As part of our Young Birder’s Guide Giveaway, in which we are lucky enough to be able to give away three copies of Bill Thompson III’s terrific Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, we asked readers to share their favorite tips for How to Get Kids Excited About Birds. Based on the following insights, I’d wager there are some pretty enthusiastic kids out there…
Our buddy the Birdchaser, known in civilian circles as Rob Fergus, has made birding a family affair:
Take a kid owling—nothing like getting out in the dark, playing a tape, and having the owl call back and hopefully come in close for spotlight looks to give kids a thrill and make them love birds and birding! I’ve got three kids, and we’ve owled for Eastern Screech-Owls, Barred Owls, and Great Horned Owls. How many three year olds do you know who can imitate each of these owls? The best is when they tell all their friends, and you end up taking all the neighborhood kids (and the girl scout troop, and the cub scouts, and the friends from church) owling too!
Sara Faivre-Davis makes bird watching part of a rich daily routine:
I parent two delightful and bright young boys (ages 6 and 8). The best way I have found to encourage birding is to have the binoculars easily accessible and to regularly use them when we are sitting on the porch of our ranch cabin, or out checking cattle in the truck. Teaching them the basics of identifying the major class of bird, then using the binocs to help them pick out some key markings or details.
Rick MacDonald knows that when it comes to learning a new language (like birdsong), earlier is better:
My three-year-old can identify about ten birds by their calls and sounds. Here’s a link to some popular mnemonics, but we have fun making up our own. He thinks our Pileated Woodpecker sounds like a machine gun…
Grandparents can also share their love of the outdoors, as Grandma Debby tells us:
I take my granddaughter with me when I bird. She is with me a couple of times a week while her mom works and she doesn’t have a choice. But she enjoys getting out and about. She always wants to look the bird up in the field guide when we find a new or interesting bird. She then reads to me about the bird (she’s nine). She also keeps her own list of birds.
How great is it that we have teachers with a genuine interest in getting their students excited about nature? hope my kids find teachers as fun as Liza Lee Miller:
My favorite way to get kids excited about birds is to arrange to have a raven come and peer in your classroom window and cronk at the kids everyday during Math. That gets them all fired up and they ask you questions about how to tell Ravens from Crows and write you raven poems and stuff like that. It’s a “can’t miss” technique.
My other favorite technique is to take them with you when you go birding. I took the kids on a long walk about a year ago along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. It was beautiful and wow did we love it. I saw lots of amazing birds and the kids saw and were interested in some of them. I guess my message is keep it easy and fun — let them set their level of interest. My kids have learned to ID birds in spite of themselves. That’s the REAL way to build interest, I think.
Another terrific teacher is Terrell Shaw, editor in chief of the lovely Learning in the Great Outdoors blog carnival:
We have our resident playground Red-shouldered Hawk, innumerable playground crows, the bluebirds nesting in the classroom garden, and the assorted little guys feeding at our classroom window feeder. We also have an environmental education center in our school district. There we visit to watch the rehabilitation of owls and vultures (Pocahontas the Golden Eagle died) that have been injured or imprinted. We examine the mounted specimens that now including Pocahontas, and the Snowy Owl that somehow ventured all the way south to Georgia, and many others. Our little hummingbird that struck our school window and died is there in a freezer awaiting financing for preservation. And we walk with our binoculars and cameras through the wetland looking for vultures, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and ducks.
Eva of The Flying Mullet clearly knows what she’s talking about in this regard:
Kids are natural nature investigators. To get them interested in birds all you have to do is give them a pair of binoculars, walk outside, and viola! they are birdwatchers. It also helps that to run a Jr. Ornithologist camp where they earn Florida FWC certificates. Something about winning a prize encourages even the most too-cool-for-school kids in the group.
For those select few kids that may not be showing full enthusiasm I make sure to give them some personal attention. I like to play games with my students and one of them is a bird scavenger hunt where they have to “find” bird behaviors. We also do fun activities like Bird Olympics where you measure how fast you run and how long your “wingspan” is and then you compare these to bird flight speeds and wingspans. In another activity we build paper airplanes and talk about Bernoulli’s Principle of Flight and how that concept is investigated through birds. If I had teachers ASK me to build paper airplanes, I would have been into birds a long time ago. The biggest tip for getting kids engaged in birds is by setting a good example. No matter if it is a Blue Jay or a Snail Kite, you have to have energy, enthusiasm, and it doesn’t hurt to throw out some terms like “awesome” and “you’re rocking it!” when you’re birding.
Teaching kids how to get excited about birds truly is its own reward. What’s cuter than a child attuned to nature rather than tuned out to some video game or cell phone? We asked kids to share in their own words Why Watching Birds is Fun and the following essay by 6-year old Kerm, with a little help from his Mama Joules, made us laugh:
It is fun to watch birds because I like the sounds that birds make. I also like seeing the colorful feathers of birds. I like robin red breasts the best because I see them the most. My bird book broke which is why I am trying to enter in this contest. I also would like to enter in this contest because I like knowing what birds look like and what kind of birds I see and hear.
Don’t worry, Kerm, a new bird book is on the way! Not just any bird book but the splendiferous Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. Sara’s two sons will also benefit from this great guide, as will Terrell’s family. Thanks so much to everyone for participating and promoting this giveaway and special thanks to our friends at Houghton Mifflin for their generosity!