Montessori Inspired Toddler Discovery: Birds
Updated: Oct 3, 2021
Poppy has been all about b-words the past couple of months: baa (when she sees a sheep), ball, bye, ba-buh (bible), baaf (bath), and burr (bird). And has consequently taken a super keen interest in birds.
I honestly wonder sometimes if I’m just projecting my whimsies onto her. After all, we do spend our entire days together and in the bustle of doing things for her all day, it is so easy to forget that Poppy is her own independent being with her own agency. For the record, she loves pointing at birds when she spots them in her books and while we are out on walks — if this is not how a 12-month old shows a super keen interest in birds then I don’t know what is.
She first noticed a bird sitting on the back wall of our patio during breakfast back in July. “Bird,” I said as she watched intently. She was initially terrified, but every morning the birds would visit and soon she became fascinated by them.
Video: Poppy overcoming her fear and blowing kisses to the macaws after getting the fright of her life when they screamed at her. (My fault, really, for pushing her stroller right up to them because I had no idea they shrieked so loudly.)
Birds are tricky for babies because they are really hard to get close to, they scutter about so quickly, and once they’re off, they soon disappear into tiny dots in the sky. Add to that the fact that a bird sitting on a branch and a bird in flight look vastly different to the uninitiated. We spent hours observing birds hop along our window sill and fly away before Poppy was able to understand they were one and the same. Fortunately for us, my aunt who lives just a short walk away, has a garden full of chooks. And a family in our neighbourhood has a pair of large, beautiful macaws that we like to go admire while on our evening stroll.
Still, our encounters with birds are typically fleeting, so I decided to put together some bird themed material for Poppy to explore with her own eyes, hands, and ears at home. The hope is that she will be able to use these concrete experiences of real birds and connect them to more abstract ideas of birds later on.
I’d been looking for some art to put up in her room for sometime now — I tried to get her to paint something but she was not having any of it (another story for another time) — so when I came across this poster featuring common birds of Singapore, I thought it was perfect.
It can be quite challenging to find beautiful things that tick so many boxes: appropriate for kids, realistic, educational, local. This poster by Dorothea Chow does a pretty good job of it. The poster deserves to be framed but having art within Poppy’s line of sight was my priority, so I went with the child safe option sans frame and just stuck it onto her wall with some washi tape.
She currently only cares for the Rock Dove as that is the type of bird that visits us in the mornings at breakfast.
I knew this would be a little ‘too advanced’ for Poppy but still felt inclined to get it anyway because the struggle to secure resources featuring local *anything* is real. Also, I’ve never really been a bird nerd myself (until now), and needed some help identifying all the birds we’ve been seeing. Thanks to Poppy constantly pointing at birds, I now realise that we do actually come across a number of birds in our daily life.
Hopefully this guide will age like wine and come in more handy as the years go on.
I initially didn’t think it would be worthwhile introducing the life cycle of a bird to Poppy at such a young age but because we eat hard boiled eggs at breakfast every morning and make an effort to peel them in front of her — for amusement but also to help her get a more complete view of the food she eats — I thought it would be interesting for her to learn that the eggs at our breakfast table are also related to birds. Besides, it’s never too early to introduce one of life’s greatest dilemmas to a baby, “which came first: the chicken or the egg?” AMIRITE?
While Poppy is too young to grasp the life cycle of a chicken right now, this layer puzzle is an excellent ‘first puzzle.’ It requires just the right amount of fine motor precision to captivate a her without frustrating her.
I usually narrate the life cycle of a chicken as we’re working on the puzzle. Nothing scientific, just straightforward accounts of how the hen lays eggs, and the baby grows inside, becomes a chick, and later on an adult chicken. I do wonder if she finds it confusing why some eggs hatch into baby birds and some eggs become breakfast, or if she even registers that they’re both eggs. (Better known as ’ahhg!’ to Poppy.)
This book is a stunning way to introduce a variety of birds and colours to babies — and let’s be honest, even adults. Poppy and I particularly like the cardinal and the roseate spoonbill.
