Together with the strident calls of the great-tits, blue-tits and long-tailed tits flitting from shrub to shrub seeking sustenance and the blackbird and robins stalking the garden, staking out their territory or performing to potential mates, it can appear as if spring is not too far away.
Anyone regularly reading my blog will notice regular thoughts on children getting outside and exploring the world around them. Since my own childhood, which was spent largely outside, in the UK until I was almost eight, then in Australia until I was almost twelve, I have derived pleasure from spotting living things, transient elements like passing birds, or more static things like plants and fungi.
It’s interesting to reflect on the development of a vocabulary that describes the world. With toddlers in the family, listening to them and people around them talking as they play, shows that spotting is generic, birds, flowers, shrubs, trees and so on. Sometimes colour or size might be attached as a form of nomenclature.
The older children start to perceive differences between the birds etc, as they come into the garden or flit past through the trees. It’s then useful to be able to give specific names to the birds, blackbird, robin, blue-tit, great-tit, thrush, as starters. This allows a focus on detail, perhaps describing feather colours or habits such as food preferences from feeding stations.
Once children are at this stage, by setting up feed stations, numbers of different birds visiting can be noted over discrete periods of time, using observation evidence to allow tallying, leading to different types of data presentation.
Feed stations can be easily created using plastic plant pot under-trays; for food, drill some drain holes in the bottom, for water, drill a couple of holes in the side so that it doesn’t get too deep. Mounted on a pile of bricks, especially if near some bushes, it’s a case of wait and see. Another thing about observational science; patience.
Different plants mean different leaf shapes and sizes, different growth rates to be measured over time, perhaps different germination needs to be explored; if 100 seeds are counted and placed on a square of towelling that is kept appropriately damp, germination percentages can be explored, over relatively short time scales.
If you have a “grass” area, giving a small group a hoop and a piece of sugar paper, with the instruction to find as many different kinds of plant leaves can often show that the grass is more likely to be at least twenty different plants. More identification opportunity.
The birds, trees, shrubs, butterflies and moths and plants in the grass all have names, features, habits, preferred habitats. Mammals might leave clues to their having been around.
Going outside and looking, spotting and naming can be an opening into the free world of living things outside. It’s a cheap and easy homework, can link with local geography, if recorded onto a sketch map and might give another area for conversation.
Linking with a local wildlife group, or, for children something like Watch, the junior arm, can introduce children to local experts.
Spotter guides can be downloaded from http://www.wildlifewatch.org.uk/spotting-sheets and, if you feel the need to give any form of homework, why not download a sheet and challenge the children to note where they spotted different animals or plants?
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