Green Acorns

Connecting children to nature through playful experiences.


Developing a Sense of Place

Developing a Sense of Place

This week I shared a post with Playful Learning readers about nurturing your child’s “sense of place”.  Are you familiar with the term?

During an acceptance speech, Rachel Carson stated that “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.”.  Children’s developing sense of place must begin right in their own backyards.  We must inspire their sense of wonder and nurture their appreciation for the nature in their own environment.

I once read The Great Kapok Tree (a wonderful book) to a group of preschoolers.  I had read this book over and over with my own young children and had some insightful, meaningful conversations afterwards.  I wanted to share that experience with other children.  However, when I paused near the end of the book and asked the group of preschoolers if they thought the man should still cut down the tree, the majority of the children yelled, “yes!”.  I was appalled.  What I realized over the course of my time with them was that most of these children were not engaging in nature.  Sure, they spent time outside – playing, participating in sports, etc.  But they weren’t taking the time to notice, they weren’t touching or smelling, they weren’t interacting, they weren’t developing an appreciation for nature.  Children must bond with their own environment before they can begin to care about others.

I hope you’ll head over to my post here to read more about “sense of place” and how we can all help our children develop their own.



What Makes a Bird a Bird? Learning to Identify Songs and Calls

What Makes a Bird a Bird? Songs and Calls | Activities for introducing children to identifying birds by their callimage source


Have you been waking up to a chorus of song birds each morning?  It can be such a pleasant welcome to a new day, can’t it?   With the exception of the summer that we had a flock of very loud blue jays right outside of our bedroom window, I find listening to the birds’ morning songs a delightful way to start to my day.

Birds communicate for many of reasons: locating each other, warning of danger, and marking the boundaries of their territory are just a few.  The variety of their vocalizations is quite astounding.  It can seem overwhelming to learn to identify a bird by it’s call but it doesn’t have to be.  Continue reading to find out how to introduce children of any age to identifying bird calls…

Marsh Wren, Hill Road Marsh, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California

Children have such a keen ear and are able to distinguish differences in pitch and tone at such a young age.  They also seem to have an innate sense of rhythm.  Of course, like with anything else, the more exposure they have and the more variety there is, the stronger their abilities become.  You will find this to be true with learning bird calls.  So, let’s get started!

Who Said That?

Play an auditory matching game with Audubon plush birds.  Start with introducing two of the plush birds whose songs are quite different from each other, like a Robin and a Great Horned Owl (a melodic versus a rhythmic).  Play the recorded song while the child is looking at the corresponding bird.  Talk about the sounds and patterns you hear.  After your child has become familiar with the calls and the bird that made each, hide them behind your back or in a bag.  Play one recording at a time and ask your child to identify the bird.  Feel free to add additional birds.  Just introduce one at a time and stay within your child’s comfort level so that it doesn’t get too overwhelming.  Now let your child hide the birds from your view and ask you to identify the bird.

Make a Sound Map

Print off this simple sound map before you begin.  Head outside and find a sit spot in your yard.  Sit quietly for 2-5 minutes and observe the different bird songs/calls that you hear.  You can listen with your eyes closed to help you focus better on just the sounds.  When you are done listening, record the approximate location that each bird call was coming from in relation to where you are sitting.  If you know the name of the bird you can write that.  You can also just draw a symbol such as an open bird beak or a musical note.  Remember, the purpose of this activity is to train your ear.  It is not a drawing exercise.


Clap, Run, Wave: Using Your Body

There are several developmental approaches for teaching music to children that uses body movements to represent rhythm and pitch (have you ever heard of Eurhythmics or the Kodaly method?).  This is a great way to reinforce the concepts kinesthetically and you don’t need any special training to incorporate it into your practice of identifying bird songs.  Listen to some bird sounds and decide with your child how best to represent them.  For example, you might represent a morning dove’s song by waving your arms like a conductor’s.  The movements would be smooth, rise and fall in correlation to the change in pitch, and be small or large to indicate duration.  A Northern Cardinal’s call could be represented by claps that match it’s pattern.  Maybe your child could wiggle about or run in place at a speed that matches a Robin’s song.  Get the idea?  Create your own interpretation and have fun!

