Birds are some of our best teachers—they amaze kids and adults alike with their ability to fly, captivating calls, aptitude as nest builders and remarkable methods for surviving in all four seasons. Noticing the birds, thinking about their needs and caring for our feathered friends is a powerful way for kids to put empathy into action and see how they can make a real difference in their own backyards.
Get to know the birds in your outdoor space:
Head outside with kids and look and listen for birds. (Optional: Use cardboard tubes to make DIY binoculars!) The ideal time is early in the morning, but there are many times of day to try. Just try to avoid noon when birds tend to be the least active. Use an app like the Merlin bird identifying app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to find out what kinds of birds you are seeing and hearing in your yard or local green space. Or, visit the Audubon Society site to learn more about birds and find birds in your area.
Promote empathy for bird friends:
Wonder together how the birds around your home are doing. What do they need and want? In the Spring, many birds burn an enormous amount of energy as they build nests and collect food for their babies, and they can really benefit when we put out safe sources of nutrition. How we could leave some bird seed for the birds?
Explore seeds and invite play:
Pour bird seed in a large bowl or bin and invite kids to explore it. Feel it. Bury things in it. Scoop it and let it fall through your fingers.
Wonder how we could leave some bird seed for the birds. If you have lots of squirrels, wonder how you could hang it so that winged friends could reach it, but squirrels couldn’t take it all. Share ideas.
Introduce the pine cones:
Show kids the pine cones. Could these help? Tie some yarn or string to the top of a pine cone so it hangs down. Then, try to add seeds. Harumph, they all fall out!
Introduce the sticking power of sun butter:
Wonder what would happen if you used sun butter. Experiment with adding sun butter to the pine cone, then rolling it in seeds. Repeat the process to make a bunch of feeders.
Hang your feeders:
Go for a hike and let your child/kids decide where to hang the feeders. Try to hang one in a spot you can easily observe from inside, if you can. As you play, wonder aloud about what you think birds will do with the feeders and what kind of birds might come. Observe your feeder over time and notice how it changes from day to day or week to week.
Want to make another type of feeder to help feathered friends? Try this activity to turn an orange into a bird feeder!
Why is this activity great for kids?
Considering the needs of other creatures and doing something to meet those needs develops cognitive and compassionateempathy. Listening to the sounds of birds and imitating their songs develops kids' focus and communication skills. Scooping and pouring seeds and rolling pine cones in sunflower butter activates multiple senses. Finally, family projects designed around helping others are wonderful ways to reinforce both family and community values. Hurrah!
Try a Free Lesson
Tinkergarten for Teachers
Teach Tinkergarten in your community or classroom!
By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!