To initiate the understanding that we share our natural and urban environments with wild animals.


Children may already be aware that there are critters in their yards at night, but do they understand that we share these spaces with them? This lesson will introduce students to some of the common nocturnal animals who may scavenge their yards for food and use their surroundings for shelter. In this unit:

  • Children will gain an understanding about sharing our environments with wild animals.
  • Children will begin to learn what urban wildlife needs to stay healthy and safe.
  • Children will begin to develop empathy for these animals by realizing that animals need many of the same basic things that children do.
  • Children will begin to learn how to keep themselves, domestic pets, and wild animals safe.

Click here to view California Standards Alignment.

Next: Lessons & Videos

Suggested Format

  • Read aloud from the interactive storybook Trees Are Never Lonely and discuss the story briefly with your students.
  • Read the pdf Facts about Raccoons with your class.
  • Watch Mow Wow’s animated movies with the students.
  • Follow the movies with questions, discussion, and activities.
  • Close the unit with a poem and/or a fable. (See Enrichment)

Let’s Begin!

Interactive Storybook—Trees Are Never Lonely

Trees Are Never Lonely explores the relationships between a tree and the animals living nearby. It also examines the effect of urbanization in the area surrounding the tree.

Open the story in a new window Download PDF

Who Lives in the Backyard? (50 seconds)

This video can be projected through a classroom computer, or alternately, screen shots of the video can be printed for classroom use.

Focus of the Discussion

Ask your students if before seeing the movie they were aware of wild animals living in their yards at night. Elicit responses about which kinds of animals they have seen in their yards or think might be prowling or foraging at night. Discuss why it is important for us to share our spaces with these wild animals. Below are questions that will spur student discussion. Suggested discussion points and background information related to the movie follow each question.

Note: Glossary words appear in bold

Question 1.

Why is the raccoon looking in the garbage can for food?

Wild animals are good at finding the food they need to survive. If they lived in the woods, they would forage for the natural foods that they need. Because people have built houses and streets and shopping centers and freeways where animals used to live, the animals have to find new ways to find the food they need. Because people throw so much of their food away, wild animals living in and adapting to urban and suburban environments have learned that they can find and survive on these edible leftovers. Before there were people living in their habitats, wild animals didn’t search for leftover human food. We are responsible for changing the habitats and habits of “urban wildlife.”

Question 2.

What do wild animals need to be healthy?

All wild animals need food, water, shelter, and safety to be healthy and survive. It is important for people to make sure that the environments that they are responsible for (such as their backyards) are safe places for wild animals. People need to be aware that there may be animals living in their yards at night looking for food and that pesticides and fertilizers or other toxins could harm these animals. People should help protect animals from these dangers.

Question 3.

Do you need the same things as animals to be healthy and happy? Describe what keeps you healthy and what makes you happy.

Yes, we need the same things as animals to be healthy and happy. Discuss with the students how their families help keep them healthy and happy. Families provide food and shelter and protection from accidents caused by toxins or pesticides. Families make sure that children are safe, and children can help make sure that wild animals sharing their environment are safe too.

Question 4.

If you have a cat, where do you keep the cat at night? Why should your cat spend the night inside your house?

Domestic pets should sleep inside the house to avoid encounters with wild animals. (Tell your students that it is better for cats and other small domestic animals to live inside at all times.) Raccoons can attack domestic pets who are outside. Raccoons will fight if cornered, but they would rather escape the situation and hide. They have sharp claws and 40 teeth (including four sharp canines).

Question 5.

Do you have a dog? Does your dog sleep inside the house? Why should dogs sleep inside?

Just like a cat, a dog should sleep inside the house. Pet experts recommend keeping dogs and cats inside at night. The dog will try to protect his family and home against night visitors and could get into fights with nocturnal animals. Cars also pose a danger for animals roaming at night. It is difficult for drivers to see animals at night. It is also difficult for most animals to comprehend the danger from moving vehicles. When cats and dogs don’t know to stay out of the street, they could be hit by a car. If families keep their pets inside with them at night, and preferably at all times, they will be safe, like the families and children!

Question 6.

Why would a wild animal like a raccoon live in your yard?

Wild animals may have found pet food or human food in the garbage can. If they know they can find food in the yard, they will come back at night. They might climb and hide in the trees. They may find that the yard is a safe place to hide their young.

Question 7.

What other wild animals can live near people? What do these animals look like?

Here are some wild animals who live near people:

canines (coyotes, foxes, stray dogs)
feral cats
mountain lions (cougars, pumas) 
butterflies and other insects

Note: Have handy Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World’s Wildlife(Smithsonian Institution, DK Books), to show pictures of wild animals. Or, choose one or more of the links to wild animal Web sites in the Online Resources section to share images of wild animals with your class.

Question 8.

If people build houses, roads, and shopping centers in fields and woods where wild animals live, what happens to the animals? Where do they go?

The animals lose their homes and have to find new places to live. Every city and town needs natural surroundings so that the wild animals we live with have a safe place to live too. It is very important to be aware of animals who could be in the street or crossing the road. Your students can remind their parents to drive slowly in areas where there could be wild animals and to be on the lookout for animals like cats, squirrels, and dogs who may run into the street.