Disclaimer:  My children thought this activity was quite silly and getting them to give it a try did not go over so well.  They did enjoy watching me make my interpretive movements, however.   They were open to clapping and tapping out the rhythms of various calls at least.

Drawing Sound

Spectrograms are visual representations of sound indicating duration, pitch, and intensity.  Spectrograms are one tool used to help scientists study animal communication.   Show your child some examples (there are some here and here) before beginning.  Then listen to some bird sounds either in your yard or on a site like All About Birds  or Audubon Birds.   Try to choose some simple calls to begin with, such as a Great Horned Owl or a Chickadee.  Talk about the sounds you hear: short versus long notes, increase or decrease in pitch, rhythms, intensity, etc.  Now put pencil to paper and draw out the representations.  For example, short notes could be indicated by dots, longer notes by dashes, trills by wiggly lines.  Here are some examples from my children:


Cornell’s  Lab of Ornithology has a great interactive game called Bird Song Hero that you should really try.  Exploratorium also has a similar interactive game that is more appropriate for younger children.  These are both worth checking out.  They are great tools for training your ear.

Stop, Look and Listen

Take advantage of birds’ active time of day (dawn and dusk are great) to observe birds and the sounds they make.  Sit quietly, listen for bird songs and calls, and look in the direction that you hear them coming from to try to catch a glimpse of the birds making the sounds.  This is one of the best ways to match birds to their sounds.  It does take patience and time but is well worth it.

If you are not having luck getting a good look at the birds, referring to a book like Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song can be very helpful.  Locate the birds found in your area and especially birds seen in your yard and play their calls.  Listen for familiar songs and make note of the bird that makes it.

The more you practice, the better you’ll become at identifying bird songs and calls.  Most of all… have fun!

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Nature By the Numbers: Nature Journal Prompts | June 2014

Nature by the Numbers: Nature Journal Prompts | June 2014

Hello!  Happy June!  I hope you had an enjoyable weekend.  Did you get to explore the outdoors?  There’s so much wonder to be found even in your own backyard, isn’t there?  Or your neighbor’s yard, as was our case.  While we were visiting friends yesterday, my children were excited to see a sharp-shinned hawk fly by along the tree line and to find a large stick nest high up in a tree (they quickly rattled off their ideas for who the owner might be).  We’re also quite sure that we heard a saw-whet owl one evening.

Even though there is no shortage of inspiration, especially during the warmer months when there is so much life and transformation, sometimes it helps to have ideas for activities and nature journals topics.  Here are some “Nature By the Numbers” prompts for this month to print and paste in your child’s journal.  Just click the image to download.

Oh, I almost forgot…  I created a “Nature Detectives” packet about leaves and would love for you to have your own copy.  If you give it a try, please let me know what you and your child thought about the activities.

Nature Detectives: Summer Leaves

Have a wonder-filled week!


What Makes a Bird a Bird? Activities for Exploring Nest Building

What Makes a Bird a Bird Activities for exploring nest building

My children are fascinated by birds!  They love observing them and learning to identify them and are SO excited when they spot one they’ve never seen before.  They are completely captivated.  We bring three pairs of binoculars on our outings and perpetually have our favorite birding books checked out from the library.  Why I don’t just buy them, I don’t know.  Probably because I’d have to clear off an entire bookshelf just to house them.  Anyway…

We’ve embarked on a comprehensive bird study.  My children know so much already but I’ve decided to start with the basics (because sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know).  We’ll be exploring all the characteristics of birds from beak shape to songs and calls to unique behaviors.  I’ll be sharing some of our explorations here and hope you’ll follow along.

cavity nest

With spring in full swing here in Maine (finally!), birds have been busy collecting nesting material.  They’ve been spotted flying overhead with twigs and bits of fuzzy stuff.  It seems fitting then that we start our study by exploring birds’ nests and nest construction.  As an opener we read What Makes a Bird a Bird? by May Garelick which leads the reader through the various characteristics of birds until that one special feature that truly makes a bird a bird is discovered.  We then read some books just about birds’ nests.  Here are some that I recommend:

My children decided to help out the birds in our yard by providing some extra nesting materials.  They collected yarn, shredded paper, lint, cotton balls, and some clumps of fur found in our yard.  They left it all in a shallow dish in a spot that they have observed birds near on a regular basis.

