An Invitation to Learn About Birds
Today Emma from 95 Acres of Sky is with us to share some great resources and ideas for learning about birds with the little naturalists in our lives.
At this time of year, when winters grip finally seems behind us and the monochrome of winter is being replaced by full spring bloom, it seems like every moment not spent outside is a waste. But sometimes, just sometimes, nature does not cooperate with our wishes and so we must compromise by learning about outside; just until we can head out again of course.
This year I’ve tried to incorporate more Reggio Emilia learning strategies into our family life, this is an educational model that encourages open ended learning opportunities for children. It also encourages an inspiring environment that allows them to create and learn in a way that feels right to them. A way of setting up this kind of activity (and something I learned here on the Playful Learning site) is to create an invitation to learn, an open ended activity with no particular goal in mind but a clear focus with limited materials.
Our house is full of books, both fiction and informative, but I rarely see the boys reach for one of them unless their interest is sparked first. So by creating an invitation for them, I am drawing their attention to a specific subject but not telling them how they should interpret that information. For me this approach blends beautifully the guidance that children need with the freedom to create that helps them thrive.
For this invitation I laid out two books about birds that we have on our nature shelf, a fun quiz game and some drawing materials; I placed age appropriate materials for both of the boys so that they could interpret at their own level. I didn’t give them any guidance as to what they should do but allowed them to discover and be inspired. And inspired they were! My youngest son drew several pictures of birds and then used some miniature binoculars from our discovery basket to look for birds out of the window. My eldest son (now 8) decided to create his own book of drawings based on the bird encyclopedia.
I was so excited with how well the boys reacted to this spontaneous (yet thought out) invitation, and there was much bird talk in the house for hours after the activity too. My eldest son was so proud of the book he created he couldn’t wait to show it to Daddy as soon as he came home. Though I had thought they might focus on the identification aspect of the bird books, instead they interpreted the material in an artistic way, my son using it as an opportunity to develop his drawing skills and engaging me in an art lesson of sorts. It was lovely to support him as he strove to improve and refine his art work in a way I hadn’t seen before.
If you’d like to lay out a similar invitation for your children, here are some suggestions for what you might like to include:
- Bird field or identification guides such as the Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher or the wonderful book Bird Songs 250 North American Birds in Song, which actually includes recordings of each bird’s sound, a truly exceptional identification tool.
- For games like the one shown in our invitation look for Professor Noggin’s Bird’s of North America. There are many other in the series covering all sorts of subjects and a great way to improve everyone’s knowledge. There are easier and harder questions that allow younger children to enjoy too. These Fundana games also look wonderful and is something I’m dying to try out this summer! Or this wooden matching game would be lovely for younger children.
- Imagination Childhood also has a lovely range of field guides and inspiring nature books, covering everything from birds to beetles. They also stock beautiful bird posters a great reference guide to have on the wall at all times.
- And if you’d like to introduce a little technology, there are of course bird watching apps such as iBird Pro and the Peterson’s Birds field guide ,which is full of beautiful and inspiring illustrations that are sure to engage anyone’s imagination.
The great joy of this kind of learning is that it is only a jumping off point, the materials should be carefully chosen but don’t have to be new or expensive. A great field guide from the library and the art materials you already own will quickly become a gateway to a new learning adventure; and the fun thing is, you really don’t know where you’ll end up!