Birds come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s what even the littlest kids can learn by observing birds.
1. They learn about colors. If you live in an area with a wide variety of birds, head outdoors in cloudy or sunny weather and help your tot spot backyard birds in a range of colors.
Start by focusing attention on primary colors as you point out regal red cardinals, cheeky blue jays, and cheery yellow or orange finches. Search, too, for backyard visitors whose drab colors—black, brown, and gray, for example—keep them safe by letting them blend in with the environment. If your tot seems happy, go ahead and introduce numbers; you can count the number of birds you see—on the front lawn, in your backyard, or way up high in a sidewalk tree. But don’t overwhelm your cutie. Build on the lesson at story time later by sharing a favorite book about colors, birds, or wild animals in general to reinforce outdoor learning.
2. They learn about sizes. Kids can pick up tons of info (with your help) by observing wildlife from a distance. So, visit a park, lake, zoo, or farm where you and your curious toddler can continue the adventure.
Wherever you go, be sure to look for a variety of birds—this time focusing on sizes instead of colors. Each time you spot a bird, use a word like big, small, short, or tall to describe it. Or make comparisons. Ask your child, “Do you think the mama duck on the pond is bigger or smaller than her baby duckies?”
Or try this: Ask your junior birder, “Is the swan on the lake here bigger or smaller than the peacock at the zoo?” Or perhaps this: “Is the blue jay we just saw bigger or smaller than the owl at the farm?” Go a step further and search off the beaten path. Find a trail and look for birds while you both call out big, small, tall, or short together. Continue making size comparisons at home—with other objects.
3. They observe features, habitats, and behaviors. Help your toddler hone her powers of observation by focusing her attention on fun bird facts she can tuck away for later.
Like what? On walks, show your cutie that while some birds (eagles, hawks, and ravens) fly high in the sky, while others flit from tree to tree. Explain that still others (like penguins) are totally grounded. Watch a backyard bird hunt for food. Does he eat worms or look for seeds? Does he rest in trees or, like a woodpecker, peck away at them?
Read books (or tour the town) to show your birder that our feathered friends have wings, beaks, feathers, and tails (unlike us), and, if the opportunity comes up, let your child see firsthand that a robin’s wings, beak, feathers, tail, and house are very different from those of a country rooster or a city pigeon. Toss in other random facts while you’re at it. Mention that ducks hang out by water, city pigeons like sidewalks and window ledges, and humans prefer houses. But don’t stop there. Shed your inhibitions and work on your tweet-tweets, chirp-chirps, and cock-a-doodle-doos together. This is a multifaceted adventure, so be sure to use your stroller time to boost your toddler’s word bank, listen for birdcalls, and practice them together.
Extend the fun with these activities:
- Read books. Even young babies will like small board books with colorful photos. For older tots, try Little Green, a story about an active hummingbird, or Are You My Mother?, the classic book about a hatchling searching for its mom.
- Fly like a bird! Hold your baby securely straight above your chest, then have her flap her wings and pretend to fly! Kids get a kick out of pretending they’re birds. Just make sure your baby doesn’t have a full belly and can hold her neck up on her own.
- Make a feeder. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Grab an empty paper-towel tube, let your tot smear peanut butter on it with a spoon, then roll it through commercial bird seed. Hang it near a window and watch your feathered friends stop by.
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