They then set off  to build nests of their own.  The idea is to gather materials from nature that a bird might use and construct a nest, to the best of one’s capabilities, that will stay together.  A popular method with my children was using mud to make everything stick together.  They’ve held up quite well too!  They are hoping that some birds will move in.  Through this activity the kids learned not only that cup-shaped nests seem to be one of the easiest nest types to build but that birds are amazing architects.  Their intricate weaving techniques seem a near impossible achievement.

bird nest constructions

We then played a game that I came across on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Sleuth website.  You can find it by clicking their “kits and free resources” tab and downloading the free activities.   Scroll to the “Nests & Chicks” section and look for the “Baby Bird Run” game.  Follow the directions for the simple game in which children identify statements about birds and their nesting behaviors as being either true or false.

I also created a matching game to help my children think about how different nests are tailored for different habitats.  If you would like to download your own copy, just click on the image below.  Read the statements about nests and fill that statement’s number in the box next to the matching nest.  There are more types than listed on the sheet but I wanted to keep it fairly simple.

what type of bird nest is it?

These activities should prove to be effective ways to introduce children to birds’ nests and their construction.  I hope you enjoy!

Note:  My children range in age from five to eleven and these activities were appropriate for them all.  With my older children I spent some time talking about the different types of nests in more detail and asked them to identify what birds might build what type of nests.  If you give any of these activities a try with your children, let me know how it went.

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Dandelions: A Playful Experience For Bringing Them To Life

Dandelions: A playful experience for giving new life to the dandelion

Hello there!  If it’s spring time where you are, no doubt your yard is dotted with dandelions.  Kids love them, don’t they?  Mine sure do and I seized the opportunity to do a dandelion nature study with them.  We all learned some new things.  dandelion journal entry

One thing I learned (or was reminded of) is to take notice of my children’s comments about their interests and activities to inspire further exploration.  It wasn’t until late in the evening that I became aware of a cue that my daughter had provided for a fun twist on our nature studies.

Hop on over to learn more about a fun way for kids to give new life to the dandelion…


Nature by the Numbers: May

Nature By the Numbers May

Hello there!  It has been a while, hasn’t it?  I have missed sharing our nature explorations here and thought I would ease back in to it with new Nature By the Numbers journaling prompts.

This month, my children have been observing and learning more about the birds of our back yard and surrounding areas.  I hope to share with you a different feature each week.  To get started, here are five prompts to help spark your child’s interest:

  • Identify 5 different birds by sight.
  • Identify 4 different birds by sound only.
  • Choose 3 of the birds that you identified and learn about the type of nests they build.
  • Choose 2 of the birds that you identified and learn more about them. What do they eat? How big are they? What are their distinguishing features? How are these two birds similar? How are they different?
  • Draw 1 bird and label it’s parts.

You can download the printable to paste in your child’s journal here.

You will need to gather some resources before getting started so that your child can have easy access to information while making their observations and for further research.  These are some of our favorites:

Of course there are apps you can use as well like iBird or Merlin.  And don’t forget your binoculars!

Happy birding…


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Combining Nature Study and Yoga

Combining Yoga and Nature Study

This past week I shared a “Gettin’ Buggy With It” yoga sequence over at Playful Learning.  My children and I find so much inspiration in nature and it infuses much of what we do including our yoga practice.  Yoga can provide an engaging and fun means of expression and further exploration of nature.  Children can imagine taking on the qualities of the natural elements that exists around them and, in doing so, deepen their connection.

I hope you will pop over to take a look and give it a try with your child…



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