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Posted 1/16/13 (Wed)
If you are not the parent of a Kenmare Elementary School first grader, please share this column with somebody who is.
Dear Parents of Kenmare First Graders,
Do you know how wonderful your children are? Do you really?
Because I do.
Because last week, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee Jennifer Jewett and I spent the afternoon with your kids, studying birds at the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge during the official Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids event.
We had a secret formula: Kids + birds + outdoors + making things + food + a good book + a real-life purpose = success + wonders + smiles.
Good binoculars help. Hot chocolate was a bonus.
Our schedule was based on the cooperation of the birds and the interest of the children, and we were ready with an awesome bingo game, a helpful bird diagram to color, and two more craft projects to make treats for the birds.
But the stars of the show—the birds—performed admirably.
So did the kids.
We took the class on a jaunt around the headquarters building and talked about where to see birds. We looked and looked, with and without the binoculars, and we wondered where birds could be on a sunny winter’s day.
We talked about moving quietly, but then someone would find a nest or an animal track in the snow, and the excitement spilled over.
The kids noticed every detail on the ground and in the bushes. And they looked really, really hard through their binoculars, with total faith they would see something winged and wonderful.
We paused before our final stop, the place where feeders stuffed with sunflower seed had attracted birds. We told them to expect to see birds soon.
The students’ voices got quieter and quieter as our group tiptoed around a building, within viewing distance of the feeders.
We adults couldn’t have written a better script.
Birds sparkled everywhere—small black-capped chickadees and even tinier common redpolls—two friendly species.
The kids went silent without a word from us. They sank to their knees and raised binoculars to their eyes. They pointed and whispered, sharing the birds.
They inched forward, sometimes on their feet, more often on their knees, a few on their bellies. The small birds sensed a connection with the small humans. The small humans were completely enthralled.
We showed them photos of chickadees and redpolls from the field guides. Within minutes, the kids started whispering about the black heads of the chickadees and the red feathers on the redpolls and how the male redpolls had red feathers on their chests, too, and was that a male or a female and did you see how close that chickadee came?
In fact, a couple students informed me the binoculars were no longer necessary.
Your children sat among those birds, totally focused on the activity all around them, for nearly 20 minutes.
I think they would have remained until sunset, but we finally broke the spell by asking the kids to make some treats for the birds to eat. We also had to promise they could return to the birds.
Those kids will look for chickadees and redpolls their whole lives now. They may feed birds and watch all kinds of birds, year-round, in your yards and neighborhoods.
I hope they visit the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge again, and I hope they take you with them. Many of them said so during our afternoon together.
They know where to park and how to find the birds, believe me.
These kids were full of questions and curiosity and wonder that day, and I’m betting that given the opportunity to spend some times outdoors again, they will respond the same way.
Please take care of them so they can.
The Newspaper Lady