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Learning from Nature - Birdlife and Children

Activities that bring birds and kids together.

Following movements in Scandinavia and North America ‘bush kindergartens’ and ‘forest schools’ have been sprouting up all over New Zealand. The concept isn’t new for those of us who grew up making our own fun in the great outdoors. However our increasingly urban lifestyles don’t always allow for roaming in the wilderness these days.

Bush kindy takes children’s learning beyond the confines of buildings and into the wild, allowing them to actively explore and experience the natural environment.

It’s about providing opportunities for children to make their own fun and as a result, direct their own learning based on what they take an interest in. Birds, naturally, are a great source of curiosity for the eyes and ears and encounters can quickly turn into ‘teachable moments’ for young children.

Bush kindy activities work really well at home too. The garden is a perfect setting for children to follow an interest in birds – as is the local park, wetland or beach. Here are some ideas to make the most of these great teachable moments:

Tips and ideas for encouraging backyard bird-watching

  • Set aside ‘green time’ to be outside and engaged in the natural environment.
  • Silence is golden:  Sit quietly and listen together to the sounds of nature. Are there bees buzzing? Birds chirping? Tree rustling? What are the trees, birds, insects and wind saying to each other? Encourage children to talk about what they heard.
  • Food Findings: put out different types of food over a period of time and find out who comes to visit. Which birds prefer the mealworms? And who likes fruit, peanut butter and fat balls or seeds? Remember, bread is a big no-no! It’s like junk food for birds.
  • Create laminated flashcards of the most common birds in the area. Another option is to get hold of a child-friendly bird identification guide (we highly recommend Andrew Crowe’s Which NZ Bird?)
  • Look for proof of bird visits in the garden. Are there feathers, nest-making materials or eggs around the place? What type of birds might they be?
  • Take an Insect Census around a space. What kind of insects can you find? Which ones do birds look for the most?
  • Make small bug houses (piles of leaf litter) to create good habitats for insects.
  • Older children may enjoy a game of Backyard Bird Bingo – create a grid of images of common local birds and check them off once sighted or heard.

Don’t be put off by ‘bad’ weather. It’s important to persist even when the weather isn’t ideal because, as the bush kindy practitioners say, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” A little rain, wind or mud can create an exciting new environment for children to explore.

Adventures into the world of birds encourage healthy learning dispositions like curiosity, trust and playfulness. They also help children gain the confidence to express their ideas about creatures – and to appreciate all the wondrous creatures our country has to offer.