For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-bird-guide
We’re going to be starting a new natural history feature today that we hope will run through the year: Friday Bird Families.
We think bird study is one of the best subjects you can take up in a homeschool environment. It’s suitable for all ages, it can be made as elementary or as advanced as you wish, and birds can be found just about anywhere at any season of the year.
Like our Sunday States & Countries posts, Friday Bird Families will be an opportunity for homeschool teachers to do a light and easy ten-minute lesson each week that can introduce their students to some new facts, vocabulary, and ideas, while at the same time providing a springboard for more in-depth study by anyone who wishes to learn more.
The plan is to go though our recommended homeschool bird guide and highlight one or two groups of American birds each week — names for your students to know and wildlife for them to watch for — and to mix these brief highlights with a few concepts and skills from biology, natural history, and general science that your students can learn and practice.
We’ve got a new printable (pdf) calendar available now with the Friday Bird Families schedule! Download it, print it, and add it to your family bulletin board today — you’ll find it on our main calendar page:
Next week we’ll “dive” in with the Ducks, Geese, and Swans, but for this first Friday Bird Families post of the year we’ll begin by introducing you and your students to the bird guide we recommend and will be using: the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (7th Edition).
This recommended field guide isn’t a children’s book per se — it’s a standard reference book for the whole family. The front and back cover flaps are visual guides to all 87 families we’ll be looking at over the course of the year — from the Ducks, Geese, and Swans to the Blackbirds and Orioles, and everything in between — with a representative species or two shown for each. Browse through those pictures with your students and show them how to find the relevant pages for each family.
The guide’s helpful front matter includes important general explanations and diagrams — for example, of the parts of a bird. Don’t try to memorize that information — just know where it is so you and your students will be able to refer to it whenever a question arises. (“This description says the bird’s ‘lores’ are yellow. Where in the world are the ‘lores’?”)
The main body of the guide contains the species descriptions and illustrations, with text on the left and matching illustrations on the right. These pages are dense with information. Pay particular attention to the range maps shown for each species and to the map-key on the book’s back flap that shows how to interpret the maps.
Although we certainly hope your students will learn many interesting things about birds over the course of the year from our Friday Bird Families posts, an equally important objective of this miniature course of study is to get your students to become comfortable with complex, structured information and the tools people use — like this bird guide — to organize and explore that information. Our bird guide for these little lessons can stand as an example of the kind of detailed technical reference your students will encounter all through high school, in higher education, and in professional life. When I taught college-level biology I often encountered students who struggled because they didn’t know how to use the basic reference tools right in their hands — glossaries, indexes, explanatory charts, summary endpapers, tables of definitions, and the like. Together we can make sure that your students are fluent in the use of all these tools. 👩🏻🎓
So here’s to a new project for our new River Houses year! What ornithological discoveries will you be making in your homeschool this term? 😊
❡ Words for birds: You may not think of your homeschool dictionary (riverhouses.org/books) as a nature reference, but a comprehensive dictionary will define and explain many of the standard scientific terms you will encounter in biology and natural history, although it will not generally contain the proper names of species or other taxonomic groups that aren’t part of ordinary English. (In other words, you’ll find “flamingo” but not Phoenicopterus, the flamingo genus.) One of the most important things students should be taught to look for in the dictionary is the information on word origins: knowing the roots of scientific terms makes it much easier to understand them and remember their meaning. 📖
❡ Come, here’s the map: Natural history and geography are deeply interconnected. One of the first questions you should teach your students to ask about any kind of animal or plant is, “What is its range? Where (in the world) does it occur?” Our recommended homeschool reference library (riverhouses.org/books) includes an excellent world atlas that will help your students appreciate many aspects of biogeography, the science of the geographical distribution of living things. 🌎
❡ Rivers in the sky: How many birds are migrating this week? You can find out from the BirdCast website, sponsored by Cornell University, which offers daily bird migration forecasts in the spring and fall for the entire United States. 🦅
❡ Nature notes: This is one of our regular Friday Bird Families posts for homeschool naturalists. Print your own copy of our River Houses Calendar of American Birds and follow along with us! You can also add your name to our free weekly mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) to get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🐦 🦉 🦆 🦃 🦅