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Take a Kid Birding - Mentors

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, discovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
-Rachel Carson


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Have you ever wondered who showed Roger Tory Peterson his first bird or led Rachel Carson to explore her first tidal pool? As an Environmental Educator I often ask my program participants who sparked their interest in birding and nature. Most commonly I hear that their mentor is a parent, friend, aunt, uncle, or grandparent typically, your average person who is interested in sharing what they are passionate about.

You do not need to be an expert naturalist or an educator to be a mentor. In fact, the learning process can be shared between any child and adult. It can be as simple as a jaunt through the back yard or a weekend trip to a local park. Either way as a mentor you are opening the door to exploration. The goal is to guide the child through the learning process, which will in turn help to shape their personality, character, and sense of place within the natural world. As a mentor you will ultimately aide in fostering the learner’s connection to and sense of stewardship with the natural world. This notion dates back hundreds of years and is clearly documented in “Birds,” a book published in the 1800s; “The study of bird life is one of especial interest to children and if properly pursued will develop in them sympathetic characters that should make them kinder towards their playmates now and towards their fellow men in the coming years” (C.H. Morrill, Superintendent of Schools, Fort Madison, Iowa, Birds, 1897).

Do you wish to get a child interested in bird watching but need to know where to start? Keep it simple. A pair of binoculars and a field guide are your essential tools. You may wish to set up bird feeders in your yard for easy viewing or take a stroll through your neighborhood. Northern Cardinals, a year-round resident in New Jersey, are easy to spot and are common feeder visitors. Most children can identify a cardinal and other common birds around their homes and school yard, and if not, the field guide will come in handy. Start with a few simple birds and their common names. The point is to have fun so that both of you will wish to venture out birding again (and again). Taxonomic classifications and scientific names can wait and serve as a future research opportunity. If you start out too technical, you may end up driving a youngster back to their comfortable and non threatening Xbox. MISSION FAILED! You should also never feel that you need to have all the answers; but, be responsible when you don’t and follow through-take the child to your local nature center or library, or browse the internet to find an answer and thus reward the child’s inquisitive nature. Provide the tools for success and a deeper understanding, and the potential for knowledge is limitless.

The whole purpose of your outings should revolve around exploration. Even if you are in search of birds, let the child’s natural curiosities take over to notice unusual plants, trees and cool insects. After all, habitat plays a crucial role in understanding our avian friends. You want to spark their sense of awe and curiosity through nature study. Young minds and eyes perceive so much that adults overlook; take advantage of this gift and allow them to guide you along the trail.

It is indeed a time to reintroduce the younger generations to the mysteries and magic of the natural world. Take their hand and open their eyes to a world that awaits you both, just outside your front door. After all, you may be identifying backyard birds with the next great environmentalist of his or her time. And YOU may even learn something in the process.

What are you waiting for? Take A Kid Birding® and change their (and your) lives forever.