By Kevin South, father of two and third grade teacher, Fullerton IV Elementary, Roseburg, Oregon
Editor’s note: This story is offered as a supplement to Kevin’s interview from Episode #735 aired on July 7th, 2019, in the hopes it will inspire you to engage any kids you know with the natural world!
As a third-grade teacher much of what I do is driven by curriculum standards. There are standards for writing, reading skills, every type of math under the sun, and a myriad of scientific subjects. When I first became a teacher I assumed I was beholden solely to the curriculum, however I’ve come to realize that sharing my own passions with students not only meets requirements in standards-based education, it is far more enriching and engaging than any one curriculum alone.
For anybody wanting to excite young people about birds and birding, simply share your own joy and enthusiasm! I heard an interview with Fred Rogers once where he quoted a Quaker saying, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.” Through my own experience, I can tell you this is true of birding. If you do what you love in front of kids, they will love it too.
I use many of the free resources available through the Cornell Lab Ornithology. They have lesson plans which can be easily incorporated into a classroom (I use the Bird Sleuth lessons), as well as games and online activities (such as Beast Box and Bird Song Hero) that students find highly engaging. I use their Feathered Friends: Bird of the Month resources to introduce a variety of species to the kids and extend our learning.
Birding lends itself to writing, as students are eager to write about their first bird watching experiences, fictional narratives about birds, or relate their learning by writing articles. As for reading, there are a variety of excellent books, magazines and online articles I share with students. A fabulous book to read with young people about birds and conservation is Wildwings by Gill Lewis. It is a highly engaging read for kids (and adults!) about the discovery of an Osprey in Scotland, and it's migration over the course of a year.
Throughout our school year, my class maintains feeders and nest boxes outside our classroom window, and we keep a list of the birds we see at these feeders and around campus. We also build feeders and use bird box kits made available to us at no cost through Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, allowing the students to create a welcoming environment in their own backyards for birds.
2019 was the first year we were able to put a pair of binoculars in the hands of each of the students during our bird watching lessons. Through grants and the support of our booster club I was able to purchase a class set of Kidwinz Binoculars. They are rubber coated with real optics and have proven ideal. Once we have some data from our bird watching, I introduce citizen science to my students and, as a class, we input our bird watching data into eBird. This data can also be used to address math standards, and many science standards are a given when making observations about birds, habitats, and nature at large.
We also plant native bee and bird friendly wildflowers in a small garden we have set up on campus. I keep an open conversation with the young people about all types of wildlife, climate change, and steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint. Part of how I facilitate this is through using a carbon footprint calculator.
I remember the first time I took a group of students out for a birding expedition on campus. I was apprehensive to say the least. Would they listen as I described common species in our area? Would they note the species identified? Would they even look for birds at all? Imagine my amazement as my students were completely transfixed by the birds they were witness to. Even common birds such as the American Robin or the Western Scrub Jay were seen with fresh eyes. It was as if they had stepped out of black and white and into color for the first time, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
Listed below are the Internet resources I use; this is merely a jumping off point for exciting the kids around you about birds, as well as fostering a larger interest in conservation and the world. One of the things that I love most about being a teacher is being the “Master of Ceremonies of the Universe”: part of my job is to share the world and universe that we live in with my students, sometimes sharing aspects of our world that they’ve never witnessed before. My hope is that you also take that title and share your enthusiasm for birds and the world with the young people around you!
Cheers and Happy Birding!
Resources and Links
Bird Sleuth: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/
Birdsong Hero: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/bird-song-hero/
Bird of the Month: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/feathered-friends/
Carbon Footprint Calculators: http://www.parkcitygreen.org/Calculators/Kids-Calculator.aspx
Nature Live Cams: https://explore.org/livecams
Wildwings by Gill Lewis: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Wild-Wings/Gill-Lewis/9781442414464