One of the nicest blessings the Lord has given the Hays family is the pastime of bird watching. The boys first got interested in birding because their two buddies, K and C, had studied Exploring Creation with Zoology: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day by Jeannie Fulbright. This study piqued their interest, and they wanted to compete in Georgia's Youth Birding Competition. Their mom and my friend, Molly, recruited us, and we have been birding ever since. Our boys ranged in age from 4-6 when we began training them for competition.
We really had to get creative to engage such young kids in an activity that requires quiet focus, especially when there were sticks to be played with and rocks to be tossed into the pond. The Lord blessed our creativity and I have listed some of the training activities we used below. I have also listed a link to Molly's blog where she details many of the great resources and tools available.
In that two years, our boys have memorized well over 100 bird calls and learned to use binoculars and field guides. This past weekend they swept their age division in the Youth Birding Competition, winning 1st place for the most species identified and for fund raising. They also won the most improved award for increasing their total from 51 species last year to 82 this year. Even veteran birders were amazed by this accomplishment.
Here's hoping that other bird enthusiasts will enjoy our ideas and lead children to appreciate the beauty of God's creation.
Binocular Hunt: Hide different colored plastic Easter eggs in a variety spots around your yard. Have children search for them using their binoculars. Make sure they describe the color and location of the egg they spot to other children or to adult leaders. For example, "I see a blue egg to the left of the bird bath on the ground."
Describe That Bird: Print small (approximately wallet sized pictures) of 5-10 different birds (or clip from magazines). Attach them to the wall of a room with small pieces of scotch tape. Have child stand at opposite side of the room and view pictures through binoculars. Have the child describe features such as wing bars, eye color, and field marks. Then have the child research the bird seen in a field guide. We like the Kauffman guide the best.
Who Do You Hear?: Follow the instructions above, only play a call of one of the birds pictured on the wall. Bird Songs by Les Beletsky is a great resource for this. Have child locate the bird on the wall that matches the call you played.
Bag of Birdies: This one requires Audubon plush toy birds. We found the best deal at http://www.shiptheweb.com/. Hide 5-10 plush toy birds in a pillow case. Squeeze one while it's still inside the case and have your child identify it before you reveal it.
Write Mnemonics for Calls: We write our own mnemonics for the bird songs/calls. Most of the ones listed in guides just don't stick with us. We make them personal... like the indigo bunting which just happens to be my favorite bird is "I am Mommy's favorite bird... yes, I am." The Prairie Warbler (in our opinion) sings, "Little House on the Prair...air...air... ie."
Silhouettes Puppet Show: Print pictures of birds and cut out on outline of the bird's image. Color over it with a black permanent marker and tape to a popsicle stick. Hold them up one at a time from behind a puppet stage (or from the foot of the bed) and have the child identify it.
20 Questions: Select a bird (but don't reveal it to your child). Have him ask questions in the style of the game "20 questions" until he can identify the bird or runs out of questions. On the next turn, have the child select the bird, and you attempt to I.D. it.
Singing Bee: Works like a traditional spelling bee, only instead of giving the participants words to spell, give them bird songs to identify. Songs can be played from a variety of resources: Bird Songs by Les Beletsky, Identiflyers, http://www.whatbird.com/, Thayer Birding Software... just to name a few. The last birder standing is the champion.