On a beautiful warm Autumn day – as with most days in our play-based homeschool – we spend our time outdoors, exploring, learning, and discovering. Today was no exception, except on our traverse, we found a dead bird. A beautiful brown bird with a yellow tip tail. I spotted the bird while walking with the four children in tow. I stopped, looked in the grass near the sidewalk, and saw a lifeless bird with a large fly resting on top of it. I beckoned to the children signaling a stop.
I cautioned them against touching the bird, fearing some disease or the unknown (the Windex advertisement of a bird flying in the window came to mind, but the bird was not near a house). We observed the bird from a distance – not precisely very far but not so close to the dead bird.
Some of the conversations that ensued –
- “What do you think happened to it?” – Miss Sue | “I don’t know!” – said the children.
- “What got the birdie?”
- “Is the birdie dead or alive?” – Miss Sue | “It’s dead!” – said the children
- “Why is he dead?” – the children.
- “Maybe it’s sick? Who are predators? We could try and find out?” – Miss Sue.
We walked, but the query lingered, and the ‘poor birdie’ sound filled the air. I realized the children were still wondering. I motioned for us to go back; I wanted to hear more they had to ask or talk about (we circled back).
- “He has claws – Oh no!” – said one child.
- “He’s flat!” – said another child.
- “Why is he dead?” – echoed the children.
- “We don’t know why it died.” – said Miss Sue.
- “We need to take it to the bird hospital!” said one child.
- I asked what’s a bird hospital and one child said, “It’s a nest.” Then another child said, “it’s like a house; a bird hospital is like a house!’
The children were extremely concerned, and their dialogue continued all the way home.
During their nap, I researched the bird and realized these birds eat a certain berry that causes them to get drunk and lose their bearings, thus slapping into trees, windows, houses, bricks etc. How can I help the children with what we observed?
We have many birds in our backyard and the neighborhood – however, we’ve not seen a bird like that before. We often see birds in our neighborhood – Robins, Chickadees, Sparrows, Hawk, Doves, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Canary, Vultures, Crows, and Redwing Black Birds – seeing the yellow tip of this bird was a first for me.
A complete lesson can be built from this observation – an emergent curriculum.
- We can investigate more about the kinds of birds in our neighborhood
- Why did this bird die?
- What is a bird hospital – that’s more inquiry from a statement a child made.
- Who is a bird doctor?
- What were the colors of the bird?
- The size differences of this bird to others we see (compare / contrast).
- The feather size – we have collected many feathers during our walks, and the collection of feathers is ideal for adding to this inquiry.
- What food do birds eat (we’ve fed so many birds they already know that, but it’s worth hearing and learning more).
- Why did the berries (after gaining the knowledge of what made the bird sick) make it sick or confused (Instead of using the word drunk – confused, dizzy, clumsy, or couldn’t see may be appropriate for their age)?
- Do all berries make birds sick?
- What color berries do you think made it sick?
- How many berries did it eat?
- Is the bird family also sick?
- Do humans eat berries?
- What time of year do the berries get red or orange? (season)
- Can you draw the bird? (representational drawing).
- What was the position of the bird? (On top of the grass, lying down, sideways, wing position, etc.)
- Children ask many questions – they are intellectually very curious; I love our dialogues as these open-ended questions help our curriculum.
- One child mentioned the birds’ claws – that again is knowledge she already has from many of our outdoor interactions, teachable moments, and activities.
I would love to encourage educators, parents, and caregivers to practice using the outdoors as teaching tools. Outdoor learning, outdoor classrooms, nature schools, play-based schools, and nature walks – can create one of the most hands-on teachable moments.
May you continue loving your field of educating and nurturing the minds and hearts of young children -xoxo- Suzette Salmon aka Miss Sue
*The google search showed the bird’s name – Cedar Waxwing – there are many articles on this occurrence.
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