rainwater.

The gnarls were also handy for practicing small jump and run techniques.

Development was uneven in the group. Three of the squirrels began chasing each other on the trunk of the tree, but the other two still wanted to hide in the nest hole or sun on the deck.

The squirrels spent more of their time eating maple twirlybirds on the nearby patio. When they got tired, they repeated earlier tasks. They rushed to the sunny spots or the nest hole when they were interrupted by a pair of rabble-rousing robins or a lady with a digital camera.

Where were the adult teachers of this living/learning community? The big squirrels were seen occasionally feeding nearby, but they mostly left the education of the youngsters to the prepared environment and the natural tendencies of little squirrels. Other times I suspect the adults went on a second honeymoon, as squirrels often have two sets of offspring a year.

The next day the little squirrels felt compelled to practice hanging from their back toenails. They went to their sunny spots and dangled! It was hilarious, and reminiscent of that Seventies-Eighties gravity boots fitness fad.

This day most of the squirrels also spent a great deal of time scratching themselves. I'll refrain from making the obvious comparisons to my preschool students! The squirrels ventured a greater distance into the lawn or onto the patio to gorge themselves on maple twirlybirds.

On the patio they discovered the big sticks and a substantial chunk of a branch that fell during the storm. This playground equipment encouraged curious exploration, and lumberjack logroll activities.

Running and chasing were the order of the day as the squirrels expanded their territories in the maple tree and in the lawn. As twilighted neared, they crossed paths with some baby rabbits hanging out at an adjacent summer enrichment camp. There was much playing of extraspecies "chicken" and leapfrogging about with mosquitos and fireflies. We all know that Flopsie, Mopsie, and Cottontail had blackberries, but Peter had chamomile tea for supper. I suspect the bunnies and squirrels all needed calamine lotion on their bug bites ...

The next morning was perfect for their new squirrel mission. Three squirrels embarked on a course running down the tree trunk playing follow-the-leader. Eventually the leader headed across the shady grass to leap onto the wooden swing, setting it in motion. Three leaps right, U turn, three leaps left, U turn, back to the right, and a big leap to the crossbar of the old metal swingset. From there up, up, up into the nearest pine tree! Holy smokes, Bullwinkle! These squirrels were flying. The last little squirrel, reluctant to choose work, followed slowly, then missed his leap to the crossbar. Dang! For a fraction of a second he tried to hang by his back toenails before completely muffing the dismount. Back he ran to his tanning deck on The Big Gnarl [the squirrel equivalent of the Montessori pink tower]! This squirrel needed to backtrack to the toenail hanging work.

I'm impressed by the natural sequence in the little squirrels' work. They were inspired to choose more challenging works by other students' efforts and by their own internal need to learn. What seemed like play was exploration, repetition, concentration, and perfecting one's efforts.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

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