Birdwatching to Uncover Our Natural World

No matter where you live, chances are you see birds every day. The tall buildings of the city, parks large and small, suburban neighborhoods and rural areas all provide habitat for different kinds of birds. Give kids an opportunity to notice and watch the birds around you and you may be opening the door to new discoveries, a wealth of learning opportunities and maybe even a life-long appreciation of nature.

Here are some ideas for young birdwatchers:

  • Hang a bird feeder near a window (natural intelligence)
  • Create a bird-friendly habitat, even in an urban area, by setting out potted shrubs or other greenery and a bird bath (natural intelligence)
  • Get a book that identifies birds in your area (or look them up online) and help kids identify the birds they see (linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial intelligences)
  • Encourage older kids to keep a bird journal where they can jot down or draw pictures of their observations (linguistic, spatial, natural intelligences)
  • Look for bird nests, try out binoculars (spatial, natural intelligences)
  • Look at bird feathers with a magnifying lens (spatial)
  • Act out the bird behaviors you see (natural, kinesthetic, intrapersonal intelligences)
  • Go for nature walks and talk about where you see birds and what they are doing (natural, kinesthetic, linguistic, interpersonal intelligences)

For even more great ideas and information on the wonderful benefits and discoveries children can enjoy just by taking notice of the birds around them, check out this article in Teaching Young Children Magazine.


Letter Days

My daughter’s preschool started a new concept for their summer program and it’s been a great hit with all the kids. They are celebrating the alphabet with “Letter Days”. The idea is a simple one:

  • Each day a new letter is celebrated
  • Children are encouraged to bring in an item for “sharing time” that begins with that letter. Today is “O” day and my daughter chose to bring in an orange bracelet. She is thrilled that orange starts with O and that it looks like the letter O.
  • Each day features a craft and snack that starts with that letter. For “H” day they had hummus (with pretzels) and made “hearts and hands” wrapping paper by stamping hand prints and heart shapes on a “huge” sheet of paper.
  • Each day they make a special “tribute” to the letter. The featured letter is written in the center of a half sheet of paper. Around it, the children do a leaf rubbing (they rubbed goldenrod leaves for “G”, a maple leaf for “m”), stamp images of something beginning with the letter and draw pictures.

The kids are loving it! Each day at drop-off children are showing me what they brought for sharing. Many are even choosing the clothes they wear to coordinate with the letter of the day, a shirt with a picture of an island for “I” day, a dress for “D” day. I overhear conversations children are having about things they encounter that begin with the letter of the day. At bed time my daughter wants to brainstorm ideas of words that begin with the next day’s letter. It has been a great way to reinforce alphabet concepts over the summer, but I’m sure it could be an equally successful school year project.

Sunshine Science

Science isn’t scary. It’s all around us! And there is no better way to get kids excited about the wonders of the natural world than to experiment with the magical properties of sunlight. Here are a few fun-in-the-sun science experiments for preschool and kindergarten:

  • Sun Prints– Place several objects (key, rock, leaf) on a piece of dark construction paper. Leave it in the sunshine (indoors or out) for a few hours. Invite kids to remove the objects to reveal their sun prints!
  • Shadow Tracing– invite children to trace shadows with chalk on a paved walkway or driveway. If there are no fixed-object shadows to trace (trees, signs, etc.) encourage children to trace each others shadows. Be sure to trace around the feet of the standing child to make sure they can get back into the same position later in the day. A few hours later, return to the tracings. Are the shadows still within the traced lines?
  • Rainbow Makers– Grab a hose and a spray attachment. Spray a mist of water into the air on a sunny day and encourage children to look for the rainbow!
  • Shadow Shapes– Invite children to make shadow shapes with their arms or whole bodies. If you’re on a paved surface, capture the shapes by tracing them.
  • Warming Up Water– set out a small metal (or other dark and non-breakable) bowl with water in a sunny spot. Place another small bowl of water in a shady spot. After a few hours, bring the bowls together and invite children to compare the temperatures of the water.

As you do these experiments with children, ask questions. What do you think will happen? What did happen? Why?

These experiments will get kids thinking about:

  • the source of sunlight
  • the properties of sunlight
  • how the sun moves through the sky
  • the relationship between light and heat
  • the power of sunlight

A Garden Project Grows Young Minds

Large projects are a great way to make learning a fun, real and unforgetable experience for young children. Planning, preparing, planting, tending and harvesting a vegetable garden is a great way to tie in all sorts of important concepts including:

  • plant life cycles
  • living and non living
  • seasonal cycles
  • weather
  • insects
  • food/food groups/nutrition
  • healthy habits

Gardens also tap into children’s energy and natural curiosity. Children learn through their senses, at their own pace and in their own way. Some of the Multiple Intelligences addressed while gardening include:

  • Linguistic– talking about your plans; describing your actions; discussing problems/issues; learning new garden-related vocabulary; keeping a garden journal
  • Logical/Mathematical– counting and sorting seeds; measuring garden space, seed spacing, plant height, rainfall
  • Spatial– planning garden space; drawing pictures of plants as they grow, creating seed markers
  • Kinesthetic– digging, weeding, raking, harvesting
  • Musical– singing garden-related songs; tapping or otherwise keeping a rhythm as you dig or plant; listening to the sounds of nature as you spend time outdoors
  • Interpersonal– working together to prepare soil, add compost, water, harvest food, create snacks or meals, etc.
  • Intrapersonal– quiet, independent time weeding or digging
  • Natural– watching plant cycles and insect life

You don’t need a large outdoor space to create a class garden that can become a season-long project. A small garden plot can keep kids very busy. Several large pots or other planting containers can become a bountiful urban garden. Not only will your children learn a lot, they will also have an opportunity to experience nature and that in itself comes with a host of benefits!

