Bugs vs. Birds

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To slip some subtle math and science into your child’s next summer nature walk, turn it into a tally hunt for bugs and birds. I told Travis we’d be counting both, and asked him whether he thought he would find more birds or bugs. He quickly replied birds, but then thought about it for a moment; we passed a bunch of flowers, already teeming with five bees. “Bugs!” he guessed.

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To prepare a little scientific notebook, print out a picture of a bug and a bird, and tape or glue down to notebook paper. Now you can tally as you walk.

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This will also be a great lesson on tallying and making marks in groupings of 5 (good for skip-counting!).

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As we walked, Travis sometimes forgot to count, since there was so much else to see. Eventually we decided he would look out for bugs, and I was in charge of birds.

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It quickly became apparent that bugs were far more abundant…so much so we eventually stopped our tally at around 35. Although hard to see, the picture above shows two beautiful dragonflies perched on a limb.

In short, this game is a great way to get your little one noticing nature on a closer scale, as well as to think about the differing populations of species within an area.

Hummingbird Puppets

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We’re welcoming the birds of spring with this little finger puppet craft from Travis’s Ranger Rick Jr.! The pom pom puppets probably come out close to a hummingbird’s true size, which is neat to think about.

First, Travis selected which color pom poms we should use for the bodies. His was dark blue and light blue, and mine was yellow and pink. Glue the two pom poms together.

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Next we snapped toothpicks in half for the long pointy beaks. Glue a half onto whichever pom pom will be the head. Cut triangles from foil cupcake liners, and use two for the wings and one for a tail.

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Googly eyes complete the little birds.

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To make them into puppets, cut a strip of felt and glue into a circle that will fit your child’s finger. Glue onto the bottom of the pom poms and let dry.

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Now flutter your hummingbirds! Ranger Rick even included a sweet little poem to recite as you fly them around.

Look in your garden

And you just might spy

A hummingbird flash

As it quickly flies by.


Watch the small bird

Putting on a great show – 

Moving this way and that,

Always on the go.


When it finds flowers

So bright and so fair, 

It sips sweet nectar

While still in the air.

Travis even had the birds drinking “nectar” from some other toys!

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Early Explorers Animals

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When I saw that Travis’s newest package from Early Explorers was all about animals, I worried it would overlap with the unit on habitats. But of course the Little Passports company ensured there was plenty of new info and exciting ideas for us to explore, and I needn’t have worried one bit!

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My seasoned explorer jumped right in, telling me he was off to put the animal stickers on his map solo (“Don’t come, Mom, I can do it myself!”) though he did later have me verify that each was on the right continent.

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With that we were off and running, checking out the flashcards, flashlight game, and booklet, with fun activities like tracing and mazes.

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Animals Craft:

Travis’s booklet suggested drawing your favorite animals. Travis preferred to color in animals someone else had outlined, and luckily the website featured a bonus template of just such a thing.

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He liked making up silly colors for his animals!

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Animals Science:

The “science” project we undertook was to visit a nearby National Park and chat with a ranger about what wildlife we might encounter. As luck would have it, the unit overlapped with the Great Backyard Bird Count, so we headed off on a brisk winter’s day!

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Travis loved the little presentation on birds before the walk, full of questions.

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We headed out with binoculars, and paused every time we heard a bird call. Although we heard a few different species, we unfortunately didn’t see them.

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But we searched for signs of other animals, too, such as paw prints (Travis was sure this was a fox, not a dog out for a walk)…

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…and squirrel burrows.

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Definitely do head to your nearest National Park, whether as tame as ours, or as wild as Yellowstone, and see what your ranger can tell you!

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Animals Keepsake:

The animal puppets to put together were by far his favorite keepsake we’ve received from this subscription to date! These foam puppets had a crafty component, since some were stickers that needed to be added on to the bodies.

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There was a nice representational sample, everything from exotic lions to cute pandas to cows like those we can see here at home.

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Not only was he wild about putting them together, following the easy step-by-step instructions solo, but when we had finished, he asked if he could put them together again (unfortunately, not really!). From here on out, they’re great for puppet shows.

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Animals Field Trip:

Our booklet suggested a trip to a local zoo or aquarium; please note that I never take Travis to zoos, as life in a cage is a sad one for animals. That said, we will visit an aquarium as long as the fish are well-cared for and there are no captive cetaceans.

And what a day at the aquarium we had! Travis was fully tuned in to the animals today, on a hunt for species we’d read about in our booklet, and marveling at them. Have you ever watched seahorses swim, for example? They truly dance.

