Teaching and Learning about Birds in the Early Years-A Few Ideas for Getting Started

By Smith, Ann | Teaching Science, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Teaching and Learning about Birds in the Early Years-A Few Ideas for Getting Started


Smith, Ann, Teaching Science


This article supports teachers of lower primary and preschool children to introduce a study of local birds, the type of investigations considered to be part of wider environmental education. It is of a practical nature and incorporates resources and ideas that the author has found useful in her work with children and with pre-service student teachers.

LINKS TO THE ENVIRONMENT.

As teachers we are very aware of, and responsive to, the importance of supporting children's environmental understandings. One of the many ways of doing this is to help children connect with their natural world--to help them see that 'the environment' is not something vague, distant and amorphous but rather the familiar world around them--the world with which they are interacting on a daily basis.

There are many aspects of the local environment we can explore with young children to achieve this end. Native plants, the weather, bugs, rocks, soils and gardening are all important.

Studying local birds can be a particularly rich and satisfying experience. Birds are all around us. They are part of the ongoing dynamic and interconnected web of living organisms that is our environment. Children see and hear them every day, but may well not be tuned in to what they are seeing and hearing.

WHAT CAN CHILDREN LEARN BY EXPLORING BIRDS?

They can start to understand some really big ideas in science and the environment.

For example:

Living things have needs and feelings

Living things adapt to their environment.

Living things are interdependent on each other

Children can also explore the idea that birds and all living organisms have some unique anatomical and physiological adaptations to their particular way of life.

As well as being exposed to these important concepts, children can practise some specific skills.

For example: Children can practise close observation--both looking and listening--and can acquire the vocabulary necessary to communicate ideas about birds and other living things.

In addition to acquiring valuable skills, children can develop some important attitudes such as:

Learning about birds is fun.

Learning about the environment is fun.

It is important to preserve native habitat.

It is important to have a diversity of species.

Empowerment is an important aspect of attitude formation. Children are really empowered if they can correctly identify some local birds--especially to parents or siblings!

WHAT ARE THE SCIENTIFIC CHARACTERISTICS OF A BIRD?

Ask the children:

Can fly? Yes--but--what about an emu or a penguin? They can't fly. What about a bee and a bat? They can fly.

Lays eggs? Yes--but what about a frog, a turtle or a platypus? They all lay eggs.

Has feathers? BINGO! Yes, only birds have feathers. Different feathers are adapted to do different things. Small soft down feathers trap air and keep birds warm, and large strong feathers on their wings help them fly.

Birds also have lightweight bones and are warm blooded. Many more facts and ideas can be found on the websites below.

GETTING STARTED

We can probably all identify pigeons, sparrows, kookaburras, cockatoos and magpies, but after that things can be a bit confusing.

Take names for example: There are Bell Miners, Noisy Miners and Common Mynas. There are Magpies and Magpie Larks. There are Blackbirds that aren't black and Blue Wrens that aren't blue, and Wattle Birds that have nothing at all to do with the golden fluffy flowers!

So, as teachers we may be a bit tentative about getting started because of the level of our knowledge. What can we do?

Start looking ... at and for birds around our school and centre.

Start listening ... to the sounds birds make and

Start surfing ... the web. …

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