A Look at Seeds Through Multiple Intelligences

It’s that time of year- seeds are sprouting and buds are bursting into bloom! No doubt your children have noticed. Nature’s springtime rebirth is endlessly fascinating to children and the guided exploration of seeds is a great way to give children a front-row seat to this amazing time of year.

Here are some ideas of how to explore seeds using a Multiple Intelligences approach:

  • Linguistic– Read The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle, talk about children’s experiences gardening or planting seeds; encourage children to discuss questions or have a conversation about how seeds grow
  • Logical/Mathematical– give children a variety of different types of seeds to sort; create patterns with seeds; use standard or non standard measurements to track a seedling’s growth; create sequence cards showing a seed sprouting, growing and blooming
  • Spatial– create seed art by pasting various small seeds onto construction paper, sticking them into a slab of self-hardening clay or arranging them on sticky-backed contact paper; create a sketch journal to record the growth of a seed
  • Kinesthetic– encourage children to squat down like a little seed, the slowly rise and grow, then spread out arms as the plant blooms
  • Musical– create musical shakers by putting seeds into plastic bottles
  • Interpersonal– invite children to work together to prep the soil and plant an outdoor or indoor container garden
  • Intrapersonal– Set out a bouquet of flowers for children. Invite them to draw quietly as they look at the flowers, then talk about the drawings or the feelings they have as they look at the flowers
  • Natural– Track the life cycle of your seed, from sprouting to blooming and fading away and composting. Talk about this cycle with children

Curiosity Comes Alive in Project Based Learning

I’m a big fan of project-based learning. It is the ultimate way to create a thematic unit full of hands on learning fun. Children become partners in the curriculum planning because the success of your project depends on their interest and enthusiasm.

Planning is essential though. You need a project goal and then you need to break down that goal into smaller parts for children to build upon. For teachers it can be hard to figure out how to walk that fine line between planning ahead to guide learning and following the children’s lead.

But when learning in the classroom overlaps with the real world and children feel that they have a larger stake in the day’s activities, it’s amazing how excited about learning, and curious about the world, they become.

Here is a video clip of a big moment in one class’s project on worms. The children’s excitement is contagious! A project approach to teaching may take a little getting used to, but if it can create curious kids, it is definitely worth a try.

The Illinois Early Learning Project has a great online tip sheet to help teachers plan and coordinate a learning project. Here are the basic steps:

Phase 1- Getting Started

  • Choose a topic
  • Ask children what they know
  • Ask children what they want to learn (questions they may have)

Phase 2- Collecting Information

  • Teachers use children’s questions to plan trips or present other resources to children
  • Children collect and record information through journals, drawings, charts, etc. and share/discuss new knowledge

Phase 3- Concluding the Project

  • Children use information gathered to answer previous questions
  • Children decide how to present new knowledge to parents and school community

Holidays: An Exploration of Diversity

As the holidays approach, conversations in your preschool class may begin to revolve around the upcoming family celebrations that your children are so looking forward to. For teachers who have cultural diversity in their classrooms, this can be a stressful time. Honoring the various traditions of your children’s families while trying to meet the expectations of the majority, or even a minority of very vocal parents/community members can be challenging. It is also a wonderful opportunity to explore the concept of diversity.

A diversity theme can be intimidating, but it can also be a wonderful way to get to know your families, strengthen the home/school connection and create a strong sense of community within your classroom. Here are some ideas:

  • Send home a parent letter and questionnaire– give parents advanced notice of the theme. Ask families where they come from, if they will be having a holiday celebration and if they would be willing to come in to talk about their traditions or bring in culturally relevant items or food. (Intelligences: Interpersonal, Linguistic)
  • Introduce the theme to your group by making “kid masks”– take a photo of each child. Blow it up to 5×7 or larger. Cut out the face. Laminate the photo. Mount it on a craft stick. Give children their masks. Encourage them to look at each others masks, try out the different masks, talk about how they are alike and different. Use them throughout the theme. Sort and group the masks by hair color, eye color, etc. Incorporate the masks into the dramatic play area. (Intelligences: Spatial, Interpersonal, Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Kinesthetic)
  • Encourage children to bring in photos of last year’s holiday celebration at home, or of a favorite family tradition. Use these photos to jog memories, have conversations, draw pictures or create stories. (Intelligences: Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic)
  • Explore books that are relevant to the cultures of the children in your program. (Intelligences: Linguistic, Intrapersonal)
  • Learn games from the family cultures of your classroom. (Intelligence: Interpersonal, Kinesthetic)
  • Look for songs in the home languages of the children in your classroom and encourage the class to learn a word or phrase in that language. (Intelligences: Musical, Linguistic, Intrapersonal)

These are just a few ideas. If you’ve tackled this challenging theme with the children in your program, we’d love to hear about what worked for you!