- The Bird Educator’s Handbook helps birding enthusiasts, teachers, environmental educators and general readers get new ideas for teaching and spreading the word about birds and ecology.
- The book is intended to teach children in a variety of areas – whether rural or urban – and encourages inclusiveness with specific guidelines for teaching children with special needs.
- Along with learning about nature, the book also focuses on human behavior in nature and emphasizes respecting certain etiquettes.
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then we have to allow them to love the earth before asking them to save it.” This quote from American educator and scholar David Sobel sets the perfect tone for the recently published book, Handbook for bird educators by Garima Bhatia, Abhisheka Krishnagopal and Suhel Quader. Aimed at birdwatchers, teachers or animators with a passion for birds and nature, this manual helps readers find new ideas for teaching and spreading the word about birds and ecology.
The book contains a compilation of tips, tricks, activities, games, quizzes, projects etc. which can be used to educate children, mainly in the age group of 4-10 years old, in an entertaining way. It is divided into four chapters – bird introductions, activities to introduce children to birds, assessment and feedback techniques, and safety and behavior guidelines for working with children or special audiences.
This simple 142-page book is packed with hard-hitting information with beautiful illustrations by Samitra Deshmukh and is designed by Aditi Elassery. It is published by Early Bird, a birding collective, which is an initiative of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), an NGO based in Mysore.
The book draws heavily on expert field research, scientific information, and practical aspects of teaching children outdoors. The co-author of the book, Garima Bhatia, in an online interview with Mongabay-India, explains that it is because this book is the result of a series of workshops, titled “How to be an observation buddy of ‘birds’, which Early Bird has been conducting since 2017. These workshops aimed to equip birdwatchers and educators with the knowledge, skills and materials needed to effectively engage children about birds and nature, both indoors than outside the classroom. “We ultimately decided to compile the games, creative activities, tips and tricks into a manual that could potentially reach a lot more educators,” says Bhatia. The book took over a year to compile.
The early chapters of the book focus on why children should learn from nature, noting: “There is a growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
Bhatia adds to this, saying the activity of bird watching helps develop observation skills and patience in children and mental health benefits for the elderly. Focusing on bird watching as the first step towards learning about nature is a natural fit as one can watch birds even from their window in the heart of the city.
Read more: From wetlands to trash cans: Mumbai’s diverse habitats are home to hundreds of bird species
The book also contains practical suggestions for bird educators. It states that it is not necessary to know the botanical or scientific names of the birds, but rather to focus on the behavior of the birds, the natural history, its connection with the local culture, the tradition.
In a chapter on conservation, the book states that talking about environmental degradation and habitat loss for children could be counterproductive because we first need to show the natural wealth we have. It should be more about the joys of being outdoors and relying on compassion towards nature.
Activities in the book include bird walks, presentations, games and quizzes, crafts like origami as well as an illustrated tutorial on how to draw birds.
Bhatia says the book is written with the diversity of children in mind, whether they live in rural or urban areas. “Creative activities where children work with leaves, twigs, seeds, etc. have been a great success in rural schools in the past. On the other hand, the indoor games and activities listed in the manual may be easier to do in an urban school with limited outdoor space. She also informed that in the coming times they are planning to publish the book in regional languages such as Kannada, Hindi and Marathi.
Another highlight of the book is its illustrations which are well placed with soft colors and help move the narrative forward. The book itself stays away from the typical bird cards, but contains vibrant illustrations of birds commonly found in India. Habitat-based bird maps can, however, be downloaded from the Early Bird website.
Tallulah D’Silva, an architect and environmental educator who has also helped create bird sheets for the Nature Conservation Foundation and who regularly organizes nature and bird-watching trails for children, says: “This book comes at a time when we have understood and realized that it is not enough to teach from books. It is important to engage in practical activities and exercises and this book is full of activities which are vital because the best way to learn is from observation and activity. She elaborates on this point, adding that the book gives simple, observation-based methods for exposing children to the bird’s environment. Also how to relate the birds to the type of food they eat; the habitat in which it lives; and the ecosystem to which it belongs or from which it is endemic.
In addition to learning about nature, the book also focuses on human behavior in nature and emphasizes following certain rules, including maintaining a safe distance from birds, keeping away from nests and, more importantly, respect for the place and the local people, where the birds roam. carried out. Details on conducting bird walks, child safety, conducting nature education activities with special children are also included in the book where he encourages educators to be more inclusive using different senses ; for example, touching the bark of trees, smelling flowers, and listening to the sounds of birds and other animals, rather than using only one sense (sight).
Shraddha Rangnekar, who runs birdwatching trails for children and is also one of the contributors to the book, says, “The book is a guided resource available from various contributors/experts/resource people in one book. It makes learning fun, interactive and portable. More importantly, it deciphers the right kind of conservation-related information and emphasizes awareness. It will surely help to generate scientific temperament and curiosity in students. »
The book is not just for nature educators, but for anyone interested in the natural world and whose starting point is birdwatching. As Bhatia says, “We believe birdwatching can help a child develop an interest in many other aspects of nature and lead to a lifelong love and appreciation of the natural world, something which is sorely needed to heal us in this era of overwhelming loss of natural habitats and unique species and ecosystems.
Banner image: Birdwatchers scan a beach for shorebirds in metropolitan Mumbai. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.