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Groundhog Day is February 2, which is right around the corner. To get ready to celebrate, let's take a look at a new book about groundhogs that just came out last month, The Amazing Groundhogs of Woodchuck Wonderland by Susan Sam and Joseph Sam.

Susan and Joseph Sam are passionate proponents for groundhogs. Their website Woodchuck Wonderland™ has long been an inspirational source of information, photographs, and videos that come from years of studying these often-ignored rodents. Now they have published a 36-page paperback that will delight children of all ages.

First up in the book, they present Wilhelmina, a special woodchuck that first introduced them to the joys of observing woodchuck behavior. Next they discuss what a woodchuck (or groundhog) is -- technically large squirrels of the marmot family -- and describe their life cycles, including hibernation.

Did you know baby groundhogs were called chucklings?

The rest of the book reveals what woodchucks eat and all sorts of interesting facts about them, all illustrated with large color photographs. The Sam's call themselves "The People" in the text and admit at times that the woodchucks' activities are at odds with their own.

Last year I looked for a books about groundhogs for a young relative who had developed an interest in them and the pickings were slim. The Amazing Groundhogs of Woodchuck Wonderland is a much-needed book that fills a special niche. Dig up a copy today!

Suggested Activities to Accompany the Book:

I. Hibernation Information and Activities

What is hibernation?

When it is cold outside and/or food supplies are low, certain animals are able to slow their heart rates and breathing rates, lower their body temperatures, and go into an extended resting state.

Rodents, in particular, are known to hibernate.

1. Hibernation Information Research

Make a list of animals that hibernate. What do animals that hibernate have in common? How are they different?

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources hibernation page is a good place to start.

2. Heart Rates and Breathing Rates

Gather:  Watch or other timing device that will measure one minute in seconds.

Teach children how to find their pulse (details at Women's and Children's Health Network). Count the pulse for one minute.

Most children at rest should have counts around 60-100 beats per minute (faster than adults). Have them walk around or do some exercises in place. Then count again. If they are struggling to count for a minute, have them count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4.

Now explain that in bears the number of heart beats go from 84 in an active bear to 19 beats per minute in a hibernating bear (ScienceDaily). Other animals my drop to 4 or 5 beats per minute. That is slow!

3. Getting Ready to Hibernate

Animals that hibernate must put on a heavy layer of fat to act as an energy reserve while they are not active or feeding. How do they do it?

Did you know that one source of food for bears is moths? Studies have shown that bears in Yellowstone Park eat as many as 40,000 moths a day in preparation for hibernation (Smithsonian). The moths themselves have big fat reserves they have stored for their own preparation for overwintering.

Woodchucks eat mostly plants. What kinds of plants might be best for the woodchucks to eat if they want to make fat?

What does this groundhog have in its front paw? Can you see?

It is picking up fruit from under a mulberry tree. It has an ability to grasp its food like other members of the squirrel family.

If you are lucky enough to live where woodchucks occur, observe what they eat. Does what they eat change as they approach the time to hibernate?

Visit TeachHub for more classroom activities about hibernation.

II. Past Groundhog Day Science Links:

Groundhog Day Science - Groundhogs and Shadows

Groundhog Day Information and Poem

And don't forget, The Amazing Groundhogs of Woodchuck Wonderland.

Paperback: 36 pages
Publisher: Independently published (December 11, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1731288786
ISBN-13: 978-1731288783

3

Our science activities and lessons today are inspired by the children's picture book Groundhogs (Pebble Plus: North American Animals) by Chadwick Gillenwater. With Groundhog Day just two weeks away (February 2, 2013), it would be a great time to learn more about groundhogs and do some science activities relating to shadows and weather. For more about the book and other books for the celebration of Groundhog Day, visit Wrapped in Foil.

1. Learn about groundhogs or woodchucks and create an age-appropriate fact sheet.

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are rodents belonging to the marmot family. Their scientific name is Marmota monax. They live throughout the eastern and northern parts of North America, all the way north to Alaska.

