Montessori Inspired Toddler Discovery: Birds

Toddler Discovery-Birds--TMMDuring Eli’s first weeks as a one year old, he has had an explosion of language development, something I know he has been working toward since before birth. Having connected and applied the ASL signs for “come” and “all done” with their meanings in the weeks prior to turning one, this last couple of weeks he is now signing “eat,” “more,” “water,” “help,” “read,” “thank you” (which looks more like blowing a kiss), and “rest” (which is what we call naptime and bedtime).  Having signed to him since birth, his (seemingly) sudden application of these ASL signs has reminded me just how absorbent babies are. It has also reminded me how important it is for us to continue to provide Eli with rich language opportunities and exploration, so I have decided to put together a few topically linked materials for Eli to explore both with his eyes, hands, and ears.

Birds! Eli has always noticed and been fascinated with birds.  One of the clearest memories I have of Eli focusing is of him listening to a bird chirp, tracing the chirp to a bush, and then waiting and watching as the bird made its way out of the bush.  As he sat completely still, alone on a sidewalk, he watched this bird for nearly 20 minutes.  He was barely 6 months old. Months later we went to the zoo for the first time, and the bird exhibits were some of his favorites.  And even now, when we are in our yard, he will trace a bird flying above.  I write this to say Eli has had clear, concrete experiences with birds, which is the foundation of Montessori learning: we must begin with the concrete.  The hope is that he will be able to use these concrete experiences of real birds and connect them to more abstract ideas of birds.  Even a realistic picture or photograph of a bird is a move toward abstraction because it is a two-dimensional depiction of a three-dimensional object.

postcard cropSpecies of Birds Postcards. We started our discovery by offering Eli these beautifully illustrated postcards depicting various species of birds.  We let him decide which bird card we examined closer. The cards are of great quality, and I ran them through a laminator to give them additional endurance against toddler hands, especially since half the fun is still bending and sneaking a taste of the cards. Ha! On the back of each postcard, additional information is given about the species of bird, which is and will be a great resource, especially in a couple years.

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Learning through Touch: Feathers and Nest. I wanted this discovery, like all true discoveries, to be hands on.  Babies and toddlers need it.  Heck, most people need and prefer “doing” rather than just watching. I gathered a couple different feathers as well as a nest with eggs, all intended for decorative purposes. Because of their size, these objects were explored with supervision, but they were still greatly explored. As Eli examined the objects we named them and gave basic information. For example, “You are holding a nest. A nest is a bird’s home. Inside this nest are eggs. An egg is the home of a baby bird before it hatches.” We then sat back and observed, speaking only if he engaged in conversation with us, usually in the form of him momentarily handing the object back to either my husband or me.

jars crop“What Do Birds Eat?” Jars. As “eat” is a word Eli now communicates, I thought it would be nice to connect “eat” with birds.  I created four jars Eli could explore depicting what birds eat: fish, nuts, seeds, and insects/worms.. For the insects and fish, I used Safari Ltd. Toob figurines, which were the perfect size for these Ikea bottles.

IMG_0780 editAs Eli picked up each jar, we named what was inside, followed by, “Birds eat (whatever jar he was holding).” We used the ASL signs for “bird” and “eat” throughout this discovery. (That’s Eli’s “serious face”–ha!)

IMG_0725“Birds Close to Home” Foldable. Knowing I was working on this bird discovery, Brian, my husband, saw this foldable at our local grocery store and was thoughtful enough to pick one up. I love that it contains photographs of local birds, and I know this is another material that will come in handy even more as the years go on. For this discovery, we looked and named the birds, and Eli enjoyed folding and unfolding the laminated foldable.

Bird Books. Eli asks to read anytime he spots a book (in fact, he recently brought a book to bed to “cuddle” as he went to sleep–ha!), so I picked out a few bird books, knowing they would be a favorite.

IMG_0719Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale. A colorful, beautifully illustrated book that employs nice rhythm. I love that the birds’ actions are described and that they are found in their natural environments.

IMG_0720Bird Color by Allison Hill Spencer. Realistically illustrated book that groups birds by color. It’s always nice to sneak in color adjectives instead of feeling the need to “teach” colors.

IMG_0721No Two Alike by Keith Baker. A book with the loveliest of messages. Oh, yeah, and there are birds. Ha! I’m not going to lie: the message steals the show in this book, but it is also seasonally appropriate to follow two birds on their snowy adventure. Granted, we live in coastal Texas, so the book’s snow is our only snow.

And that’s our bird discovery! We were able to introduce vocabulary as Eli enjoyed some new tactile experiences. There was the usual toddler silliness (tickling each other’s noses with feathers), typical toddler mischief (seeing how far a few bird cards could fly–pun intended), and beautiful toddler kindness (quite a few birds were kissed). Exactly what would be expected and should be enjoyed when it comes to discovering the world with a toddler.

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    • Lindsay

      Thanks! I hope your little one enjoys it as much as mine! A month later and Eli still works with his bird materials daily!

  1. Jess

    Hi there, I’m new to montessori and eager to learn as much as possible… loving your blog! Can I ask you how long you would leave these exploration baskets out? Would you introduce them all at once for that period so he is just looking at birds then or one at a time alongside other baskets?
    Thank you – Jess

    • Lindsay

      Hi! At this age, they were often left out a few weeks to, even, a few months depending on his continued interest. Like with any material, once Eli no longer chooses to work with it, I rotate it out and bring it back at a later date. I usually keep one themed discovery available for him, and it would be all the materials for that theme that I have pulled together. He has other materials on his shelves available to him, which rotate more frequently. I hope this helps! Sorry for the delay in response! We just had baby #2!

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