"I don't want to make a bird out of a pine cone!" Arriving for the morning's nature study, this rambunctious ten-year-old boy had seen the projects of the six to eight- year-olds strewn about on the table and grass. Those children had chosen a cone, colored and glued on paper wings and bills, and then formed a nest of twigs, grass, moss, dog fur, and - in some cases - mud for it to "nest" in. He did not want to do what the younger kids had done. Of course not.
"Don't worry," I assured him, "we won't be making any birds." He and his age-mates gathered around as I brought out the various birds' nests that I have collected over the years. Passing them around the circle, I explained how each bird carefully constructs a nest for its young using whatever materials are available that suits it. We had looked at pictures of birds likely to be found in our area and talked about where those nests might be built. Some are high up in trees, made of small branches and added on to year after year; some are found in holes which the birds peck into dead trees, hollowing out a space just big enough for the nest and nestlings. Others are built in low shrubs or on the ground in such a way that they are camouflaged from all but the most observant. Indeed - the lives of their young depend on it.
"I don't want to make a bird... or a mud nest, either." He was adamant and the others looked as if they might agree. "You don't have to - that's what the younger kids did. You're all older, so we'll do something different - out in the woods." The eyes rolled and the questions started, but I learned long ago that enthusiasm and mystique only add to a learning experience, so plowed on. "You'll see - you'll be constructing something..."
The overall theme of the week was "Under Construction" with a sub-theme each day. We would be delving into how a community shares, cares, worships, and celebrates. My intent was to tie these into nature studies.
We had looked into how ants share within their anthill and on this day were learning how hard birds work to care for their young - even before any eggs are laid. And we humans? It definitely takes effort, and sometimes sacrifices, to care for each other. We talked about the ways in which we can show that we do care for others.
Each child chose a rock and then we were off to the woods. A short ways in they were given their challenge: to pretend their rock was a bird, explore and choose what they thought was a good spot for a nest, construct the nest using whatever they could find, and make sure that their "bird" fit in the nest. Oh - and one more thing. They were each given a simple pair of tongs to use during some of the construction. Birds don't have hands with fingers and thumbs, you know.
Later, as I related this experience to the mom of that particular boy, she told me of his reaction to this activity. He came out of the woods, sought her out, and exclaimed: "Mom, come see the nest that I made!" While I care deeply about all of the children that I interact with, it's not always easy to get through to them. I have to say - that one statement pretty much made my day!
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Psalms 84: 3
Selling their possessions and goods,
they gave to anyone as he had need.