We all stand on the shoulders of others. This activity is presented with thanks to Cobi Sauder, my friend and mentor, who showed me through this activity and SO many others, how to bring wild things to life for children.
Birds are really fun to watch and feed. They offer us a window into wild animals; their unique language, social behaviours and habits. All you need is to find a reliable bird feeding area and bring along some different coloured bandanas or plastic pegs in your pocket.
When we train ourselves to notice differences and similarities in animals, we become keen observers and more skilled at identification. Literacy in schools means mastery of reading, writing and oral communication, while 'nature' literacy is gaining knowledge and sensitivity towards all living things. We can link nature literacy with all aspects of literacy learning through journal writing, non-fiction reading, research, presentations, and environmental activism.
Make it bird day at your home, school or pod group. Decide based on your viewing area and child's readiness what birds might be fun to become familiar with. We like to focus on our familiar guests like Chickadee and Blue Jay our perching birds, Woodpecker and Nuthatch our climbers, and Cardinal and Sparrow our ground feeders. Plan an outing to look for these birds. Use those 'soft eyes' we talked about last week to spot birds in action. Watch how they fly, behave with other birds, and listen for their unique call. I love the story 'That Chickadee Feeling' by Frank Glew to build interest in connecting with birds.
Now, let's turn this observation into a game to 'lock in' some information. Tie your coloured bandanas or clip pegs on surrounding trees or other objects around your space in different directions. Talk about the colours of the birds you are studying and choose a colour that reminds you of that bird. Of course, Cardinal is red, but maybe chickadee could be black to remember their black cap.
Now talk about how each of the birds fly in unique patterns; blue jay has a wavy flight, Chickadee side-to-side, cardinal smooth glider, for woodpecker you can simply use a hammer action. Use your arms and bodies to mimic each birds movements and have the kids practice. Now, what is their special song? You may need to use a bird app if unsure, but most birds have many variations but one distinctive call. Start chirping together to approximate each song. Put the flight pattern and sound together to have the full effect of each bird. Get into the roleplay and watch kids light up!
Gather in a circle nest. Let's see if we can remember each bird. Call out a bird name, chirp a song or demo a flight action. Children then fly from the nest to the matching coloured bandana all while mimicking that bird. Once there, show how this bird feeds. If they are a perching bird, grab a small stick and perch. Climbers can show how they climb; remember Nuthatch is upside down a lot. Kids love to put their hands on the ground with feet on the tree to show this one. Ground feeders start to scratch and peek. Give an owl hoot and all birds return to the safety of the circle nest. Try all variations of calls, actions, or bird names so kids can practice this new knowledge within the game.
Do you know that the biggest threat to our songbirds are domestic cats roaming loose? Add a game where birds fly from nest circle to feeders (turn those bandanas into feeding spots) while avoiding roaming cats. Let your imagination run wild to create a game that is fast paced and keeps kids in the role of their bird of choice. No human voices, only bird songs and lots of wing flapping!
Add one or two of these birds to a journal or sketch/trace them on paper. Create a nest with clay and add seeds to attract birds, carve out a gourd or pumpkin to make a hanging bird pit stop, or roll pine cones in peanut butter and hang with twine for a cool nature feeder. Birds can consume your outdoor life, especially in winter when bird feeders are abundant. Take advantage and become a bird watcher with your child. Birds are wonderful teachers.