Behind the Scenes: Designing Bird Activities for Kids

I have my dream job here at National Wildlife Federation, making websites to support our mission. I get to do a wide range of tasks, but my favorite lately is creating children’s activities for our Activity Finder website. It’s a recent addition as of September 2010 and sponsored by Scotts Songbird Selections.It’s all about bird-themed activities. I hope the number and type of activities will just grow and grow.  (Editor’s Note 1/30/12: Please read an update about NWF’s partnership with ScottsMiracle-Gro.)

I have a reputation for coming up with off-the-wall ideas, whether that for web technology or things to do with my family outside. I had been incubating activity ideas and really looking forward to doing them with my kids. I love trying out the activities with my daughter Nora, who is seven, and my son Russell, who is four. They inevitably improve the ideas.

Preparing for Bird-Themed Fun!

My husband took the kids for a bike ride so I could gather supplies. Blankets? Check. Watercolor paper? Check. Flowers cut out of a cereal box? Check. Headbands with feathers sewn on? Check. This went on for about an hour.

A "hummingbird sipper" or a craft to decorate your straw
Nora shows her hummingbird sipper.

The kids came back and I was bouncing off the walls because I could not wait to start. My husband rightfully suggested we let them have a drink, a pee and a rest for a few minutes first. They had just biked for miles! But soon enough they were ready.

Our first activity was to decorate our hummingbird sippers. Sitting at our trusty child-sized picnic table, I gave them the flowers cut from a cereal box and washable markers. I had cut a hole out of the center of each flower to the exact size so that the straws from their water bottles would slide through. Soon they colored the flowers and were pretending to be hummingbirds with great gusto. What I didn’t anticipate was that they tend to drip when they drink, and soon the water was making little bits of marker rub off around their mouths! No problem – a quick layer of Modge Podge (a clear craft glue) and the hummingbird sippers would survive a drooling four-year-old.

Next we did watercolor bird ornaments. I cut watercolor paper into four simple bird shapes – sort of a leaf shape. Then I punched a hole and put a string through. After donning aprons, the kids squirted their birds with water – an activity they always love. Then they dropped watered-down food coloring with eye droppers so it made swirls. We tried throwing on large-grain sea salt because I remembered my mom doing that years ago when she was teaching me how to do watercolor painting. My memory was that this would create snowflake-like patterns. But I think our birds were a little too wet and the salt crystals just clumped on. They were a bit glittery, but not as magical as I had hoped. So we hung those in a nearby tree to dry.

Eating Like Birds

Enjoying our bird picnic
Mommy bird with her special chicks enjoying our picnic

Now the real fun would begin. It was time for our – *fanfare* – bird picnic! First the kids put on headbands decorated with feathers. They thought these were GREAT. Then we put on scarves to represent more feathers. We headed out to the front yard. Yes – we did all these activities in our front yard, in front of our neighbors, because we live in a townhouse and our backyard is about as big as a postage stamp with little sun. We spread out some blankets like a big nest. I was the Mommy bird, and they were the chicks. They cuddled into the nest.

Next we had special bird snacks. We brainstormed things that birds eat. Worms? Beetles? Small fish? Berries? Soon, I unveiled our bugs – made from crackers glued together with peanut butter, decorated with pretzel legs and raisin eyes. My baby birds sucked them down greedily and demanded more. Suddenly I felt like a real bird with some very demanding young’uns! I asked my husband to watch the nest while I gathered more bugs in the kitchen. While I was away he said they flew all around the yard and wrestled in the nest.

Make Way for Storytime

After a few more snacks and sips of “nectar” from our hummingbird sippers, we pulled out a stack of children’s books where the main characters were birds. We have a rather large collection of children’s books, and many are about nature, but I was surprised to find how few feature birds prominently, other than Big Bird from Sesame Street. But I found enough and my daughter, whose reading-out-loud skills are really improving, proudly read us books while we sat in our nest.

Our favorite bird books were:

  • The Chick and the Duckling by Mirra Ginsburg and illustrated by Jose Aruego
  • Wild Birds by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Susan Estelle Kwas
  • Tales from Parc la Fontaine by Roslyn Schwartz
"Egg" pose
My son’s invented yoga pose – “Egg” pose

Acting Like Birds

Next I had gathered every bug, snake, worm and lizard toy from around the house and put them in a basket. I then proceeded to run around our yard tossing them into the air. Then I gave each child a container and they had a creature scavenger hunt. Some were easy to find, but some were camouflaged like the yard, so we had a good chat about camouflage.

Next we did bird-themed yoga poses. We have done yoga before, and they did it in pre-school, so this is an easier sell than you might think. We did three bird-themed poses – crane, stork and crow. My children are not the “sit-still” types, but with yoga, with some effort, they seem to pull it together and even sometimes look peaceful. At this point, my son gave his contribution and invented “egg” pose, which involved me curling up like an egg while they pounced on me. Ah, the wonders of children’s creativity.

We had a few more activities but those were the highlights. Thanks to Nora and Russell for being patient with their eccentric but sometimes fun mommy. Thanks to my husband for distracting them while I gathered the supplies and taking our photos. I hope our story inspires your family to spend some time outside. You never know – your kids might even invent something and at the least, I hope you get a good cuddle.

Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s new Activity Finder, sponsored by Scotts Songbird Selections >>

Find an activity to do with your child