Our Winter Bird Friends

Winter nature study without venturing out into the cold – what a concept! This bleak midwinter had me feeling pretty uninspired until we hung bird feeders along our back deck to create our very own bird blind. Between the suet and the sunflower seeds, we attracted a nice variety: chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, juncos, wrens, house finches, goldfinches, and woodpeckers galore. I (almost) don’t mind washing mountains of dishes anymore. I brew a cup of tea, put on peaceful music, and watch our feasting friends out the kitchen window while toiling through the stacks. It’s become a sort of quiet time ritual that I enjoy at (oh-so-very!) regular times of the day.

While manning my dishwashing birdwatching station, I found myself waxing philosophical. Considering how the birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns made me consider just how much gathering into barns I’m guilty of. If I’ve learned one thing about myself in our first few months of kindergarten, it’s that I’m far too easily beguiled by all the homeschooling extras. Why is it that my Amazon wish list grows in direct proportion to the number of homeschooling blogs I read? These things ought not to be!

So I decided to experiment to see how little we can get along with (except for books, of course!) and still have meaningful, engaging learning experiences. It’s almost like a game: can we survive solely on free resources or things I create from our own supplies already on hand? I can just see Ma Ingalls nodding her head in approval, can’t you?

Okay, so we’ll get to the free (or nearly free) stuff in a moment, but first – the books! The girls absolutely adored these little bird song books. Late at night, when they should have been fast asleep, chirping and trilling persisted in the upper regions. Flutterbudget loved them so much she created her own version (minus the batteries, thank goodness!) Actually, these are the only battery-operated books I’ve encountered that don’t send me fleeing for the hills. The cardinals and thrushes sing an oddly soothing counterpoint to the cacophony of our noisy days.

These books also sparked a new game with no prodding on my part. One dark and stormy night, the girls asked to turn on our fireplace and play camping. We piled up blankets and gathered round to “roast” marshmallows on chopsticks (more pioneer ingenuity?). “Whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo!” loud and clear came a barred-owl’s call from Flutterbudget’s vicinity. Half-Pint piped up with her best wren’s “tea kettle” cry, and Flutterbudget rejoined with “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!” “Mommy, do you recognize that bird?” they demanded. Imagine my amazement to find that they could imitate and identify every single bird in those blessed books. Of course, the educational value of our game disintegrated when turkeys and chickens showed up round the campfire, but I’ll leave that part to my discerning reader’s imagination.

Besides the bird song books, we enjoyed a slew of wonderful picture books. I’m convinced a homeschool mom must have just finished her own bird study, because I found a number of these beauties waiting for me when I chanced to drop by the thrift store.

We used Wings from the Wind and The Burgess Bird Book every day throughout our bird study. Wings from the Wind has an entire section of bird poems, so I read one daily during our breakfast Morning Time. “You have outdistanced every voice and word / And given my spirit wings until it stirred / Like you – a bird!” Doesn’t that revive your spirit and make you want to live another day?!

I really wanted to read The Burgess Bird Book since I have fond memories of Thornton Burgess from my own childhood and since it gives specific information on all the birds we’ve watched at our feeders. But I hesitated because I’ve heard other homeschooling moms say kids either love or hate the BBB. My girls tend to be a little resistant to books without many pictures, too, so I tried to tread carefully. I decided to make the BBB a lunchtime read, taking advantage of my captive audience, and chose just the chapters about the birds we’ve seen in our yard. The chapters stand on their own quite well, so this wasn’t a problem.

Before each reading, we watched a brief video clip of the bird to hear its song and see it in action. Then I gave the girls a little cutout of each bird to hang on their own tree. They loved watching their trees fill up with birds. And of course, this was a nearly free project. I made the birds from these free printables, found branches in our yard, and filled thrift store vases with sunflower seeds which we’ll use later in our feeders.

The girls worked on making their own field guides to our backyard birds, too. I found cheap sketch books at Ollies, covered them with scrapbook paper I just happened to have on hand, and glued these bird coloring pages on each page. They colored and labelled the birds (Half Pint enjoyed tracing the names with Q-tips and paint), and Flutterbudget wrote facts we learned from the Burgess Bird Book. Simple, but they took pride in making their books beautiful.

I admit to feeling crafted-out after Christmas but couldn’t resist the fun of making cookies for the birds, an idea gleaned from our Exploring Nature with Children curriculum. We just melted lard (true pioneer-woman style!), stirred in bird seeds and dried fruit, poured them into cookie cutters, and let them harden overnight in the fridge. Gourmet treats seemed proper thanks for the friends who infused January’s gray with so much beauty, peace and wisdom.

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