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He was in love with the motions of this spider crab.

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And fascinated to learn about piranhas.

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And whoa – sharks are always a thrill.

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As a bonus, this was a great activity for his little sister!

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We sat down over a snack to check off all the animals we’d seen that were featured in his booklet.

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Animals Further Activities:

We weren’t done yet! The booklet was rife with further suggestions. We headed to our local park on a warm day to see how many different types of animals we could spot. Here in the winter, it was mainly bird species, but we counted 4: ducks, swans, geese, and seagulls.

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Next up was a visit to a local animal shelter, a great way to show your child how other people help animals. I encouraged Travis to ask the volunteers anything he wanted about where they got the cats from, and how they found them good homes.

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And of course there was lots of time to pet and play!

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I had also purchased the animal band magnetic set from Little Passport’s shop. Okay, maybe this didn’t teach us anything about animals, but it sure was cute!

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The magnetic case includes heads, bodies, and legs to mix and match, of adorable animals playing instruments. Incidentally, this game is great for on-the-go, since the magnetic pieces ensure you won’t lose them.

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You can keep the learning going with websites and books, from here. Travis fell in love with crabs at the aquarium, so we did further research online with YouTube crab videos. Lizards were another fast favorite, and we learned more about them.

And of course your local library will have in-depth books about many species. So find out your child’s favorite, and get reading!

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Milk Jug Bird Feeder

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It’s that time of year when we start thinking about our feathered friends, providing them with seeds for the colder weather ahead (even though it’s been unseasonably warm!). In the past we’ve made everything from pinecone feeders to a little cafe. I wanted to try this version because it looked nice and roomy for the birds, but it posed a bit of a vegan challenge: the base of the feeder calls for a gallon milk jug. I briefly considered reusing a relative’s milk gallon, but had a hunch the non-dairy milk bottle from Califia Farms would work. It does, but grown-ups, do take care in the step below that calls for an Xacto knife and scissors!

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First, cut a window in the front of the jug for birds to fly into. I started this with a knife, and finished the cut-out with scissors.

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You’ll also need to make a hole near the top of the bottle to thread through yarn.

Travis took great pride in painting this project, everything from selecting the color blue…

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…to mixing shades of blue…

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…to making sure every last bit was covered.

Once the paint had dried, I tied yarn through the hole in the top and we headed outside.

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Travis loved scooping in the bird seed.

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Find the perfect spot to hang your feeder, then wait for your feathered friends to arrive!

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Bird Cafe


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Our latest project (from High Five magazine) wasn’t as big a hit as past crafts, perhaps because Travis and I have made bird feeders before and it felt a bit ho-hum to him. But there’s never anything wrong with learning a new way to feed our feathered friends, and this one is easy to put together!

Save any clear plastic food container; shallow is better, like the kind used for nuts or dried fruit. Rinse and dry.

Cut a rectangle from the center of an 8×5-inch piece of craft foam. This step was a bit tricky for Travis, but he loved cutting separate pieces of craft foam into free-form shapes while I worked.

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Tape the foam around your container, then wrap the top of the craft foam around the lid and tape in place. The craft foam now acts as the “wall” connecting the bottom and the lid roof.

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Hole punch the foam near the lid on each side, and thread through yarn or string to hang your feeder.

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As the final touch, tape on a second sheet of craft foam bent into a “roof”.

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We’re hoping to get many a summer visitor!


Bird Puppets for Racing

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Here’s a silly game to play in the backyard, using just a few craft supplies from home!

First, we painted the inside of plastic cups… this was novel for Travis to paint the inside of something, and he took great care adding layers of blue, red, and purple paint.

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Once the paint dried, we glued a few feathers inside each cup as tail feathers.

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Two more feathers went on the outside of each cup as the wings, along with a construction paper triangle for a beak and two eyes.

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In the morning, we set up the race! Cut plastic straws to about the size of your cups, and tape on.

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Thread long strings anywhere outside like a tree branch, fence, or gate. Slip the other end of each string into the straw of a bird. Now bounce and jiggle your birdies down their strings all the way to the end. Which bird will win?

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Fingerprint Bird Painting

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I originally planned this springtime-themed painting to be a fingerprint memento – I love capturing the size of Travis’s hands and fingers (and feet!) periodically. Turns out that Travis had different plans… but we still ended up with a great painting!

To make the project feel special, I purchased a real (small) canvas from the craft store – instantly things felt elevated above using regular paper!