Question 9.

What can you do to ensure that wild animals have safe places to live?

People can create wildlife sanctuaries in their own yards and provide wild animals and even insects with food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. Discuss with your students how their communities can make sure that there is always some natural space left, and that there are not too many stores, buildings, and roads. People need space to live, but we should not take all the space—animals need space too.

Question 10.

Should you feed wild animals? Why not?

Your students should never try to feed a wild animal. Wild animals are not pets. Also, the food might not be a natural or healthy one for that animal. Wild animals are adept at finding the foods that they need to keep them healthy. It is best to watch wild animals from a distance, or from inside a house if the animals are in the yard.

Question 11.

What should you do if you see a wild animal who is injured? Has your pet ever been hurt? What did you do to help your pet?

If an animal is injured, call animal control officers, wildlife rehabilitators, or an animal rescue society. These are the experts who know how to take care of wild animals and help them if they are sick or hurt. They will come and pick the animal up carefully.

If a pet gets hurt, call the veterinarian. Vets are animal doctors. Your students should always tell an adult if they see a hurt animal. They should never try to help the animal by themselves. Even an injured pet may not want to be touched and may bite.

Question 12.

In your community, which people help wild animals if they are sick or injured?

People who help sick or injured wild animals can be animal control officers, wildlife specialists, veterinarians, and animal rescue societies.

Question 13.

Where do the wild animals in your community live? Some people think there are too many wild animals living with us and don’t want to share space. Why is it important that we share our natural space with wild animals?

Animals have a role to play in nature. Birds, for example, consume thousands of insects each year. Think of how many insects there would be if there were no birds! If there were no wolves or mountain lions (cougars, pumas), there would be too many deer for whatever food might be available.

Warm and Safe at Night (38 seconds)

This video can be projected through a classroom computer, or alternately, screen shots of the video can be printed for classroom use.

Watch Download Enrichment Sheets

Note: Glossary words appear in bold

Question 1.

What does the movie show?

The movie shows a cat who is outside chasing a mouse. The mouse escapes from the cat. Lucky mouse! Cats are a natural way to control mouse and rat populations, and they are better than pesticides, which are poisonous and harmful to the environment.

Question 2.

Who is sleeping with the boy on his bed? Do you have a pet who sleeps in your room?

Responses will vary. With the class, discuss the responses.

Question 3.

Why is the cat outside at night? What is the cat doing?

The cat could be a visiting cat—a neighbor’s cat or a feral cat—or the family pet who is allowed to roam outside at night. The cat is outside chasing a mouse.

Question 4.

Do you have a cat? What pets do you have? Describe your pet(s).

Ask your students with pet cats to describe their cats. Some students might have hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice as pets. They will enjoy describing their pets.

Note: Ask your students if their parents allow the family cat outside at night. Discuss why this might not be safe for the cat.

Question 5.

Is it safe for the cat to be outside at night? Where does the cat sleep?

It is not safe for a pet cat to be outside at night because she might encounter nocturnal wild animals. If the cat is outside, she might not find a safe place to sleep. Also, it is not safe outside because of auto traffic. At night, drivers might not be able to see pets who are outside.

Question 6.

What other animals are outside at night?

The raccoon’s babies are waiting for their mother in the tree, where they are safe.

Question 7.

Do the raccoons live in that tree? Why would they live in the tree? Where else do raccoons live?

Possible answers: owls, bats, opossums, mice, rats, rabbits, frogs, raccoons.

Next: Enrichment


  • These activities further reinforce the main lessons.

Animals in the natural world are a frequent theme in poetry. Your students might enjoy this poem about a squirrel. After you read the poem aloud, ask your students to write or talk about their reactions and their feelings.

I’m a Squirrel

I’m a squirrel, squirrel, squirrely, squirrel,
With a bush, bush, bushy tail,
And I scamper here and there,
Scamper everywhere,
Searching for some NUTS!
I’ve got nuts on my nose, nuts on my toes, 
Nuts on my head, nuts in my bed,
Nuts in my paws, nuts in my jaws,
Pop, crack!
Yum, yum!


Aesop’s fables contain many allusions to animals in the natural world and in domestic settings. “Belling the Cat” is a one of Aesop’s fables best-known fables. Read the fable aloud and discuss the messages it conveys. One of its messages applicable to humane treatment of animals is that the cat’s bell serves as a warning to outside wildlife of imminent danger. Then, ask your students to write or talk about their reactions and their feelings.

