Bird-Studies for Children
It is a simple matter enough, with the little folk who happily live in the country, to excite an interest and develop a familiar friendship with their bird neighbors. The birds can easily be coaxed to the piazza or the window-shelf by the judicious offer of free lunch, and so a speaking acquaintance, perhaps even a life-long friendship, with them may be gained.
But with city children, especially those of the poorer classes, the case is very different. The question how to teach them to know and care for birds is by no means so easy. Look at their case: they have seen no birds but English Sparrows and caged Canaries and Parrots; few of them know the Robin; they practically never go to the country, and many of them never even go to the parks. How shall they be taught about birds? Observing the rule of advancing from known to unknown, would suggest Dick the Canary, as the obvious point of departure from a tenement into the world of birds; then, perhaps, the Summer Yellow-bird in the park, commonly known as the ‘Wild Canary,’ and then Mr. Goldfinch and his little olive-brown spouse, who would make a natural transition to the brown Sparrow family, and so on. The difficulty here is that it is so nearly impossible to get city children up to the park to see the Yellow-bird.
So another method, involving no country walks and no live birds, has to be resorted to. We may use pictures,—drawn before the class and colored, if possible,—and, trusting to the children’s powers of imagination and idealization, may connect with their experience at some other point. After studying about the carpenter, in kindergarten or primary school, for instance, it is easy to interest children in the Woodpecker by proposing to tell them about a “little carpenter bird;” after talking of the fisherman, a promise to tell them of a bird who is a fisherman is sure to stir their imaginations of the doings of the Kingfisher, and so with the weaver (Oriole), mason (Robin) and others.
When several birds have been learned, the best kind of review for little people is probably some game like the following, which has been
played with most tumultuous enthusiasm and eager interest in a certain New York school of poor children. The teacher says:
" Let's play ' I’m thinking of a bird.' All shut your eyes tight and think. Now. I’m thinking of a bird nearly as large as a Pigeon; he is brownish, with black barring on the back, black spots all over the breast," etc., etc., giving a description of the Yellow Hammer, or Flicker, but leaving the characteristic marks until the end of the description. Before the teacher has gone far, a dozen hands are waving wildly and several vociferous whispers are heard, proclaiming in furious pianissimo: " I know." " I know what it is." Then the child who gets it right is allowed to describe a bird for the class to guess, and if the description fails in any point the class may offer corrections.
This appeal to the play instinct excites great interest, which is the thing chiefly to be desired.
When a number of birds have been learned in this way, a trip to the Natural History Museum would be of very great value, especially noticing the wonderful reproductions of actual scenes from bird-life there displayed. In this way city children could see in a single day more real bird-life than they could otherwise get in a year, as their few country days are generally populous picnics, from which the birds flee aghast.
The children should take their kindergarten principles of observation and conversational description to the Museum with them, and, on returning to school, should draw and color some bird they have seen. To observe and describe and, perhaps, draw each new bird whose picture is shown in the classroom is also a good thing. The writer passed a mounted Flicker through a class of fifty children of kindergarten age, let them look and carefully handle, and then asked for " stories " about it. One child said: " I know—Oh—I know seven stories—no, eight—nine stories about Mr. Yellow Hammer," and she really did know her " nine stories."
When they have gone as far as this, most bird stories will interest them, especially if the birds are humanized for them by the teller of the tale.
To sum up, it may be said that the best way to begin is to teach a few birds well,—a dozen or so,—by connecting with the child's experience, in some way, the information to be given, and then employing the play instinct by having bird games of various kinds, both kindergarten bird games and others; observation, description and drawing of birds may follow, and first and last, and all the time, all descriptions and stories given to children should be in terms of human nature.