- The Handbook for Bird Educators helps birding enthusiasts, teachers, environment educators and general readers gain fresh ideas to teach and spread the word about birds and ecology.
- The book is meant to teach children in diverse areas – whether rural or urban – and encourages inclusivity with specific guidelines for teaching special needs children.
- Along with learning about nature, the book also focuses on human behaviour when in nature and emphasises following certain etiquette.
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then we must allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.” This quote by American educator and academic David Sobel sets the perfect tone for the newly released book, Handbook for Bird Educators by Garima Bhatia, Abhisheka Krishnagopal, and Suhel Quader. Meant for birders, teachers, or facilitators who are passionate about birds and nature, this handbook helps readers gain fresh ideas to teach and spread the word about the birds and ecology.
The book has a compilation of tips, tricks, activities, games, quizzes, projects, and more, that can be used to educate children, primarily in the age group of 4-10 years, in an entertaining way. It is divided into four chapters — bird introductions, activities to introduce children to birds, evaluation and feedback techniques and safety and behavioural guidelines for working with children or special audiences.
This simple-looking 142-page book is packed with impactful information with beautiful illustrations by Saumitra Deshmukh and is designed by Aditi Elassery. It is published by Early Bird, a birding collective, which is an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), a Mysore-based NGO.
The book relies heavily on field research by experts, scientific information, and practicalities of teaching children in the outdoors. Co-author of the book, Garima Bhatia, in an online interview with Mongabay-India, elaborates that this is because this book is the outcome of a series of workshops, titled ‘How to be a Birding Buddy’, that Early Bird has been conducting since 2017. These workshops were aimed at equipping amateur birders and educators with the knowledge, skills, and materials needed to effectively engage children on birds and nature, both inside and outside the classroom. “We finally decided to compile the games, creative activities, tips, and tricks, into a handbook that could potentially reach many more educators,” says Bhatia. The book took over a year to compile.
The starting chapters of the book focus on why children must 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 that birding activity helps in nurturing skills of observation and patience in children and mental health benefits for older people. Focusing on birding activity as a first step towards learning about nature is a natural choice as one can do birding even from one’s window right in the heart of the city.
Read more: Wetlands to wastebins: Mumbai’s diverse habitats house hundreds of bird species
The book also has some practical suggestions for bird educators. It states that it is not necessary to know the botanical or scientific names of birds but instead focus on bird behaviour, natural history, its connection to local culture, tradition.
In a chapter on conservation, the book states that speaking about environmental degradation and habitat loss to children could be counterproductive as it is necessary to show the natural wealth we have, first. It should be more about the joys of being outdoors and building on compassion towards nature.
The activities in the book include birdwalks, presentations, games, and quizzes, craft-making like origami as well as an illustrated tutorial on how to draw birds.
Bhatia mentions that the book is written keeping in mind diverse children, whether they live in rural or urban areas. “Creative activities where children work with leaves, twigs, seeds, etc. have been a big hit with rural schools in the past. On the other hand, indoor games and activities listed in the handbook may be easier to carry out in an urban school with limited outdoor space.” She also informed that in coming times they are planning to release the book in regional languages like Kannada, Hindi, and Marathi.
Another highlight of the book is its illustrations that are well-placed with muted colours and help in taking the narrative further. The book itself stays away from typical bird charts but has some vibrant illustrations of birds that are commonly found in India. The bird charts based on habitats can, however, be downloaded from Early Bird’s website.
Tallulah D’Silva, an architect and an environmental educator who was also involved in creating flashcards of birds for Nature Conservation Foundation and who regularly conducts nature and birding trails for children, says, “This book comes at a time when we have understood and realised that simply teaching from books is not enough. It is important to engage with activities and practical exercises and this book is packed with activities which are vital as the best way to learn is from observations and activities.” She furthers this point by adding how the book gives simple methods based on observations to expose children to the bird’s environment. Also how to connect birds to the type of food they eat; the habitat it lives in; and the ecosystem it belongs to or is endemic of.
Along with learning about nature, the book equally focuses on human behaviour when in nature and emphasises following certain etiquette including maintaining a safe distance from birds, staying away from nests, and most importantly, respecting the place and local people, where bird walks are being conducted. Details on conducting bird walks, safety of children, conducting nature education activities with special children are also included in the book where it encourages educators to be more inclusive by making use of different senses; for example, touching tree bark, smelling flowers and listening for the sounds of birds and other animals, rather than just using one sense (eyesight).
Shraddha Rangnekar, who conducts birding trails for children and is also one of the contributors of the book says, “The book is a guided resource available from various contributors/experts/resource persons in one book. It makes learning fun, interactive and it is easy to carry. Most importantly, it deciphers the right kind of information related to conservation and emphasises awareness-creation. It will surely help in generating scientific temperament and curiosity among students.”
The book is not just for nature educators but for anyone who is inquisitive about the natural world and where the starting point is birdwatching. As Bhatia states, “We believe that bird watching can help get a child interested in many other aspects of nature and lead to a lifelong love and appreciation of the natural world, something that is sorely needed to heal us in this age of overwhelming loss of natural habitats and unique species and ecosystems.”
Banner image: Birdwatchers scan a beach for shorebirds in the Mumbai metropolitan region. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.