Rabbits and Hares: Activities About Animals for Children
Easter is around the corner. Like so many of our holidays, the symbols or images of Easter bare little relation to the original significance or meaning of the holiday. Nevertheless, eggs, bunnies and candy are what children will think of first in relation to Easter.
But think how confusing this is…eggs and bunnies. Bunnies don’t come from eggs nor do they lay them, but the Easter bunny gives us eggs (or hides them). In a young child’s mind, eggs and bunnies may be closely linked.
It might be time to check in with your child to see what he understands about eggs and rabbits, with the goal of perhaps exploring both a little further, correcting the misconceptions, expanding knowledge, and just having fun thinking about these signs of Spring.
If your child shows an interest in or asks questions about eggs, here is a whole post on eggs. http://guidingcuriosity.com/egg-spolartion-of-breakfast/
This new post will focus on rabbits.
Inquiry starts with questions. We want children to discover their own answers to questions through hands-on activities, including making observation, comparisons, measurements, and experimenting when appropriate. The child arrives at or creates answers, those answers should not be automatically provided. Answers may not at first be correct, but only if challenged will the exploration process continue. The process is just as, or more important than arriving at an answer. So just in case you need some help in how to guide a child to an answer, hints are provided below.
What do rabbits look like? Feel like? Smell like?
What colors they come in?
How big or small do they get?
What do they eat and where do they live?
How do rabbits compare with other animals, or what makes them alike or different?
Where did the Easter bunny come from?
As is often the case with animals, if you have access to a pet rabbit, a pet store selling rabbits, or a petting zoo or a way to hold and feel the real thing, this is a wonderful place to begin exploring these animals.
Do NOT buy a rabbit for a child thinking it will be an easy pet. They are not. They need a lot of maintenance and do not really make good pets for children, contrary to what many people assume. (For that matter, do not buy the chicks that are available this time of year either…)
If you have access to a real rabbit to observe, discuss with your child how to approach the animal. That rabbit may not want to be held or touched. Some of these animals might be comfortable with this, but check with its owner, or make your own determinations by watching its behavior. Your child can learn a lot by looking at a rabbit in its cage. There is no reason to hold one unless everyone has determined that the rabbit is okay with being held and is safe and not at a risk for being dropped.
Toys or stuffed rabbits can be great if they are reasonably realistic (and not wearing clothes).
Excellent illustrations or photographs can stand in for getting conversations about these animals started.
Take a close look. Invite your child to describe what she is seeing. How many legs, ears, eyes, does she see? Do the ears always stand up (remember there are lop ear rabbits, whose ears fold over)? Why might their ears be so big (to capture sound in all directions)?
Are there whiskers, a tail, a nose? What color is the animal? What color are its eyes? What does its fur feel like? Invite your child to name to body parts.
What is the shape of the front versus the back legs? Why the difference (to help in hopping, those back feet need to be long for pushing off). What else might those long legs and big feet be used for (thumping, kicking and scratching)?
What is thumping, or when the rabbit pounds its long hind foot? (a form of communication. Thumping and kicking are defense mechanisms or a way to keep a predator away).
Do you have live rabbits that live near your home that you can observe? Invite observations of how they move, the footprints they leave behind, or their behavior.
When they are not hopping or moving, what are they doing? If they are moving, can you see that they are airborne for part of the time? Can you see their noses? What are their noses doing? Can you see its tail? Does it twitch? (Yes)
Rabbits clean themselves regularly. Any chance your child has observed this behavior (more likely with a pet rabbit)?
Can your child hear anything? Do rabbits make sounds? (Yes, a variety of grunts and even screams.) Here is one example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kNzfRwdUjI
Rabbits do make sounds, but generally, they are very, very quiet.
To enhance observations, you can invite your child to take photographs or draw what she sees. Also, copying a rabbit’s behaviors, or practice hopping, wiggling a nose, or staying very still, are good exercises for enhancing observation skills.
If you can not observe rabbit behavior “in the wild,” here are some YouTube videos that are worth watching and talking about. Invite your child to look, and wait for questions. If none are forthcoming, then maybe initiate a discussion with a comment such as, “I wonder why the rabbit did…..?”
Compare and Contrast
If your child can see multiple rabbits, ask him to describe similarities or differences. Pictures of rabbits on index cards is a good option for comparing similarities and differences, and sorting or categorizing rabbits regarding color, size, or other characteristics your child is interested in (these may be unique, but appreciate the inventiveness).
Here is a collection of photos of a variety of rabbits that you can print: http://myhouserabbit.com/bunny-photos/
Or find a field guide at a used bookstore and cut out pictures and paste onto index cards or card stock so that those photos can travel with you.
Compare rabbits with other mammals. What are similarities or differences regarding the size of their bodies, head shape, teeth, shape of their feet or any characteristic that is of interest to your child? What other animals are rabbits like? What other animals are they different from?
Rabbits are closely related to rodents but are actually in a different order of mammals called Lagomorpha. This order consists of rabbits, hares and pikas. Lagomorphs have four incisors in their upper jaw, not just the two characteristics of all rodents. Also, Lagomorphs have enamel on both the front and back of their incisors and rodents just have enamel on the front. Lagomorphs are almost entirely herbivorous, whereas many rodents eat both meat (mostly insects) and vegetable matter.
What other animals are rodents? (mice, rats, squirrels). What makes an animal a rodent? (About 40% of mammals are rodents, so there are lots of them. Their front teeth or incisors are an important distinguishing feature. It boils down to this: Both rodents and lagomorphs have big front teeth! These front teeth (incisors) also grow continuously, so rabbits (and mice, rats, etc.) need to keep eating regularly throughout their life to keep them from getting too large. (Watch out – rabbits will bite!)
