The Lower Elementary students at Montessori Tides School welcomed a special guest Tuesday into their classroom. Merlin, a barred owl, made a return flight to visit the students, including those from the Upper Elementary and Primary classrooms.
While Merlin’s visit alone was fantastic for the students, his visit was only one part of a larger curriculum for the Lower Elementary students, whose ages range from 6 to 9. The classroom library is focused on books about birds, and bird-related items, such as feathers and photos, can be found on the shelves. Birds also are included in the vertebrate section of the Time Line of Life, one of the Five Great Lessons in Montessori education.
Teachers also are presenting small-group lessons related to birds. First-year students learn about a bird’s external parts, while second-years learn more about how a bird’s body is supported, how it moves and how its circulatory system works. The third-year students work on research related to birds, and Merlin’s visit sparked many ideas for research.
Merlin was injured about 10 years ago when he was hit by a car as an adult owl, and Lesley Royce has cared for him for about the last eight years. In the wild, she told the students, an owl like Merlin can live an average of 10 years. In captivity, however, the oldest barred owl on record was 23 years old. That information sparked a discussion about why there’s such a difference. Food availability and the age of the owl play roles in the shorter life span of a wild owl, she said.
The students had many questions for Miss Lesley about such things as owl habitats and diet. Afterward, the students were able to view items she brought to share. They were able to try on the gloves she uses with the owl; touch owl wings and talons removed from an owl killed by a car; and see how much different types of owls weigh.
Of course one activity drew the most interest: dissecting owl pellets, those clumps of bones and other indigestible materials that owls regurgitate after feeding. With tweezers in hand, they set about finding the mouse bones from Merlin’s dinner.