Belling the Cat
Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighborhood.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said:

“It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”

  • 1. Build an urban wildlife scene in papier mache. Your students can create a raccoon, opossum, cat, bat, squirrel, tree, bush, or something similar, and place the animals in a backyard scene. Designate a place in the classroom to reserve as your wildlife sanctuary and include the animals in their natural environment.
  • 2. Have your students create raccoon masks from paper bags and play foraging games outside. This would be a good idea for a PE activity or for a field trip to a wooded area. Your students can collect nuts or berries and pretend to be raccoons.
  • 3. Provide your students with a stapled booklet from five to seven pages and have them draw a different animal on each page. Have them choose animals they would find in their backyard (opossum, raccoons, various kinds of birds, rats, and so on). The students can write or copy the names of each animal for use in vocabulary and spelling practice.
  • 4. Have your students draw and color wild animal pictures on index cards to play a sorting game. On 8×11 construction paper, the students can create natural habitats and then in pairs take turns placing their cards in the appropriate surroundings.
  • 5. One excellent way to contribute to the natural habitats of birds, insects, and squirrels is to provide these animals with trees for food and shelter. Research with the class what kinds of trees are appropriate for your climate and amount of sun, and plant the seedlings first in planter boxes in or near the classroom. Although the students may see only the sprouts of the trees before the end of their school year, they will know that some day the trees will be big enough to provide wild “urban” animals with food (pollen, nuts, and other kinds of food appropriate for wildlife) and shelter. Trees are good places for birds to clean themselves and rest while on their way somewhere, or to build nests for their young. The students can name or label their trees with markers and come back each season to observe the growth and progress.
  • 6. With the help of parents, the class can collect funds to purchase a small birdbath to place near the classroom. The students can be responsible for ensuring that the bath is kept clean and filled with fresh water. The bath should be placed far enough away from the playground that birds will feel comfortable stopping by for some water. The students can make a sign or placard that commemorates the bath in the name of their classroom. A quick lesson would be to have the students check on their birdbath at different times of the day throughout the year to report which kinds of animals and birds are using it and for what purposes.
  • 7. An ecologically conscious classroom will love to contribute by helping to keep neighborhoods and communities clean. Take the class on a walking field trip, armed with gloves and garbage bags, and clean up litter. Explain how different items found could affect and harm wild animals (for example, seagulls can choke on bottle caps, and fish and other sea creatures can get tangled in plastic packaging of soda, water bottles, and other drinks). If you live near a beach or body of water, this would be a great field trip.
  • 8. Suggest to your students that they go outside at night with their families. Take along a flashlight. Students can keep a journal, describing what they see. Do they see any animals? Visit the school or local library to learn more about some of these animals.
  • 9. Turning the backyard or school into a wildlife sanctuary may sound like a huge undertaking, but doing something as simple as installing bird feeders and birdbaths can give refuge and help wild birds. Planter boxes with flowers can attract and feed butterflies. A wildlife sanctuary should have a place for wild animals to find food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. Some people are hesitant to create wildlife sanctuaries near their homes because they don’t want to attract animals. On the contrary, we should value animals as an essential part of the life system.
  • 10. On a smaller scale, your students can create a refuge for insects, toads, salamanders, or other small animals. As a class, collect broken clay pots, bricks, rocks, and untreated wood for use in the students’ own backyards. Small reptiles will hide in the shelter of the pots; insects and reptiles can inhabit rock piles; beetles and ants will like the untreated wood. Have your students create small signs that show how these wild creatures are encouraged to come and stay in the miniature homes made just for them.

Suggested vocabulary words can be found in the Mow Wow Glossary. These words can be used to help children understand the lesson but are not necessarily tailored for spelling. Each word can be written on a flashcard and discussed as a class.

Spelling words to learn can be tailored to your grade or phonemic awareness lesson. Examples for kindergarteners, less advanced students in grades 1 and 2, and ELLs (English-language learners) follow.

Click here to download a student worksheet containing these words.

*raccoon (bonus!)


Next: Glossary & Resources

Mow Wow Glossary

Click here to download a worksheet for students to use some of the Glossary words to fill in blanks in sentences.

  • cub – a young raccoon.
  • den – a hole, cave, or covered area where animals live.
  • environment – the place and situation surrounding us and that we are part of.
  • fertilizer – chemicals used on plants to stimulate growth, often toxic to soil and animals.
  • forage – to look for food or provisions.
  • hibernate – to sleep for long periods of time, usually in the winter.
  • injured – hurt.
  • kit, kittens – baby raccoon, baby raccoons. Kittens are also baby cats.
  • mammal – an animal who has fur or hair and is warm-blooded.
  • omnivore – an animal who eats both animals and plants.
  • pesticide – a poison or toxin that is used to kill insects.
  • shelter – a place giving safety; a home.
  • toxin – something poisonous that could make animals and people very sick.
  • veterinarian – an animal doctor.

Suggested Online Resources

Suggested Books

  • Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

    Note: This book is also available in Spanish.

  • Heinemann Classroom Series: What’s Awake?
    Raccoons, Patricia Whitehouse
    Coyotes, Patricia Whitehouse
    Bats, Patricia Whitehouse
    Skunks, Patricia Whitehouse
    Foxes, Louise Spilsbury
    Barn Owls, Patricia Whitehouse
    Rats, Patricia Whitehouse
    Opossums, Patricia Whitehouse

    Note: For Spanish titles, the series is called ¿Qué está despierto? All the titles are available in Spanish.

Next: Unit 3 – Animals We Call Pets