Whether the bird shown is male or female, or if the male and female have similar colouring, is also indicated. The names of the plants the birds perch upon are identified in a note on the back cover. These details were lost on Poppy but greatly appreciated by myself.
Poppy’s favourite part of the book is the final spread which depicts children (one white, one black, one Asian) assembling a puzzle that includes the same birds. She always smiles and giggles when we get to that page. I like to think it makes her happy to see other young children enjoying birds.
She's also recently started matching her coloured pegs with the pages in the book on her own accord, which really surprised me. She just scrambled off my lap to get her pegs while we were reading the book together one day and started hitting the yellow peg against the yellow page.
This delightful picture book follows the life of a pair of robins through the seasons. There is just a single word on each spread — the ideal number of words for Poppy who loves flipping through books at lightning speed and jumping from page to page — which gives me the opportunity to fill in the rest of the story as I like and focus on different details each time we read it.
Although beautiful, the illustration style is stripped down and flat. Thankfully some small details are preserved, like the intricately woven twigs of the nest and sparks of light in the birds’ eyes.
My favourite page is the one with the arrival of the baby bird. And I think this book is a nice complement alongside the chicken life cycle puzzle.
“A gentle, sweetly illustrated concept book takes on physical forces as young children learn about pushing and pulling.” — Natventure Books
The idea of forces is too abstract for Poppy at the moment. Bless her. But I like that the text is minimal and the language used is simple. Perhaps in a year or so she’ll better appreciate the concepts introduced but in the meantime it's one way to watch a bird build her nest.
My sister helped me gather a couple of different feathers — one from her pet parrot, Luvee, and the other she picked up from a recent visit to the bird park.
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. Or so I thought.
Poppy is super cautious when it comes to new people, new situations, new places, and new things… like feathers. She refused to have anything to do with the feathers the first few times I introduced them to her. Finally, on the fifth day, she warmed up to them after I tickled myself with them. She fiddled with the feathers for a good few minutes before a light breeze came in through the window that made the feathers flutter slightly on the floor. This FREAKED HER OUT (see photo on the right.)
Introducing animals to Poppy in a real way has been a little challenging. We went to the zoo and had a ball one time when she was 11-months old, but couldn’t justify the effort and cost required of that short outing and reckon it would be more rewarding for everyone if we try again in a couple of months.
In the meantime, all we’ve had to work with are some books about animals. Even then, books containing realistic photographs of animals are a move toward abstraction because they are a two-dimensional depiction of a three-dimensional object. I try to show figurines alongside the books we read to give Poppy a better sensory experience, but because she has never had the chance to see these animals in real life, she has no concept of how tall a giraffe really is, or the size difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee.
So although I'd love for us to spend more time exploring the many different kinds of animals instead of going on a deep dive into just one specific animal, birds are just what we see in our environment and daily life here in Singapore.
Some of the ways we use our figurines:
Nature walks — sometimes we take our birds (one at a time, so Poppy can keep an eye on it) out along for walks with us and it helps Poppy to visualise how the real bird looks like in its environment. Such a treat if we happen to have the macaw or cockatoo with us and spot one while we are out!
Matching — this is one of earliest math concepts to develop in children and it can be so fun for toddlers and babies, or so I’ve been told. Poppy couldn’t care less at the moment.
Learn names and sounds — I’ll use it to point out parts of the bird, talk about how some birds have long legs, compare the different beaks and bills, etc.
One more thing I need to say about the figurines is that they may not be safe for babies, as some of their parts are sharp (e.g.: beaks, wing tips), so I keep ours in a cupboard and only take them out when she’s being supervised.
These last few weeks exploring the world of birds with Poppy have been a lot of fun, studying them from her perspective and learning bird facts I didn't know myself. Although we have found these toys/books to be useful in our playing and learning, please do not feel obligated to buy anything because all a kid needs at this age really is unconditional love, nutritious food, time in nature, care and a sense of security. I do feel a little bit guilty about all these purchases but look forward to sharing these resources with other young bird nerds once the poppet is through with them.