Yesterday I had all sorts of plans for things we could do, but I had a phone call in the morning from a man who got my number from the BHPS - he had an abandoned nest of baby hedgehogs in the garden (mum had been run over), and could I take them in? Of course I said yes, and then spent the next couple of hours running around like a mad thing making sure I had everything I needed and that it was all disinfected (+ feeding equipment sterile) The boys did their Mathswhizz and then just got on and played, all day, doing who-knows-what (I have nothing written in my HE diary for yesterday as I was up to my ears in cleaning gear and newspaper)!
When the hoglets arrived I was relieved to discover that they are about 5 weeks old, and therefore capable of self-toileting (tiny babies need help) and feeding ( I'm giving them a mixture of puppy formula and liquidised catfood - yum!) The boys all had a good look, a collective whispered "Aaaah", and were then ushered back out to play so I could check, weigh, sex and settle the hoglets. Three are over 140g, but one just 81g. The little one has been named "Minnie".
It's not ideal: the boys now have to keep the noise level down outside the kitchen and cloakroom. They are pretty good at this actually (fairly used to it), and it helps that the weather is nice so they can go outside to play often. It can be tempting to feel guilty about disrupting the boys' life like this, but actually I think it is such an enriching experience for all of us, and they learn so much from it. For a start they have seen a hedgehog, which is more than most children, and they have held a hedgehog (one of last year's bigger ones - not one of our current babies). They all know about nocturnal animals, and they know that hedgehogs love to eat worms and beetles. They know that the average hedgehog litter is about four babies
But more than the basic obvious facts, they are learning that all animals grow at different rates: the boys will not be able to leave home and look after themselves for a good many years yet; the hedgehogs will most likely only be with us for a few weeks before they can fend for themselves. They are learning that different animals have different needs - eg cows milk will make a hedgehog very ill, but certain puppy formula is close enough to hedgehog milk for them to thrive. They are learning about survival of the fittest - it is only humans who pay extra attention to help the weakest ones survive.
AND, thanks specifically to Minnie and her siblings, they are learning that sometimes the needs of others (eg for quietness, urgent attention etc) trump their own. My boys are young, sure - and they are my overall priority, I'm not going to neglect them - but it is good for them to learn to think about the needs of smaller, weaker creatures. They are learning consideration: I sometimes need to remind them to be quieter or be noisy somewhere else - they do forget - but they all understand and agree that it is important, and they love the little hoglets, so although it does not come naturally to be quiet, there are no complaints. (I'm just grateful for the good weather and outdoor play!) They are learning to be caring - to find out and meet the needs of another (in this case specific food, warmth, more quiet!) - not for personal gain, but just because we love them and want them to do well. They are learning responsibility: if we do not feed, water and thoroughly clean them out daily, the hoglets could die. It's not just something we do for fun when we feel like it - they are depending on us. They are learning compassion - the desire to relieve suffering of those in difficulty. They are learning about hygiene while I scrub the hutches with disinfectant and sterilise equipment. They are learning kindness and gentleness (which is why I won't let them handle Minnie until she is bigger - the older ones they may be able to handle in a day or so). They are learning about sacrifice - while the hoglets are so needy, we're not having friends over to play (happily we can go out to socialise still).
So although I could feel guilty if I was just looking at the academic side of things, education is all about the whole child developing and growing into a well-balanced person - and in that respect our little 80g hoglet and her siblings are proving to be pretty good teachers, and my boys excellent learners!
DISCLAIMER, just in case: I wrote this post as a way of reflecting on our own journey - I am in no way advocating the taking in of a wild animal as a project. It is illegal and could cause unnecessary suffering. Anyone who finds abandoned or poorly hedgehogs (or any wild animal) needs to phone their nearest rescue centre.