It’s no surprise that being outside in a natural setting is linked to lower stress and anxiety (and also improves immunity, according to this study) but even in an urban environment you can connect the kids to nature most any day with a simple practice: birdwatching. While it’s ideal to get outside to a park-like setting, you can actually do this from your own home or even through the window of a library or cafe. It doesn’t matter if it is pigeons in the square or hawks swooping in a field: birdwatching can help kids with focus, patience, mindfulness and even boost their confidence. Read on to learn more and get tips to start birdwatching with your kids.

photo: NeoQlassical via pixabay

Focus

It’s often tricky to get little ones to focus on one thing for very long (especially on demand) so setting up for success is the key: make sure you are in a place where seeing more than one bird is likely. To observe flight patterns over a longer period of time, an open body of water like a lake, pond or bay is ideal. You can just spread a blanket or pick a bench and watch as birds take off, land and flap their wings to cross the body of water.

Tip: If your kiddos are learning to use binoculars, have them practice inside on a wall. Find a picture or object they can focus on. Once they are comfortable actually seeing through the binoculars, pick something obvious outside, like a tree or fire hydrant, and have them get used to seeing and adjusting the binoculars on that object. This will greatly improve their odds of being able to spot a bird with binoculars.

photo: USFWSmidwest via flickr

Stillness

Keeping still is often key to being able to see birds in their habitat undisturbed. That doesn’t mean the kids have to be statues, though. The key is to have a calm body and quiet voice, as sudden movements and loud noises will disturb the birds or chase them off. You can still have a calm body while moving on a walk, but loud voices and crazy moves will not only be more likely to scare off birds, you won’t be able to hear the different calls. Kids will figure out pretty quickly how they can see and hear more when their own voices and actions don’t get in the way.

Tip: Lure birds into your own backyard and observe them from inside at first to get kids used to the excitement of spotting birds in action without requiring quite as much “stillness.” Encourage children to watch quietly and think about what they can see and hear as they are waiting for birds. Check out these cool bird feeders that the kids can make themselves and then place in the yard in a visible spot. They’ll be checking for birds all the time! 

photo: DroolingDogs via pixabay

Patience

Waiting for the birds to come, searching in a tree to spot a bird or trying to explain to a sibling where the bird you can see is: all of these require patience. Birdwatching rewards that patience fairly immediately. Birdwatching is like the Hidden Pictures of the natural world and kids respond to the challenge of trying to find something that isn’t always obvious at first.

Tip: Download and print out an easy birdwatching scavenger hunt that focuses on actions and more obvious terms (nests, birds in flight, birds bathing) instead of specific bird species. It’s a great way to get kids used to looking for birds and patterns before you move on to ID.

photo: rubylia via pixabay

Observation

Taking the time to note different bird calls, colors, patterns and behavior is the perfect way to acknowledge the wonder and diversity even in one square block, plus it helps kids stay present as they observe. Who knew you could hear six different bird calls all at once, even with cars going by? It also teaches kids to look for signs, patterns and “typical” behaviors of certain birds (ducks near ponds, crows near garbage, etc.) and develop hypothesis about what they think they might see on their next birdwatching excursion.

Tip: Create a birdwatching journal where children can record date, time, location, color, size, sounds and behavior of birds. It’s a great way to learn the patterns and find your favorite spots, watch animals as they build nests and grow, and notice the seasonal changes.

Do you go birdwatching with your kids? What are your tips and tricks? 

—Amber Guetebier