Children are born with a curiosity that makes learning easy and they are attracted to anything new. How a child reacts to birds illustrates this. Our first grandson was small enough to be carried around the yard when I first introduced him to birds. He soon began pointing out "buhds" to me. It isn't necessary to teach children about birds for an interest to develop. All it takes is exposure. The birds will do the rest. Consider how birds fascinate us. Children, with their eagerness to explore and learn, can't resist them.
Whether or not a child becomes a “real” birdwatcher isn’t important. My goal has been to promote an awareness of birds in my children and grandchildren. Birds add something special to our lives, and being attuned to them wherever you are enriches your life. Two shared experiences from my young people illustrate this. “Hey, Mom, I saw this neat bird today.” That was from a son traveling on the East Coast. He’d spotted his first mockingbird. “Grandma, we saw a bird in Idaho I’ve never seen before.” Grandson Cam spotted a black phoebe during a family vacation. He even gave me his rendition of its call.
My children aren’t serious birders, but they are aware of them. My daughter’s family maintains several feeders which is a sure way to hook a family on birds. The grandsons are just a little smug when naming the different species at their feeders, but it was the ones by our kitchen windows they watched when they were very young. That loud showoff, the Steller’s jay appeals to young children and it would be interesting to know how many became aware of birds because of this one’s antics.
There are ways to support an interest in birds, and teachers who include them in their curriculum certainly come under this category. When they create an interest in birds, teachers enrich their students’ education.
Field trips focusing on seeing and hearing birds contain an element of fun children seek out.
Binoculars and spotting scopes open up a new world. Train a spotting scope on a bird on the water and you bring it close enough to touch. Students, some looking a bit bored, have virtually jumped to life after looking through my scope.
Then you can’t get it away from them.
Binoculars offer a challenge you don’t have when showing someone a bird through your scope.
The scope is already trained on the subject and all they have to do is to look through the eyepiece. Using binoculars is challenging, but learning comes naturally. It doesn’t take long before children can find a bird with binoculars.
Many summers ago when my children were about 8 and 11 we had a “fallout” in our yard. Five species of warblers were feeding together in the hawthorn tree. I had to show them to my son and daughter only to learn you don’t hand an eager child binoculars until you have slipped the strap over your head.
If not forced to look at or study birds, children can’t resist these creatures. Just make sure the children are aware of the birds, and let the birds take it from there. You might have a budding ornithologist in your family or you might not. Just don’t let a child you care about go through life without being aware of birds. Those times when they see a new one are moments of fun we can never experience too often.
Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. (or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)