Groundhogs live in burrows they dig in the ground. They come out of the burrow to eat plants during the summer. Often you can see them alongside highways grazing on the road banks or sitting up looking for danger. Sometimes they climb small trees or shrubs to escape from enemies or to explore new types of food.

In the winter groundhogs hibernate deep underground. Sometimes they will come out of hibernation to search for food. This has become part of the Groundhog Day story.

Groundhogs are also called whistle pigs because they whistle to communicate with each other. The Marmot Burrow website has a recording of a male groundhog whistling.

In this video, you can see a young groundhog and learn more about their habits.

For a longer and more extensively narrated video about a woodchuck family, see Groundhogs 2005-2008 An uncommon look at a common animal. The link takes you to the video at YouTube (sharing has been disabled). Update:  See the videos on the new website.

You also might want to read some of the books listed below. When you are done, create a fact sheet about groundhogs to share what you have learned. Include drawings of the animals and their homes.

2. Science of Shadows

A. Preschool-K Level:  Exploring Shadows

Gather:

  • flashlights
  • bare, light-colored wall in a darkened room (ceiling is fun, too)
  • assorted objects to cast shadows, including a wide-toothed comb or hair pick, and a ball

Darken a room somewhat and then use the flashlight to explore shadows. Move an object closer to the flashlight and then farther way. Move the flashlight closer to the object and pull it away. What happens? What happens when you hold the comb in front of the flashlight? Now turn on a second flashlight. Shine the two flashlights on an object. Slowly move the flashlights apart. What happens to the shadow(s)?

Older children will enjoy making shadow animals and/or shadow puppets.

How about a groundhog shadow puppet to celebrate Groundhog Day? Cut out a groundhog shape and glue it to a craft stick with white glue. Now take it outside and see if the groundhog will see its shadow.

B. Elementary:  Chasing shadows

Need:

  • Hard level surface out of doors large enough for each participant to record their shadows
  • Sidewalk chalk of different colors
  • Yardstick or measuring tape (optional)
  • Compass (optional)
  • Sunny day

Start by going outside in the morning. Have the children chose a place to stand. Draw a circle of chalk around their feet and then write their initials inside the circle. Now, have them stand with their back to the sun. Have a helper draw a line around their shadow. Measure the length of the shadow. Check the direction of the shadow using the compass (optional).

Return and repeat the process around noon and later in the afternoon. How have the shadows changed? Discuss how the shadows might be different in the different seasons as the sun appears to be higher or lower in the sky due to the Earth's tilt.

C. Older:  Make a sundial

There are many great websites that show how to make an explore a sundial. Here are just two:

D. Older:  Use a shadow to measure a tree.

To find out more about Groundhogs, try these nonfiction children's books:

Groundhogs (Pebble Plus: North American Animals) by Chadwick Gillenwater

Library Binding: 24 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1429686731
ISBN-13: 978-1429686730

 

Groundhog's Burrow (Science Slam: the Hole Truth!: Underground Animal Life) by Dee Phillips

Orphan The Story of A Baby Woodchuck by Faith McNulty

For more about Shadows, try these nonfiction children's books:

What makes a shadow? (Let's-read-and-find-out science) by Clyde Robert Bull and illustrated by June Otani

Publisher: Scholastic; Revised edition (1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0590275933
ISBN-13: 978-0590275934

Shadows by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson


Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1st edition (March 1, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805060596
ISBN-13: 978-0805060591

Light: Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows (Amazing Science) by Natalie M. Rosinsky  and illustrated by Sheree Boyd

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: Picture Window Books (January 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1404803327
ISBN-13: 978-1404803329

Light and Shadows (Science@School) by Brian J. Knapp

Moonbear's Shadow (Moonbear Books) by Frank Asch (One of our favorite fiction books about shadows).

Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 3/1/2000
Pages: 32
Reading Level: Age 5 and Up

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.