Three years ago, we completed Apologia's elementary science unit, Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day by Jeannie Fulbright. This excellent study piqued my boys' interest in nature in general but particularly in birds. Around the same time we began the study, our good friends, Molly at Counter-cultural Mom/School and her sons K and C, wanted to participate in a 24-hour bird-watching event. They needed two partners, and my boys fit the bill. We joined forces and have been birding buddies ever since.
To prepare for this event, I needed as many age-appropriate resources as possible to engage my boys in the process of bird identification. Paying close attention to the many details that distinguish one bird from another was a challenge for boys who were only five and six at the time. Molly found Audubon plush toy birds and passed the idea on to me. They are accurately designed and contain a sound chip that plays a recording of the bird's song or call when the plushie is squeezed. Michael and I bought a few of the birds for our boys as birthday and Christmas presents. They loved them and soon their collection began to grow as did their knowledge of birds.
Over time, the bird collection became an extension of our family. Orville and Wilbur have named each bird and assigned it a birth date. Many of the birds have married and are the parents of other birds. Last year, I integrated the birds into our study of government. The boys created four states for the nation of "Birdieland" and wrote a Constitution for their nation of birds. The birds held "elections" and have a president, vice president, members of Congress and a Supreme Court. You can read more about our government project here.
To get our money's worth, Michael and I now have the boys work for their birds. They still get new plushies as presents from time-to-time but also complete special chores and earn "mommy money" for school assignments and grades to use toward purchasing them. To ensure that they work extra hard and that Michael and I don't go broke, items in the "mommy store" cost twice what we actually pay for them. So the plush toy birds that we bought for $8 each cost $16 each in the "mommy store".
At the beginning of the last school year, they had collected about 60 birds, and we needed a good place to store them. They wanted a display tree. It sells for $160 plus shipping (about $180 total), a big stretch for our budget. We decided to take advantage of their motivation and teach the boys how to set a larger financial goal and save for it. We continued to "pay" them for chores and school assignments with "mommy dollars" (I know. I know. Some say never pay for chores. But I say they have to earn the money somehow.) Meanwhile, Michael and I put 20 real dollars into our real savings account each month. They had to save $360 "mommy dollars" to pay for the tree. It took them the entire school year to accomplish this which gave Michael and me nine months to save $180.
The boys were thrilled when they were allowed to reap the reward of nine months of hard work. They really learned the value of a dollar, at least a "mommy dollar". We have a lovely way to organize the family, er... collection, and the tree really adds a nice touch to our classroom.