Friday, November 30, 2012

Go on a Raccoon Hunt

One evening after dinner, my two and a half year-old niece (nickname Doodah) said to her parents, "Let's go on a raccoon  hunt!" My sister and brother-in-law allowed Doodah to guide them. Without any direction from her parents, Doodah led them up the hill to the park near their apartment in San Francisco. As they approached the park, Doodah informed them they would see raccoons in a particular area of the park. She led them directly there and sure enough, a family of five raccoons was digging around for food.

My sister isn't sure what prompted Doodah to suggest going on a raccoon hunt. They had been watching raccoons walk along the fence-line outside their window.  Around this time, one of Doodah's favorite books to read was We're Going on  Lion Hunt by Margery Cuyler. My sister thinks Doodah may have combined her real life experiences with the imaginary story to create her own kind of hunt.

When they visited us in October, Doodah told me about their raccoon hunts. I later interviewed her via Skype to see if there's anything she would want me to share with my blog readers. She told me they "go out in the night after dinner" but they didn't need to take a flashlight because it's bright enough in the city. When I asked her why she likes going on raccoon hunts she said, "Because they're fun!"

During our interview, Doodah and her mom also told me about the family of five raccoons they watched sneak in their neighbor's window. One stayed out on the fire escape while the other 4 went inside. Doodah told me, "We could hear them talking." (My sister clarified it was like chattering to each other). Doodah also told me "they were eating the food. Cat food." This is a detail they can't verify, but they know the neighbors have a cat so they inferred that the raccoons were eating from the cat's dish.

I just love this investigation driven by my niece's interests. I love that my sister agreed and impulsively went out after dinner. For kids who live in the city, finding a connection to nature can be a challenge, but as this demonstrates, it's not impossible. In fact, the next time Doodah lead a raccoon hunt, she brought her younger cousin- my 2 year old niece who lives in another part of San Francisco. They didn't see any raccoons that night, but my youngest niece ran all around the park enjoying the darkness. City kids don't experience nighttime the way suburban or rural kids do because of all the lights.

For those of you who live in cold areas, raccoon activity has dropped off significantly lately as they enter deep sleep for long periods (though they don't truly hibernate). When the weather is milder, however, they will still venture out in search of food. So cold-weather dwellers, wait for a warmer evening and see if you can find raccoons. Those of you who live in milder places such as San Francisco can continue to watch raccoons all year round. In fact, this time of year might be a good time for little ones since it gets dark earlier in the evening.

After you go on your raccoon hunt, you can read Raccoons by J. Angelique Johnson.

School connections: Children in grade K or 1 often study nocturnal animals, so this may dovetail with lessons happening in your child's classroom. Upper elementary students tend to study animal adaptations and traits that offspring inherit from their parents (genetics) so older children may wish to do more involved observations focused those details.

Have you seen raccoons in your area? Or are there other nocturnal animals you might search for after dinner?


  1. Michelle, have you seen the Nature episode on PBS about raccoons? They are everywhere... and only getting more clever in how they adapt to all kinds of urban environments.

    Here is the episode, and lots of other links anyone going on a raccoon hunt would enjoy:

    1. Christine, I haven't seen it. I will definitely check it out and send the info to my sister, as well.

  2. This is a great story! I have found that my girls get such a huge kick out of being outside in the dark, I guess because they don't get to do that very often. So every summer we try to do a few after-dark campfires or firefly hunts. A raccoon hunt is a great idea for something different and a good way to learn more about an animal that probably lives close by, but we don't usually see. Also thanks so much for the recommendation of Going On A Lion Hunt--my older daughter has had a thing for lions ever since the first time we saw the Lion King, so even if the book skews a little younger I think they would both love it.