Anyone who spends time with young children knows that they are fascinated by animals. There are many ways to think about why that is so, from survival instincts (humans are wired to notice animals so we can identify prey and predator) to the biophilia hypothesis (humans, by nature, love nature) to social connection (children can relate to a creature that is “on their level”). No matter the reason, the love is there.
Among animals, birds are particularly fascinating. They come in a variety of colors, make captivating sounds and, gasp, fly! Plus, they also do remarkable things like build nests—cozy, pop-up architectural marvels that are triumphs of spring time. Engage your child in noticing and wondering about how these already fascinating creatures build these homes. Then, better yet, play bird together. Young children will love being part of making a human-sized nest and playing mama and baby bird, likely for hours on end. Do this in a group, and the social learning really takes flight. And, if you have kids 2 and under in your group, they too can help and benefit as you gather materials.
Big cheers to Dawn Manzo, Tinkergarten Leader in Brooklyn NY, for inspiring this activity!
To start, the lovely, lyrical language and engaging subject matter in Jennifer Ward’s Mama Built a Little Nest helps children develop literacy and communication skills. The chance to explore and observe birds nests near our outdoor classroom encourages both curiosity and the habit of making connections. Although it seems simple to us, taking time to consider the needs and experiences of birds develops young children’s capacity for empathy, the skill that helps kids make meaningful connections with friends and can even help children manage tricky social challenges like bullying later on. The very process of trying to envision and build something on a large scale together develops creative thinking and teamwork skills. Carrying sticks and other materials back and forth also makes for great transporting—a pattern of purposeful play exhibited by young children around the world. Finally, children learn a new pretend play scenario that they can use again and again, anywhere where there are sticks to round up into a nest.