Playing with Nature

Chestnut-backed Chickadee_SnohomishCo-WA_LAH_4637

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am. Last night our daughter sent us the following text about two of our granddaughters, currently aged 4 and 6:

G: Look W–! A chickadee! (Gasp!) Two!
W: Yeah! Aww, they flew in the tree. (Runs to another window.)
W: I found them!
G: A chickadee! Two chickadees!
and so on…

Willow_Everett-WA_LAH_3111Needless to say, it made my day. I’ve been hoping our grandkids would somehow catch my love of all things nature, and especially birds. One lives only 90 minutes away—within range for reasonably frequent visits.

The others live halfway across the country from us. I’m not there to encourage their interest nearly as often as I’d like. What can I do from here that will make a difference there?

I’m delighted that their other grandparents are also knowledgeable about birds (and gardening, and nature in general—our daughter picked exactly the right family to marry into!). They’ve done an excellent job of exposing our mutual grandkiddos to bugs and birds and mud and flowers. But of course, I want to be involved as well.

First of all, I made sure their family had some bird feeders—one feeder for suet, another for black oil sunflower seeds, and a third one filled with sugar water for the hummingbirds. The best way to become familiar with birds is to see them up close every day, and that’s what feeders accomplish. I’m sure the chickadees that thrilled the girls were coming to the feeder stuck on the dining room window.

LAH_0228Next, I went hunting for age-appropriate birding books. I wanted something that would excite preschoolers as well. What I found was disappointing. There are some terrific birding books for kids, but they all focus on eastern birds. With two grandkids living north of Seattle, Washington, and one here in Colorado, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to see Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice, or Northern Cardinals. So I made my own and gave them for Christmas. (More on that another time.)

While I couldn’t find a field guide I was happy with, I did find an assortment of books to recommend they check out at the library. I even bought a few to add to their Christmas accumulation. There are too many choices to list here—just do a search of your library database.

Then there are other presents. Our oldest granddaughter received binoculars for Christmas. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money for something that could be quickly broken, but I found a pair of sturdy, inexpensive ones that you could actually see a bird through. It’s a start, and I’ll replace them with something better when she’s a little older.

Nature includes more than birds. Our youngest granddaughter received a bug collecting kit. We were watching on Skype when she opened it on her birthday. In great excitement, she and her older sister rushed out to the backyard to try everything out. They were quickly back with… something… in the plastic observation box. (That’s when we heard our daughter calling in the background, “No mosquitoes in the house!”)

All three are coming to visit next month. I can hardly wait! My latest project is a set of bingo cards with illustrations of birds, bugs, and other critters in the squares. During their visit, the girls can check off each animal as they see it. I’ll have to come up with a small prize for the winner—and then we’ll all do something fun to celebrate.

Making “naturing” into a game is a surefire way to get kids excited about discovering the nature world around them. It’s also fun for us grownups. While some adults are content to simply appreciate nature, maybe going for a walk or pitching a tent, more often we turn that appreciation into a game. Think of all the fun activities we do outside, from hunting and fishing to rock climbing and mountain biking. Even a hobby that is perceived as relatively sedate (hah!), such as birding, can add a bit of excitement and competition to the enjoyment of being out of doors. It’s like putting icing on the cake.

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