Make the shape of a bird on the canvas using masking tape. Big kids will be able to tackle this step themselves, and little kids will like to play with leftover tape!

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I set out fingerpaints for Travis and showed him how to dip in his fingertips and fill in the bird shape.

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He very quickly decided he preferred a brush, and began filling in the bird that way. His brush strokes looked incredibly feathery, just like bird wings.

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I loved the texture he was able to create!

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So… not the fingerprint memento I had intended, but we still have a lovely work of art to welcome spring.

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Recycled Bird Feeders

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After our recent pine cone bird feeders didn’t get much nibbling from neighborhood birds, we wanted to give our feathered friends more of a perch to stand on while having a late autumn snack! This project from Barefoot Books is a great way to recycle juice or non-dairy milk cartons.

Adults, cut a rectangular opening in one side of a clean, empty carton, making sure it’s about 2 inches from the bottom of the carton.

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Now give your child carte blanche to decorate however they please. We wanted to make our carton bright and vibrant for the birds, so added colorful buttons and pom poms.

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And then Travis decided we needed glitter… lots of glitter!

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At this point we left the carton to dry overnight. The next day, poke two holes in the bottom of the carton. Select a stick from outside to be the perch; insert through the holes.

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Use a hole punch to make a hole in the top of the carton, and thread with string. My milk carton was so thick that I ended up hot gluing the string instead, which worked in a pinch.

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Now find a beautiful place to hang it, and fill with  birdseed!

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To continue the fun, consider purchasing a kid-friendly field guide to birds, and check off the visitors you receive over the winter.


Bird-Beak Buffet

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Some recent fun with a homemade bird feeder has us talking about birds, the various things they eat, and why some birds’ beaks look very different from others. It was the perfect opportunity to pull out this cute game from our Barefoot Books’ Kids Garden kit!

I recommend gathering all your materials ahead of time so you can lay all of the following items in front of your child at once. Otherwise, there is bound to be some curious exploration and possible trouble! First, you’ll need 4 beaks:

  • 1 pair of chopsticks (“Heron Beak”)
  • 1 eyedropper (“Hummingbird Beak”)
  • 1 slotted spoon (“Pelican Beak”)
  • 1 pair of tweezers (“Sparrow Beak”)

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Then set out 4 bowls of bird “food:

  • 1 plate of unshelled nuts as pretend field mice for the Heron
  • 1 tall bottle with a narrow top filled with water as flower nectar for the Hummingbird
  • 1 bowl of ping pong balls floating in water as fish in water for the Pelican
  • 1 bowl of sesame seeds and grass clippings as seeds in the grass for the Sparrow

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I recommend having a towel under your play area, since two of these bird meals involve water! Now let your child experiment with which “beak” is best suited for each food. The ladle and ping pong balls were an easy first guess, and Travis had fun pretending to be the pelican.

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The most enjoyable challenge was using the tweezers to grip the grass clippings and sesame. He was very focused on it, and so proud each time he could move some grass or a sesame seed.

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The eyedropper was a delight of course, and we talked about the hummingbird’s long narrow beak being well suited to dip inside a flower.

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The one that gave us consternation was picking up nuts with the chopsticks. We decided we wouldn’t want to be herons!

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From there, Travis had fun mixing and matching his birds. He used the eyedropper in the “pelican’s” big bowl of water, and loved using the slotted spoon to move unshelled nuts from the dry bowl into the bowl of water, then fishing them out with a utensil or his hands.

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He also mixed water into his sesame seeds, and found other ways to have fun with the eyedropper (as a spoon etc.), resulting in lots of enjoyment even after the stated purpose of the game was done.

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We hope to follow up with some bird watching outside once the weather warms up, paying close attention to the birds’ beaks!

Pine Cone Bird Feeder

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With daylight savings officially upon us and darker, colder days here to stay, we’re thinking about the winter to come… and in particular, helping out our feathered friends.

On our latest nature walk, we selected three large pinecones for the project. Travis was very curious to see how we would turn them into bird feeders!

First we needed to smear them with peanut butter, a gooey and fun step.

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To cover the pine cones with bird seed, we filled the bottom of a paper bag with the seeds, added our pine cones, and then shook the bag.

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The shaking was arguably the best part of the project!

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And of course, leftover seeds are fun to play with.

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Ideally, we’d have a tree or bush to hang the feeders from, but the best I could do was to hang them from the bicycle handles on our patio. We can’t wait to see if any feathered friends visit for a nibble!

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