Beavers are a true keystone species in our region. They transform small forest streams into sunny ponds that provide habitat for both their families and a wide variety of other plants and animals. At the same time, beavers’ homesteading results in the recharge of water tables and the mitigation of erosion and sudden flooding events along major rivers. Their activities ultimately produce a patchwork of sediment-rich, biodiverse beaver meadows and wetlands all across the Northeastern Woodlands.
These fellows, whose scientific name is Castor canadensis, are the largest and most intelligent rodents in North America. They live for up to fifteen years, can weigh up to 50 pounds, and are monogamous. Their engineering accomplishments are the direct outgrowth of their complex, cooperative family structures. Bachelor beavers do not build dams. Instead, those are build by paired beavers who share the work and also construct elaborate lodges to shelter their babies. Young beavers are blind and very helpless at birth. They need to spend at least two years under their parents’ protection. During these years, they learn from their elders how to build and maintain dams and lodges, how to harvest bark from trees, avoid enemies, and and even how to care of the young. (Yearling beavers are actively involved in tending their baby brothers and sisters.)
In this project, your students can design a wetlands habitat for a family of beavers. It’s the sort of project that can be an enjoyable accompaniment to a woodlands field trip or the reading of a book about these remarkable creatures. Encourage the children to add additional plants and animals to the basic few pictured here. Try to help them understand the role of ‘keystone species’ plan in transforming their physical environments in such a way that despite their small numbers, certain distinct constellations are able to thrive in ways that would be impossible were the ‘keystone species’ eliminated. You might mention other keystone species such as elephants, prairie dogs, and wolves among others.
On this website, you can also find several games related to beavers including a singing, circle game for K -3rd graders which features an acting and guessing component . It’s called “When the Beavers Build their Dam.” There’s also a chasing and collecting game that would work well with this project for 3rd and 4th graders. It’s called “Parental Care,” and is actually suitable for older students too. (I just think that this diorama project might not be challenging enough for youngsters older than 4th grade). The two games are described in the post titled Natural Start Alliance Conference: Traditional Games Workshop – A Draft of the Activities Collection “Circling the Sun, Racing the Wind.” You’ll find both of the games described in detail (with correlations to the Next Generation Science Standards). The melody for “When the Beavers Build their Dam,” is available separately in an audio file on the post entitled Natural Start Alliance Conference Traditional Games Workshop – Song Lyrics and Melodies “There”s a Mosquito in these Woods” and ‘When the Beavers Build a Dam.” Combining a visual arts project with a field trip and a lively game can creates a very enjoyable and memorable learning environment for all involved!EB-Beaver-Family-Diorama