Free as a Bird

When I was a kid we adopted my uncle’s pet Parrot for two years while he was living overseas. That parrot terrorized me and anyone else that came into our den. Since then I have never really liked birds in cages. They are not my ideal pet. But I love birds in the wild. I love their music, how they soar and flutter. I love their beautiful colors, bright or subdued. And I love watching them flock together, making patterns and ripples in the sky. I wasn’t a Bird Watcher though. I just was an amateur  bird gazer.

Last Autumn Zephyr went on a birding expedition with her homeschool school Naturalist class. The class met some Birders up on a Hawk Watch Observation Deck.


When I picked Z up from classes that day she was agog and breathlessly recounted the myriad birds they had seen with the fine binoculars borrowed from the Birders. Then she said something like, “I could do that all day!” and asked if we could also get some fine binoculars, since all we had now were opera glasses, which just wouldn’t do.

Come Hanukkah Z received the  8×40 Action VII Binoculars,which Amazon told me was the “standard entry” for Birders. We also got her the Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide.  Then we made a trip to the local depot store and bought a bird feeder, some seed, some suet, and a wire cage feeder to hold the seut, and set them both up on a tree in our yard that was easily viewed from our family room and sun room.

Then Zephyr got an account at and started participating as a Citizen Scientist, keeping track of “our” backyard birds.

Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology works in conjunction with ebird and also hosts multiple citizen scientist projects that are at various levels of education and require various amounts of time and effort, i.e. projects that are great for beginning birders through programs for experts.  Zephyr started with YardMap, a cool tool that uses google maps and interacts with ebird. There is also Project Feeder WatchNest Watch, Online Classes, Bird SleuthBird Cams, the world’s largest collection of recorded animal sounds, newsletters and even more. And, almost all of it, except for the online classes, are FREE.

Except for an investment in binoculars, a bird guide, and a bird feeder, bird watching is mostly free. And, as I am delving further into it, it looks like it could be all the science you need to study for years and years. If you were so inclined you could use bird watching to get into many of the sciences (physics, biology, ecology, chemistry ) math/statistics, history, geography, art, poetry, and even Shakespeare. No really. )

You probably have FREE local nature sites, bird sanctuaries, wetlands, woods, etc. I am sure there are also FREE to join local birding clubs. But all you really need is a window to your own backyard or a walk through your neighborhood.

There are so many benefits to bird watching, not just getting you out of doors, it is also relaxing, good for your brain, and good for the environment. Start with binoculars, and a bird feeder. You can even do a woodworking project to make your own bird feeder if you want. I recommend going on a guided bird watch soon too, the guides really add to the experience, teaching about bird calls, where to look for birds, how to keep your distance and how to be a good bird steward. It is also exciting to  bird watch in a group with other people that share your passion or whose passion will rub off on those who are still birding skeptics. But, what is not to like about bird watching? Birds are  cool, amazing, beautiful, and descendents of dinosaurs.

Categories: Art, Birding, child-led learning, geography, homeschooling, learner-led education, Poetry, Science, Tech, unschooling | 1 Comment

Maker, Citizen Scientist, and DIY

Last week a friend on Facebook posted this NPR article about Hacker Scouting. Hacker Scouts build forts and campfires but they also learn to solder, build prototypes, and film stop-motion animation movies. They also take a photo or film of themselves doing it, share it to the internet, and earn a badges. is a hacker scouting organization for kids 8 -14. They have hundreds of online tutorials for their young hacker scouts to get hands-on with biology, cartography, industrial design, special effects and many more skills, with new ones being uploaded everyday.

Today Z searched through the site, ooohing and ahhhing over the many exciting tutorials. She ended up choosing to work toward her Salvager badge. I think she was imagining that there was a secret (clean) junkyard that I could drive her to, and where she would find awesome (clean) metal and wood bits that she would paint and re-purpose, perhaps as our new dining set.

Instead she ended up randomly finding some plastic plants on the sidewalk,


and plans to use them in some sort of art project or maybe to decorate her Dollhouse, which is also a salvaged project that we made from an old bookcase. Once she uploads at least 3 Salvager projects she will earn a badge in that skill. I wonder what she will sew the badge onto…

I love using projects that combine online activities with activities you can do IRL. Z has recently started bird watching. We got her her first binoculars, a birding book, and two bird feeders. Today she worked on a cool Citizen Science project today through Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. They have several projects to do, but we started with Yard Map. Yard Map uses google maps and some other mapping and drawing software to gather information about the birds right in your backyard (or at your office or school, etc), as well as teach you things you can do to make your area more sustainable and bird friendly. While Z was mapping our yard she also learned the number and names of the trees in our yard. She also recorded birds she saw in our yard this morning at, another citizen science tool for bird watchers.

Then working from a tutorial we found online she made this awesome stenciled shirt (with a little help from me doing the ironing.)

photo photo

Doesn’t it look pretty professional? This was our first time trying it.

Z wrote another poem today too:

I see no stars

I see no stars
The only light comes from the glowing orbs encased in hanging lanterns
Tonight, there is no Mars
But sweet music floats through the satiny darkness to me
Celestial scars
Are all but vanished in the rich enthralling night
There are no cars
Honking and whirring, no penetration of this thick absence
The night’s guitars
Still strum a hypnotic lullaby, even though
I see no stars

Today she also read, played the piano, went for a walk, and built with her LEGOs.

Categories: Art, Birding, child-led learning, homeschooling, learner-led education, Poetry, Science, Tech, Uncategorized, unschooling | Leave a comment