As the weather gets colder where they live, and it gets more challenging to find food, birds fly amazingly long distances to places where it’s warmer and it’s easier for them to feed themselves and their babies—an amazing example of persistence! This week at Tinkergarten Anywhere we're taking on the perspective of whimbrels and other migrating birds, exploring playful ways to support our feathered friends. In this activity, kids repurpose an orange to use as a bird feeder, giving migrating birds a boost of energy as they embark on their long journey.
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Step 1: Observe birds.
Head outside with kids and look and listen for birds in your outdoor space. (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. Once you start, you’ll want to keep learning more!
Step 2: Take on the perspective of migrating birds.
Moving and pretending like another creature is a great way to help foster cognitive empathy (the ability to take another person/creature's perspective). To spark pretend bird play, make your own wings! Cut slits on the side of a piece of fabric or large sheet of paper, so kids can put their arms through the holes. Invite kids to decorate their wings using mud or art materials, using the colors and patterns of migrating birds like the whimbrel or other birds in your biome as inspiration.
Enjoy flying around your outdoor space like migrating birds! For an extra challenge, create a migration path on the ground using rocks, bean bags or other markers. Once kids have had a chance to play and move like birds, wonder together what migrating birds need and want? Many birds travel long distances as they migrate with the changing of the seasons. These travelers burn tremendous amounts of energy, and they can really benefit when we put out safe sources of nutrition to support them on their way.
Step 3: Introduce the idea of making a feeder for birds.
Take out an orange and ask, “What is this?” Kids may, naturally answer, “an orange.” But you can say, Nope. Today, it’s a bird feeder! Should we find out how...and you're off to the races.
Step 4: Prepare the oranges.
Note: The construction of this particular feeder can be a bit challenging because it requires some precision and hand-eye coordination. Engage kids to the extent they are able to help. Talk about what is satisfying and what is challenging as you work your way through the design process.
Cut the oranges in half.
Scoop out the contents (and enjoy!).
On each hollowed-out half, cut an x through the orange skin, aiming to get the x about ¼ inch below the rim. Rotate the orange to make 4 such cuts, each ¼ of the way around the orange.
Poke a stick straight through the orange between two opposite holes. Poke a stick through the other pair of opposite holes.
Cut four pieces of string, twine or yarn, each about 2 feet in length.
Tie each piece of string to a different end of the two sticks.
Step 5: Hang your feeder:
Walk outdoors and find a tree limb or other hanging spot for your feeder. Tie the loose ends of the four strings together around a branch to hang the feeder up.
Lift your child up and spoon or scoop bird seed from your bucket into your feeder. Note: The squirrels thank you for not being too careful on this step.
Stand back a ways and observe who comes to your feeder. Watch how your feeder changes over time. Re-up the birdseed as needed, too!
Enjoy observing both the feeder and the creatures who flock to it hour to hour and day to day.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Considering the needs of other creatures and doing something to meet those needs develops cognitive and compassionateempathy. The construction of the orange feeder requires patience and persistence and taking time to scoop seeds and smell/taste/feel/see oranges as they are transformed into bird feeders is a marvelous workout for the senses. Family projects designed around helping others are wonderful ways to reinforce both family and community values. Hurrah!
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Fine motor skills refer to how we coordinate small muscle movements in the hands and fingers in conjunction with our eyes. Children begin with whole arm movements at birth and refine their movement, using smaller muscle groups as their bodies develop. With time and practice, children are able to enhance and strengthen the movements in their fingers, becoming able to manipulate small objects and perform a range of important life and learning tasks.
Why does it matter?
Kids need fine motor skills in order to perform every day tasks like using fork and knife, turning a door knob, cutting with scissors and catching and throwing a ball. These same skills are essential for tasks associated with higher level learning like hand writing and typing on a keyboard. If kids enter school without good fine motor skills, they can not only fall behind, but learning can become very frustrating. Moreover, they can develop lasting negative attitudes towards learning and themselves as learners.
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?
Persistence & Grit
What are Persistence & Grit?
A persistent person can continue on a given course of action in spite of challenges or barriers that arise. In other words, persistence is the ability to stick with something and keep trying. It's partner, grit, is the strength of character, and sometimes courage, to allow one to persist. Those who possess grit don't mind rolling up their sleeves, focusing on the task at hand, and sticking with it to completion despite the challenges that come their way.
Why does it matter?
Talent is helpful, but it's hard work, persistence and grit that unlock talent and turn capable people into success stories. As Thomas Edison so famously said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Practice with being persistent, including the chance to struggle and learn how to overcome struggle, will help kids later have ability to wade through and make sense of confusing new information, navigate difficult situations, and solve tough problems.
Further, studies like those discussed in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock tell us that kids will actually perform better when we praise their hard work instead of just telling them how smart or great they are. As parents, we also tend to offer kids activities which are enjoyable and attainable and, as such, too easy. Bear in mind that if we spare them frustration, we actually deny them the chance to work hard and develop persistence and grit.