Sunday, January 18, 2015

Becoming a Birder

I have read Have You Heard the Nesting Bird, by Rita Gray, a few times now with my class and it has quickly become a favorite for all of us. The kids love it because they get to hear me make funny bird noises and they don’t have to sit quietly while I read it. The story is short and sweet, it has some rhyme and a lot of rhythm to it, and the illustrations are beautiful and interesting. This story led to a great conversation where each kid shared a few of their favorite or recent experiences with birds. And after only a few reads, the kids have learned the names and corresponding calls of a handful of common birds, many of which we’ve seen right out the windows of our classroom. We are lucky that our classroom has big windows and a patch of forest to look out on, so birds are a common sight. Since we started reading this story together, the kids in my class have taken a keen interest in the local wildlife and have finally started to regularly peruse and refer to the Maine Field Guide I brought in months ago.

The first time I read the Nesting Bird (which is a Robin), I offered a game of Bird Bingo as a follow up activity, and just like the book, the game has quickly become a favorite in our room. The illustrations are beautiful and since we've started playing, the kids have significantly expanded their naturalist vocabularies and can recognize a whole slew of new birds, many of which even I hadn’t known before being introduced to this game. Bingo is a great way for kids to practice important social skills like cooperation, organizing others, following the rules of a game, and turn taking. A specialty bingo game, like this one also provides a fantastic way for kids to connect with and deepen an interest they have developed. Back in Seattle, one of the boys in my preschool class was fascinated by dinosaurs and brought in his dinosaur bingo game. We offered it as an activity in our science area and there was one of the most popular choices at work time. After a few weeks of playing this game regularly, we all were able to name and classify tons of different kinds of dinosaurs, many of which again, I hadn’t been previously familiar with.

There are many different picture books featuring birds that would likely provoke similar interests in the subject of ornithology, such as Birds by Kevin Henkes, or Counting Is for the Birds by Frank Mazzola, Jr., to name a few. I happened to come across the Nesting Bird at my local library, completely by accident, and because I have a personal interest in birds, and I had been dying to find an opportunity to introduce our bird bingo game, I pulled it out one day after we spotted a bright Blue Jay out the window. Months ago I had set my Maine bird guide on the window sill near the science area with a pair of binoculars to accompany it, but the kids had taken little notice, only occasionally flipping through the book and usually using the binoculars for dramatic play games. After we read the Nesting Bird in our circle time meeting, I reintroduced the field guide and the kids finally started using it regularly, seeking out the birds they know, pointing out their favorites, and asking me to read the names and feeding/migration information provided on each bird’s profile page. So we can keep building on this growing interest in birds, I requested, and quickly received from our school's director, a bird feeder to hang outside our window. I can’t wait to get hung and see what kinds of visitors will provide us with the opportunity to catch a glimpse into their aerial world.

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