Tristate area families can make winter recycling of cut trees, fallen branches, and decorative greenery into a fun-filled learning opportunity to build learning’s naturalist intelligence. Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education defines a naturalist intelligence in his theory of multiple intelligences as an appreciation for the natural world as well as an ability to classify and distinguish natural elements, such as flora and fauna, within the environment. For young learners, backyards are valuable learning laboratories.
Supporting the naturalist intelligence
A child’s intelligence is an extraordinary gift, but its full empowerment depends upon nurture and growth. Intelligence and its supportive structures can be enhanced and honed.
A key element of the naturalist intelligence is empathy. An individual with strength in the naturalist intelligence enjoys observing, understanding and organizing patterns in the natural environment, including plants and animals. It’s a valuable gift and skill.
A learner with naturalist intelligence has a unique awareness of home, the world, and nature’s connected environments. Support young, growing insights with backyard interactions that allow for wonder and observation.
Meaningful learning activities
Smart recycling of landscape waste, holiday trees, decorative holly boughs, pine swags, and fallen branches to benefit backyard birds is a great way to begin. Recycling and wild bird feeding naturally integrate the familiar, backyard environment with support of its wildlife. It brings immediacy to deeper insights inherent in a youngster’s naturalist intelligence.
Winter can be tough on wild birds, so disposing of holiday greenery with birds in mind offers wildlife both protection and food. Eco-smart, recycling strategies are opportunities well-suited to enhancing a child’s naturalist intelligence. Learning about wild birds combined with hands-on activities to attract backyard birds provides powerful strategies for children and adults to work together to educate themselves about wildlife and nature.
To build learning’s fun and meaning, make recycling the old tree, holiday greenery, or landscape waste a family activity. Work as a team to decide how to attract and protect backyard birds. Interact together to deploy the plan. Then, take an active role in enjoying the naturalist’s challenge of identifying the backyard birds.
Three ways to recycle for the birds
1. Make a brush pile
Add to or create a brush pile for the birds. They can flit into its branches for protection, perching during the day, and roosting at night. Drape pine and holly boughs on a recycled Christmas tree’s branches or place them beneath the tree to add protection for ground feeding birds. A brush pile of fallen branches at the edge of your property can be a convenient lifesaver for birds in the winter.
2. Create an instant perch near an existent feeder
If you don’t have a brush pile, simply place your tree against a fence, propped up against shrubbery or a lawn tree. If you place the tree near your bird feeder, feeding birds can sit on its branches for protection as they crack open sunflower seeds or shelter while waiting their turn to approach your feeder. Again, use old holly boughs to provide protective perches, both high and low, in the feeding area.
3. Construct a woodpecker stump
Cut some or all of the branches from your Christmas tree. With the trunk exposed, drill in holes that you can fill with suet or peanut butter for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other backyard birds. Dig a hole and “plant” your stump or tie it to an existent tree or fence post. Place old, holiday greenery on the ground or snow and toss out sunflower seeds or corn for the ground feeding birds.
Enhance learning with bird identification books
Individuals with naturalist intelligence exhibit extraordinary strength in observation and pattern insights. If your learner is ready for an adult level field guide to use in identifying backyard birds the following are excellent field guide choices:
1. The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America has full-color illustrations and a quick-find index. It’s available from the National Geographic Store, online.
2. The Peterson Field Guides are the classic birder’s references, and they cover nature from trees and flowers through birds and insects. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America combines both the Eastern and Western editions of the Roger Tory Peterson books into one volume.
3. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a one volume edition and is the choice of birders, who prefer an excellent photographic field guide.
Bird identification field guides for young learners
For younger learners, the Petersen’s Field Guides for Young Naturalists series has a Backyard Birds edition with a straightforward design suitable to beginning birders. Additionally, the National Audobon Society publishes A First Field Guide for Birds that is a photographic field guide designed for adolescents.
Recycle your neighbor’s tree, too!
If you want to supply both cover and a stump feeder, consider collecting neighborhood Christmas trees for use in your yard. Collect together several trees to make a fresh brush pile or fallen tree windbreak that serves as shelter not only for backyard birds like chickadees, sparrows, mourning doves, and nuthatches, but also as protection for rabbits, turkeys, and pheasants.
Further tips from the US Fish & Wildlife Service
More tips are available from the US Department of the Interior ’s US Fish & Wildlife Service. Available for online PDF download is their flyer, Christmas Tree for Wildlife: Backyard Habitat for Wildlife, that has Christmas tree usage and general recycling tips designed to benefit wildlife.
Add literature to the mix
Strive to build the empathy that girds the positive growth of naturalist intelligence. Within the interactions of smart observation and empathy, introduce your learner to both scientific and literary materials.
Young learners will enjoy Malcolm Penny’s Birds: Over 100 Questions and Answers to Things You Want to Know. The naturalist intelligence dances upon oddities such as collective names: an exhalation of larks, a pride of lions, a charm of finches. Very young learners will delight in the classification element of Philippa-Alys Browne’s A Gaggle of Geese.
Bring poetry’s power to a learner’s naturalist intelligence
Build pleasure in the naturalist intelligence through strategies that go hand-in-hand with supporting linguistic intelligence. Lively, informative books such as Marjorie Maddox’s A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry or Ogden Nash’s collection of animal and bird poems, The Zoo, bring factual information, linguistic play, and humorous rhyme into the mix.
For learners ready for nature poems with inner luminosity, reach for the work of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Mary Oliver. Her collection, House of Light, has poems on finches, crows, terns, foxes, herons, swans, kingfishers, kookaburras, and loons. Mary Oliver’s celebration of the natural world is genuine, encompassing depth and illuminating life’s cycles, for “how could anyone believe/that anything in this world/is only what it appears to be – that anything is ever final” from “What Is It” in House of Light.
Add creative writing
Observation skills within a growing naturalist intelligence build powerful words and images. Encourage your learner to exercise that capacity. Work together to build lists of strong, vibrant words that describe what they see and feel. Build the words out into descriptive phrases. Then, dive into what’s been created by using the words and phrases as “writing prompts” for personal journaling, poetry writing, short stories, and free writes. Your young naturalist will come easily to the powerful gifts of seeing, feeling, and expressing well and deeply.
The Northeast’s cold blasts of winter wind and ice bring meaningful opportunities to empower a young learner’s insightful naturalist intelligence. Wisely recycling a Christmas tree and decorative holiday greenery brings pleasure as a learner with naturalist intelligence helps backyard birds survive while observing changes, interactions, and patterns in nature’s environment.
The Northeast winter brings wonderful and enjoyable opportunities for a young naturalist. Nurture powerful learning activities that facilitate the naturalist intelligence. Help your learner observe and identify wild birds through behaviors and field marks as the entire family enjoys the winter’s hungry, backyard birds at their natural, recycled feeding stations.
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