“When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.” ~ E.O. Wilson
Robins are a common sight in my neighbourhood. I confess that they have never captured my attention the way that the more brightly coloured Cardinals, Blue jays and Goldfinches do. But I recently discovered that there is a Robin’s nest in the tree in my backyard. It quietly appeared as if by magic. This may seem like such a small thing, but suddenly I feel uplifted, especially given the recent stretch of rainy weather and all the indoor time that has come with that. My perspective about Robins is starting to change. In the next few weeks, a small miracle is going to take place – eggs being laid, baby birds hatching and getting cared for, eventually learning to fly on their own – and I will be able to watch as it all unfolds. As I reflect on this, I can’t help but smile. I feel like one of the children in my class…excited, bursting with curiosity, asking questions about my Robins and their nest as though I’m learning about birds for the first time. I suppose in some ways, I am. Earlier in the school year I brought a book about birds’ songs to the classroom for a child who is a bird enthusiast. We played the CD and many of the children sat in the quiet corner, listening to each song, looking at the pictures and discussing what they know about birds. This image will stay in my mind as I monitor the nest in the coming days and weeks, and I will feel like I am part of that conversation, as I look at things with new eyes, as they do.
“I am that little robin that sits upon a tree, I sing to you each morning, but you don’t know it’s me. I am that little robin in your garden every day. I will never leave you. I will never fly away!” ~ Unknown
Of course, as an educator, I immediately recognized this as an opportunity for an inquiry. I have already told the children in my virtual classroom about this nest. And I have started to investigate the resources and teaching materials I want to use to invite the children to join in my observations and to share my excitement with them! I’m happy to say that this is evolving into such a rich learning opportunity and I find myself wondering about a lot of things. I think we will begin by talking about the nest, and generate the questions we might ask like: where do robins build their nests? How long does it take to build a nest? What materials do they use? How big is the nest? Do all bird nests look alike? Do birds use their nests many times or just once? Next, we could talk about nesting behaviours and what happens between the time the eggs are laid and when the fledglings leave the nest – the Robin’s life cycle. We can count how many eggs there are, and keep track of how many days it takes from them to hatch, and how long it takes for the chicks to become independent to bring numeracy into our inquiry. We can discover so much as we research fascinating Robin facts! Who knows? Maybe my students will decide to become dedicated birdwatchers, or grow up one day to be ornithologists who study birds near and far.
But in the meantime, we can find ways to extend our inquiry into various areas of the curriculum. We can read non-fiction books like A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscilla Belz Jenkins to learn about Robins, like scientists! We can also read stories, like Denise Fleming’s picture book This is the Nest that Robin Built. Although it is fiction, we can still discuss how it gives us real information, and enjoy the repeating story line and the bright illustrations. We can learn to sing songs like Robin in the Rain. We can watch how birds dance and then try to invent our own movements. We can tune in to the sounds around us next time we go out for a walk, and learn to identify birds by their songs. If we cannot get outside, we can take a mindful moment and relax as we focus our attention on bird songs. We can create beautiful drawings and paintings. We can join organizations that build our knowledge about ornithology or that help us to advocate for the conservation and protection of birds. I have long been curious about birds, and thought that one day I might take up birdwatching. Teaching, and trying to inspire children’s interest in this topic, is a strong motivator for following through on these thoughts. But I have no doubt that discovering the Robin’s nest in my yard has shown me how a simple nest could make a lifelong love of birds take flight.
“That first snowdrop, the flowering of the rose you pruned, a lettuce you grew from seed, the robin singing just for you. These are small things, but all positive, all healing in a way that medicine tries to mimic.” ~ Monty Don
This blog post is dedicated to all children who love birds, because they have taught me to hear the robins singing in my heart.