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Kidz + Birdz = Fun…z

October 20, 2008
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At the planetarium where I work we’ve just instituted a new after science-based school program for area elementary schools. The educators who do the day to day work mix up the activities, but I was asked last week to help out with a bird program they had planned. I didn’t have to do much, just take the kids out to the Coker Arboretum next door to see if there was anything cool around.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. We were, to a large extent, dependent on the quality of the habitat in the arboretum (fair) and more than anything, the attention spans of the kids (varying). We started with some cheap-o binoculars for everyone, they were reverse porros so pretty good for small hands, and the type that don’t require a focusing knob. Whether or not that was a conscious decision by the educators, I don’t know, but it was one less thing to confuse new binocular users.

Some students that help out had hidden stuffed animals in trees and bushed behind the building so the kids could practice using binoculars on stationary objects before turning them loose on moving birds. They did pretty well and seemed to enjoy the hide and seek aspect of birding. A good start.

Once they were comfortable we separated them into groups and took on the arboretum. It wasn’t long before we found birds, some Starlings, Grackles, and Song Sparrows feeding on the lawn, and we stopped and looked at them, found them in the little “Birds of the Carolinas” books we had in the library, and basically did what we all do when we head out in the field. It was clear this exercise was more interesting to some than others, and while some kids were really into looking at the birds and finding them in the guide, others just walked around. Oh well, birding ain’t for everybody I guess, but the enthusiasm among those that were there was encouraging.

The arboretum turned out to be a pretty good spot. Nearly everybody got good looks at common birds and even found a late Hummingbird and my first White-throated Sparrow of the year. And maybe I instilled a real interest in a couple kids, there were moments where it seemed possible, like the girl who got a scope full of Bluebird (not Blue Jay) and the boy who correctly identified a Song Sparrow using his guide. At the very least they were exposed to it, where they go from here is up to them.

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