Play Like Birds

Some of our best teachers are our feathered friends. We humans, big and small, are enamored of birds. Birds amaze us with their ability to fly, captivating calls, aptitude as builders and remarkable methods for surviving winter. This week, continue the bird play at home with a roundup of some of our favorite ways to help kids fall in love with our feathered friends as they play like birds. 

The Guide

Discover the birds who live in your area.

Read our Backyard Bird Count DIY for tips for getting kids involved in discovering and learning about the birds in their area. As you search for birds in your outdoor space, feel free to offer kid-sized binoculars or make your own using toilet paper tubes! See how here.

Add a prop or costume to spark play. 

“Becoming” a creature is a timeless and powerful way for kids to better understand and love that creature. The addition of a simple prop or costume may be all your child needs to jump right into active imaginative play.  
  • Bird beak: Find a toilet paper tube or cut ¼ of a paper towel tube. On one end of the tube, cut out a U-shape on both sides to create the illusion of an open beak. On the other end of the tube, use a hole puncher or scissors to make a hole underneath each “U”. Cut 2 pieces of yarn or twine, each about 1 foot long and tie one end of each string onto each hole. Kids wear their beak by placing the tube over their mouth or nose and tying the two ends of the twine behind their head. see how here.
  • Bird wings: To make wings out of fabric, gather fabric in the middle and tie a piece of yarn or twine around the center and then tie the loose ends around your child’s waist. Gather the top two ends of the fabric and tie each one with a piece of yarn and then around each of your child’s wrists. To make wings out of paper, cut out wing shapes from a paper bag or piece of cardboard, leaving the two sides of the wings connected. Use scissors to cut two holes in the middle of the wings. Then, thread twine or yarn through the holes and tie around the waist. Kids can use paint or markers to decorate their wings, too! See how here.

Build a nest.

Gather small sticks and ribbon, yarn and/or paper scraps and invite kids to form their materials into a circle shape to make a soft and cozy bird nest. You can also offer forest putty to help stick nest-building materials together or to form balls for pretend eggs for their nests. For an extra challenge, invite kids to put their thumb and first finger together to make a bird beak. Can they use their bird beaks to pick up and place their nest-building materials? 

Build an Explorer-sized nest!

For a big-sized challenge, collect an assortment of larger sticks and wonder with kids if they could build a nest big enough for them to sit inside. Work together to create an outline of a circle on the ground.. Then, keep adding sticks to the shape to create a thick outline. Wonder what kind of inside you’d want for the eggs. Gather soft and light materials and fill in the inside of the nest. Once the nest is complete, children can enjoy playing mother bird, sitting on imaginary eggs. Or, kids can be the baby birds, chirping for their snack. Read our Nest For Explorers DIY for more ideas.

Sing with the birds.

Listen for bird sounds. Do you hear bird calls or bird songs? If you hear a song, what does your child imagine the song is about? If you hear a call, what does your child think the birds are trying to communicate? You can also use an app like SongSleuth or BirdGenie to identify the birds in your area by their sounds.

When you hear a bird sound, try to imitate it and listen to see if the bird responds to your call. Can you engage the birds in “conversation”? Invite kids to pretend to be a real or imagined bird and make up their own bird calls and bird songs. Play a game of hide and seek while giving each other “clues” to your location using bird calls. Or, attempt a conversation together using only bird sounds.

Search for treasure like Magpies.

Magpies are often featured at Tinkergarten for their unique nest-building behavior. Tales have been told of magpies stealing shiny objects, like jewelry and coins to adorn their nests (recent research suggests that these birds are much more interested in food than shiny objects). Watch the read-aloud of More by I.C. Springman, a story about a magpie and their collection of treasures. Listen to the calls of magpies and try to replicate the sounds with kids. Then, print out our magpie scavenger hunt worksheet and invite kids to search their outdoor space for treasures a magpie would use for food, nesting materials and more! Read the full Magpie Scavenger Hunt DIY here.

Build a tool to observe robin nests.

Hunt for and find a bird’s nest—targeting a bird whose nests are easy to find and reach like the robin. Talk with kids about the nest, what they notice and what they think might be inside. Then, challenge them to use a few simple materials (mirror, string, scissors) and anything around them to make a tool to spy inside the nest without disturbing the nest or its tenants in any way. Read the Glimpse a Robin’s Nest DIY for more ideas.

Play and care for Hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are the smallest migrating birds in the world (weighing less than a dime!). Hummingbirds fly like no other, flapping their wings more than 50 times per second! Hummingbirds are also fantastic pollinators, using their long, slender beak to drink nectar, spreading pollen from flower to flower in the process. Read our Celebrate Hummingbirds DIY for ideas on how kids can play like hummingbirds, attract hummingbirds to your outdoor space, care for migrating hummingbirds and more!

Why is this activity great for kids?

Wildlife ecologist Washington Wachira says, “The love of birds can be a huge gateway (for children) to appreciating all forms of nature.” Pretending to be a creature is a super way for kids to take on another’s perspective, a cornerstone of cognitive empathy. Learning about birds through play is also a great way to get kids hooked on science while nurturing their problem solving skills and curiosity.

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