What are you doing for science next school year? I have an idea for you.
We've just finished our 8th year of homeschool, and although, i'm not quite ready to start planning for next year, I've been reminiscing on what we've loved in the past. And our year of birdwatching has definitely been a favorite. Morro Bay is a state and national bird sanctuary, housing so many amazing birds. But the beauty of birding, is that there are birds everywhere. Even in large cities.
The Benefits of Studying Birds
Adding birdwatching to our homeschool curriculum has had so many wonderful benefits!
Time Outside in Nature
Getting outside to find and observe the birds a couple times a week was probably my favorite part of our bird lessons. Being in the birds own environment, seeing them for yourself in their natural habitat is such a rich way to learn. Nature is a great place to run around and be wild in, but it takes some practice to be still and notice what's going on around you. See here on getting started keeping a nature journal.
The Power of Observation
When studying the birds, we would bring along our special nature journals and colored pencils. When we discovered a bird, we had to look very carefully at it's size, shape, markings, and other characteristics in order to find it in our bird field guide, and to be able to draw it accurately in our notebooks. This encouraged my girls to be careful observers of something they had previously taken for granted. How many times had a bird flown by that I of course noticed, but if questioned, I couldn't say what color it's beak was, if it had stripes on it's wings, or other distinguishing characteristics. We learned how to really look at what we were seeing.
Learning about birds has given my girls a knowledge about nature that they will always have, and be building on to. The birds we learned about we now see with familiar eyes on other trips in nature, they've become our friends. We've started a "life list", which is a list birders use to record all the birds they have seen, and how fun when you get to add a bird you've only heard or read about, but now have finally seen with your own eyes.
How to Get Started Birdwatching with your Kids
The best way to get started with most anything is to collect the right resources and equipment. Along with carving out the time in your homeschool schedule to make it happen.
The Backbone Curriculum
We used Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day: Exploring Creation with Zoology 1 as our backbone. This book reads very easily, and is organized into small bite sized lessons, that often included a hands on experiment or project to enrich the lesson. It is a christian, creation based science program. We learned about the different feathers each bird has, the physics of flight, the parts of a bird, and many other fun bird lessons.
The Field Guides
Every year I buy the girls very nice hardbound spiral blank journals (and I use my 40% off coupon at Micheal's). These we use as our Nature Notebooks. I discovered if I provided the girls with nice, high quality blank journals that they would value the work they added to them far better than if they used loose paper, or lower quality notebooks. This is the same reason why we use Prismacolor colored pencils. The quality and end product are highly satisfying, and the girls can be proud of what they create. We take these nature journals and colored pencils with us when we go birdwatching, and the girls can draw what they find. Using the feild guides to help with particular markings and information. The process of drawing the birds is an amazing way to force yourself to look for details you wouldn't normally think you needed to look for, or even consider. And we've all noticed, that the birds we took the time to draw are the ones we remember.
You may also find fun printable like this Bird Book for Birding with Kids as a fun way to record what you observe.
Bird feeders and Binoculars
An easy way to get the birds to come to you is to set up a bird feeder in your yard, and I prefer to have it easily seen from a nearby window. We set one up just outside the window near our homeschool table (aka kitchen table) and filled it with local wild bird seed. It actually took a lot longer to attract the birds than I expected, and a biologist friend told us that in some neighborhoods where many of the neighbors have bird feeders that it may take the birds a while to get hungry enough to find ours. But once they find it, keep it full, because they will always come back to it. Birdbaths are also a great way to watch a bird do its thing.
And binoculars are an investment, but very helpful when watching the birds. It takes a while for the kids to learn how to use both eyes together while looking through the lenses, but the rewards of watching a bird, or anything from far away, are fantastic. We keep extra careful care of our binoculars to keep them nice as long as possible.
There are so many wonderful resources on the web to support your lessons. Like Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Getting Kids Involved, Bird Watching Activities for Kids from How Stuff Works, and 32 Easy Homemade Bird Feeders by Happy Hooligans.
Are you already a birder? What resources have you found helpful in learning about the birds in your area? What's the most amazing bird you've ever seen?
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