I’m an elementary school teacher, a parent and a person who adores nature more and more every day.
It breaks my heart when I think about how much harm we are doing to the world around us. Things like climate change, human-caused habitat loss and environmental pollution are putting so many species of birds (and other insects and animals) at risk. Some species won’t be here in the very near future unless we take action and do something about it.
One thing we can do to help the natural world is to help create future stewards of the environment. We can help teach children about the wonders around them and why they need to work hard to help protect and heal the environment around them.
I grew up in a rural area and was exposed to nature my entire childhood, but most of my students have grown up in urban environments and have for the most part, had no exposed to nature. Most often their parents haven’t either. They have a disconnect from nature and because of that don’t really think much about it. It’s not that they don’t care, but more that they are simply unaware.
We can educate our children and students to love all things wild. It’s also not such a difficult thing. Believe it or not, even living in the middle of a city, you are surrounded by nature!
I want to share some simple ideas that can get children stoked about birds. Simple ideas that are very doable as a teacher or parent.
Let’s turn the kids around us into little birders. These kids will grow to love and be fascinated by birds. Kids who will later become more passionate and want to make a difference.
Bird field guides:
Get yourself a bird field guidebook to help you identify the birds you will see with your kids. They are available at any bookshop. There are also some great online resources and apps you can download on your smart phone. Although I’m a huge teach geek I still prefer to use a paper field guide.
Build a bird feeder:
This is really not a common thing in Japan. Making a bird feeder is such a simple thing to do. If you don’t have time to go to the birds, have them come to you. I have several hanging around the schoolyard where I work. I have made them from plastic water bottles (2L or bigger) and milk cartons. I hang them from fences and trees and fill them with birdseed I buy at my local pet shop.
Feeders can attract a variety of birds and are especially helpful to the bird population in the colder months when food may be scarcer during to snow cover.
My students love observing the feeders and sometimes even recording their observations in journals.
Since bird feeders are uncommon in Japan, I often have the opportunity to educate parents about birds when explaining what a feeder is.
Feed some birds/ducks:
Children are normally very excited to feed birds and ducks. It is a great way for them to build a great connection at a young age. It’s fun and exciting to do.
Be careful what you feed the ducks though. The worst thing you can feed ducks is actually the thing we feed them the most. BREAD IS TERRIBLE for ducks! It is essentially junk food for them. The bread has very little nutrition and fattens the ducks up. Their bodies have a great deal of trouble digesting complex carbohydrates. The ducks get bigger, but become more malnourished as do their ducklings. Uneaten bread can also pollute waterways by creating algae growth that harms other animals living in that habitat.
What’s good to feed ducks then? Here are a few things:
Whole oats, rice (cooked or uncooked), frozen peas and corn (defrosted), grapes (seeded and cut into small pieces), carrot peelings, lettuce and leafy greens chopped into small pieces, cracked corn, bird seed, earthworms.
There are other good things to feed ducks, but there are a few.
Band some birds:
Many bird conservation groups that band birds and monitor them often have programs to teach kids about birds. Many of these organizations will even have events that you can attend and children have the chance to band birds. What an amazing way to learn about birds. Kids can touch them, learn about them and help contribute to the scientific study of them.
Go to a local conservation area and ask if you and your child can volunteer! Probably best to shoot them an email first, but many not for profit groups would love the help.
Recently I was visiting Suma Aqualife Park here in Kobe, Japan and I had an opportunity to speak to the Director of the aquarium. I asked him if I would be able to volunteer there and learn about taking care of the animals. He said absolutely! He would love to have a foreigner volunteer (or anyone for that matter).
It never hurts to ask! Most groups would love your help.
Get outside with your kids/students:
It’s simple. Take your bird field guide and go outside for a walk with your child. Even in the city, when you look around you will see birds all over the place.
While walking down a busy street here in Kobe (1.5 million population) and I can see sparrows, crows, pigeons, turtle doves, starlings, grey herons, egrets, spot-billed ducks, cormorants, common pochards, barn swallows, oriental tits, greenfinches, etc. The list goes on and on. Get outside and point these birds out to your kids. Identify them and talk about them.
Make a bird list:
With your child or student you can keep track out of the birds they’ve spotted in a notebook. Have them reflect upon what they saw and how they feel about it.
Do some of these simple activities with your kids and before you know it we’ll have an entire new generation of naturalists, marine biologists, ornithologists and citizen scientists making a difference. We’ll have a generation of people who care about the birds and habitats around them.
Everyone wins in that situation!
About the writer:
Kevin O’Shea is a Canadian educator (PYP) teaching at an international school in Japan. His passions include podcasting, birding and entomology.
Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev
For more information and photos of birds in Japan, check out the Birds of Kansai Facebook page and LIKE it!