For more on squirrels, see our post: http://guidingcuriosity.com/wild-things-squirrels-chipmunks/
Now here is when the Easter egg story can finally be clarified. Both lagomorphs and rodents belong to the class of vertebrate animals known as mammals. One principal characteristic of virtually all mammals is that they give birth to live young. In other words – no eggs with colorful shells. The only exception to this “live birth rule” are the monotremes. And they are represented by only five relatively strange species that lay eggs such as the duckbill platypus and four types of echidnas (spiny anteaters). All monotremes are restricted to Australia and New Guinea.
What other animals hop? (Kangaroos?) If you have an opportunity to observe a rabbit hopping, do they hop in a straight line? (No it will be a zig-zag, particularly if they are escaping from a predator. Why a zig-zag? It is a good defensive maneuver. It makes it more difficult for the predator to know where to pounce).
How do wild rabbits differ from those that are pets or domesticated?
- Can take care of themselves and do not have to be cared for
- Live in fields, woods and meadows
- Have fur that blends in with their surroundings and acts as camouflage (usually brown or gray, but Arctic rabbits are white because…there is snow on the ground).
- Weigh only a few pounds
- Build their own burrows
- Only have babies certain times during the year
- Live only about three years
- Need to be cared for
- Live in hutches or cages
- Have fur of different colors, including white that can be easily detected by predators. There are more than 50 breeds of domestic rabbits
- Can weigh up to 20 pounds
- Have babies all year long
- Can live to be ten years old and longer
Compare what rabbits eat to what other animals eat. Rabbits are Herbivores, and eat plants such as grass, weeds, wildflowers, and those flowers and vegetables you grow in your garden. This compares to? (Carnivores eat meat and Omnivores eat both plants and meats). If rabbits eat plants, what might their teeth look like? (No sharp canine teeth for grabbing prey. They need teeth for chewing plants).
Herbivores need a lot of time to eat a sufficient amount of plant material to get the calories they need. They spend most of their waking hours eating…Did your child notice this when observing rabbits?
If rabbits eat plants, what happens to them during the winter months? What is available to eat? During the winter months, rabbits will eat bark, twigs, and pine needles.
What eats a rabbit? Who preys on rabbits (foxes, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, large predatory birds and humans)? Rabbits have very good hearing. Why? (So they can hear their predators approaching and escape before they are caught). They also sleep with their eyes open. Why? (Again, because of predators.)
Compare rabbits and hares.
Hares live above ground and rabbits live below. Hares are born in nests above ground with their eyes open. Rabbits are born in burrows, with their eyes closed, and those newborn rabbits do not have any FUR! Hares tend to have bigger ears and longer legs.
The largest rabbit breed known is the “Flemish Giant” and measures up to 4 feet 4 inches in length and can weigh as much as up around 48 pounds. The smallest rabbit breeds are known as pygmy rabbits and weigh around 1 pound and measure around 9 to 11 inches in length. Show your child how big/small these rabbits are with a tape measure.
If you have access to a live rabbit, and it will allow it, measure its length or height. Count how many toes it has?
Can you count how many whiskers?
This may be difficult, but can you count how many teeth it has?
Rabbits have 28 teeth. Children have 20 baby teeth (that fall out). Adults have 32 teeth (if they have their wisdom teeth). Can you figure our how to represent these differences with your child? You can draw these, or if you have items such as Legos, you can lay them out and see the (mathematical) “difference”.
Can you weigh it?
If a live rabbit is not available, data on rabbit weights are available in a good field guide or on-line. Here is an example. http://rabbitbreeders.us/rabbit-breeds
If you know the weight of a rabbit that you can see in a photo, then see if your child can predict what items in the kitchen or what other toys may weigh about that much. Test these predictions by weighing those items on a balance or the bathroom scale.
If you have live rabbits nearby, count how many you see at one time. Perhaps revisit that same place (your backyard?) at about the same time on consecutive days, and recount how many one can see. Make a chart of the number of rabbits observed.
If you can see rabbit tracks in the snow, measure the distance between those tracks. How far can the rabbit hop? Rabbits are referred to as gallopers. I know, we think they hop, but when animals gallop their hind legs actually land in front of the front legs. This is why rabbit tracks have two little imprints in back, with the longer back foot leaving a print in front.
A rabbit can jump 12 feet to escape a predator. That is many times the length of its body. Measure this distance to see how far that is. How far can your child jump? Make several attempts, measuring each jump. Are they the same distance each time?
Here is a general guide to animal tracks. A rabbit’s track is included, but I am including the entire guide as your child may find all of these tracks interesting and can compare the shapes of the feet of a variety of animals.
If you can, measure a rabbit’s whisker. It should be about as long as its body.
Can you measure the size of the back foot? Are there different sized tracks in your yard in the snow? Can you distinguish between adults and bunnies (younger rabbits)? Many animals have a left foot and right foot. Can your child tell which is which? How can he tell the difference?
Elaborate and Glossary
Male rabbits are called bucks.
Female rabbits are called does.
Newborn rabbits are called kits.
Young rabbits are called bunnies.
A bunch of rabbits is called a herd.
Rabbits are major characters in many, many children’s stories, so visit a library and find and read these books.
Two of the most beloved are:
Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
Explore the origins of the Easter bunny.
There are lots and lots of crafts and snack recipes related to rabbits. These are easy to find on-line and depending on your child’s interest level, I am sure you can find something that would be entertaining.