Is it difficult to pry your kids away from their electronic devices to get them outdoors? From tots to teens, today's kids love their electronics. After all, where could you find anything to compete with the bright sights and sounds of their favorite video game? The answer may be no farther than your backyard and the brightly colored songbirds visiting during warm weather.
Interacting with nature helps kids in many ways, from helping them understand science concepts and care for the environment, to lifelong physical and mental health benefits. One of the easiest, most enjoyable ways for children to interact with nature is to feed wild birds right in their backyard.
"Feeding birds, planting gardens, anything you do with children that's nature-oriented helps them understand their connection to the natural world," says Elaine Cole, president of Cole's Wild Bird Products. Cole learned her own love of wild birds by feeding them with her father, company founder and birding expert, Richard Cole.
Cole's offers some tips to help engage kids' love of nature through bird feeding:
* Get kids off the couch, ditch their devices and introduce them to their backyard! Tell children what type of location is best for a birdfeeder, then let them hunt for the spot. Choose a location where a feeder can be seen from indoors (so they can enjoy watching their feathered friends), yet is safe from predators. Let math and critical thinking skills come into play by measuring the distance from the door to the feeder and from the feeder to the nearest shrubs where predators could hide and trees where birds can shelter.
* Take the opportunity to teach the importance of good nutrition — for the child and the bird! Explain how good nutrition helps living creatures stay healthy and energized. Help them understand the nutritional value of food they eat by explaining what birds like to eat and how birds need a healthy diet of nutritious food options like Cole's Wild Bird Feed to support their health and well-being.
* Help kids understand wild birds have food preferences just as they do. Talk about how some birds like to eat bugs, grubs and worms, while others prefer berries and some like seed.
* The feeder you choose will influence the kind of birds that visit. Many types of birds will visit a bowl feeder, and its open shape makes it quick and easy for kids to fill with any type of feed and clean. Giving children the task of filling and cleaning feeders can teach them responsibility and basic life skills, plus they'll take ownership of the feeder and nurturing backyard birds.
* You can also use bird feeding to help kids understand concepts of finance, including spending their money wisely. Try an experiment with them; buy a bag of cheap birdseed, fill the feeder and watch what happens. Fewer birds will visit and a mound of waste — the filler in cheap feed — will pile up under the feeder. Then replace the cheap feed with a Cole's seed mix and observe results. Kids will see plenty more birds visiting and less waste under the feeder. The experiment can help teach kids that not everything low priced is a good deal.
Ultimately, feeding wild birds should be fun for families. Here are some types of bird feed that should appeal to children's interests:
* Suet — While today's high-energy suet comes in different, convenient forms, like Cole's Nutberry Suet, and Suet Kibbles, kids will love the idea of serving up a big hunk of fat in the form of a Suet cake. Kids can stick it directly on tree bark and branches, which they'll find fun!
* Seeds — Many songbirds prefer seeds. Serving high-quality seed, like black oil sunflower, can help attract songbirds. Learn more about seed mixes and birds who love them.
* Dried mealworms — The early bird may get the worm, but birds, such as bluebirds, flickers and nuthatches, prefer a tasty treat like dried mealworms. Kids will get a kick out of filling up feeders with something yucky-looking for their feathered friends.
"My dad got me hooked on bird feeding by challenging me to identify as many birds at the feeder as possible," Cole says. "I did the same thing with my kids. My dad recently gave my 10-year-old daughter a birding journal. She loves to identify all the birds she knows and anything interesting about them.
"Kids taking part in attracting birds to their backyard is great fun; they'll love getting out of the house, taking charge of their new feathered friends and they'll learn a lot of good lessons through the process."