Sunday, February 27, 2011

Free U: The yard birds

An occasional feature
So much of what goes on around here is "educational" without being planned. I'm finding that I subscribe more to the unschooling philosophy of education. Or what I like to call just living. A few years ago, my sister, who homeschools her three children, would write blog posts about what her kids were doing and what they were learning while engaged in these activities. The activities were often not school-like activities and would grow out of the kids' interests rather than her planning. Danny is now so curious and engaged. Every day there seems to be an episode of spontaneous learning prompted by his questions about his world or just what his father and I are doing. I want to share these bits with you to show just how effortless learning can be.

Last weekend, we were homebound with three out of five us ailing from a nasty chest cold. My husband was a bit restless, as usual, and just itching to get out the hot glue gun. The kids had just finished off a pack of gum that comes in a several inch tall round container with a flip-top lid. This gave him an idea. And we wound up with this thing stuck to our window:

Yes, that is a piece of a child-safety cabinet lock acting as a bird perch.

It took about a week for a bird to actually show up at our windowsill. They were probably a little terrified of the jumpy, loud children with their faces and hands pressed against window. The entire week, though, I had two children eagerly watching birds out the window, noticing their colors, where they flew to, when they were eating seed off the ground, listening to the sounds they made (we could actually hear them through the window. Cool!!). Danny can now identify two types of birds: a cardinal (It's my bird, he says. It's red.) and a robin.

Just by chance, Danny's preschool class did a unit on birds this week, too. He didn't talk much about it at home and I found out only after the fact in the weekly email from his sweet teacher. One day he came home with a pair of "binoculars" -- two toilet paper tubes stapled together with a piece of yarn to hang around his neck. Another coincidence ... this weekend, Danny found an old Highlights magazine. He turned to an article about birds and saw a project he wanted to do: a bird feeder from an old milk carton.

The whole family is now interested in what kinds of birds we have hanging out in our side yard. This week, we will go to the library to find a bird identification guide, mostly for me. I'm curious myself and I know from experience that my curiosity usually sparks theirs.

I'm mentally filing this under science, but it's so much more. It's about observation. It's about reusing materials. It's about using your imagination. The kids saw Jim make a bird feeder out of something that you wouldn't normally see and think, "Hm, that would make a good bird feeder."

What was neat about this past week was that none of this was planned as part of a unit study. It just happened. And, aside from the bird seed that we bought, it was free.


Tracey said...

We LOVE bird watching, too! About 3 years ago we invested in a bird feeder and put it outside our kitchen windows so we could watch the birds eating while we ate. My girls - like your kids - started asking all sorts of questions about the birds, and since my bird knowledge is limited to the names for the bluebird, cardinal, and robin, I went to the library and got a birdwatchers guide. I kept it tableside so that I could quickly look up a bird as we saw it and eventually I made a poster that hangs in our kitchen with the birds' names and pictures that we have identified. We even discussed which birds lived here all year and which just came to visit us in the winter. SO fun and my girls can identify about 10 types of birds that regularly visit us.

I LOVE this kind of learning!!! :)

Carrie said...

We are going to do a "welcome spring" activity by hanging up a bird feeder in our backyard, so I'm thrilled to hear how excited your kids were. I actually got the feeder, now I just need to remember to pick up the bird seed. What a great idea to put it on the window...we might steal that one, though I'm worried that it will drive our cats crazy! :)

Josee said...

Tracey, I'm hoping that it turns into what you've described, but of course if I plan it that way, it won't happen! We are already having a good time watching all the birds and squirrels and I love watching Fiona's delighted expressions!

Maggie's Attic said...

Josee, the coolest bird feeder I ever saw was an old aquarium used horizontally, if you can imagine. The opening faced the backyard as the aquarium sat in the window with the window closed down on the top edge of it. The birds entered it and technically were inside the house although in the aquarium. Here's the trick: the glass had been replaced with one-way mirrors so the birds could not see YOU watching THEM. It was amazing.

Monica said...

very cool. i love it when that happens. corny - but it warms my heart and makes me feel close to the kids! :o) education - BONUS. ;o) thanks for visiting my blog. :o)