Children—well, all people really—are naturally drawn to animals. Naturalist John Muir said it beautifully:
"Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way."
If you guide your kids to do nothing more than notice, watch, or casually study animals in your area, they will likely be fascinated, and you will have an opening to inspire in them a lifelong curiosity. Then, go one step further by introducing a genuine problem to solve within the captivating context of observing animals. When you combine such an engaging situation with genuine, self-directed, hands-on problem-solving, you get all parts of kids’ brains firing, and you create the potential for lasting, deep learning.
What’s one way to do this? Hunt for and find a bird’s nest—targeting a bird whose nests are easy to find and reach like the robin. Talk with kids about the nest, what they notice and what they think might be inside. Then, challenge them to use a few simple materials (mirror, string, scissors) and anything around them to make a tool to spy inside the nest without disturbing the nest or its tenants in any way.
Watch as they imagine, design, build, test and adjust their tool. Support them as they execute their vision. Then, stand with them and watch their faces light up as you use their tool to peek into the life of a bird. Cheer with them as you see bright blue eggs or, if you are lucky, baby birds. If you can, come back to watch the nest and keep track of the birds...and be prepared to build further versions of the tool to reach other nests, high and low.
Why is this activity great for kids?
As soon as you start this activity, you’ll realize this is an incredibly valuable use of your time together. But more specifically, if a situation evokes a joyful emotional response, the brain will be even better able to operate, remember and learn. Few experiences are more joyful than peeking into a robin’s nest to see bright blue eggs and even fledglings (baby birds)—wonders to behold.
By choosing such an engaging context and letting kids work out their own solution, you give kids the ideal practice at directing and maintaining their focus and self control.
When we say creative, we mean able to both imagine original ideas or solutions and do what needs to be done to make them happen. By challenging kids to purpose-build a tool and then enabling them to use it to solve a problem, you give them the chance to practice both the imagining and the doing and, as a result, to develop true creativity.
Finally, getting close to animals connects children to nature and builds care and compassion for all living things.