Pinecone birdfeeders for outdoor learning in preschool and elementary school
Making pinecone birdfeeders is a great outdoor learning activity in preschool. *Please note- this activity cannot be done with children with nut allergies. You may substitute nut butter with suet, lard or another alternative AND make sure there are not nuts in your birdseeds.* It is an ideal activity to do in winter and early spring. These pinecone birdfeeders will attract birds to your garden and provide them with food to get them through the winter. As part of the activity, children can potentially help find and gather their own pinecones. This is a great opportunity for them to observe where pinecones come from and to begin to learn about plants.
Making pinecone birdfeeders is simple enough for young children to do. I have done this as part of outdoor learning in preschool and it’s a great way to help children think about changes in the seasons. You can discuss how the weather and plants change over the year and why we might be putting out food for the birds. This can open up all sorts of discussions about migration, where birds live, loss of habitat and more, depending on the children’s ages. Putting up birdfeeders is also a great way to attract birds so that they begin to observe and discuss birds and their behaviour.
The last time my son and I made these, the squirrels came and ate most of the seeds. While it wasn’t what we expected to happen, we did have a great time observing the squirrels! It was a great chance to talk about what squirrels and other animals eat and what they do in the winter. My children loved watching the squirrels eating the seeds and doing everything they could to pull the pinecones down.
What you need to make pinecone birdfeeders
- Peanut butter (suet, lard or another alterative if risk of nut allergy)
- Birdseed or sunflower seeds
- Knife and plate or tray
The peanut butter will need to be spread all over the sides of the pinecones. Make sure that you leave some space at the top so that you can tie on string or twine. This way you will be be able to hang it from a tree branch. Spread the birdseed out on a tray. Once the peanut butter has been spread over the pinecone, roll it over the birdseed until it is completely covered. Finally, you can tie the string on the top.
Questions to ask
- Where did you find the pinecones? What did you notice?
- Where have the leaves gone? How have the trees changed?
- What animals have you noticed outside?
What they get from outdoor learning in preschool and elementary school
Taking part in things like birdwatching will help children develop observational skills, attention, and patience. It is also an opportunity for children to develop literacy skills, including reading and writing. Children can use books and charts to identify and learn about birds as well as record their observations. Children may also collect data by making tally charts based on the types of animals or birds they observe. Older children may be able to take it further by making pictographs or bar charts with the data they collect.
Learning outside is a great way for children to experience nature firsthand. According to Dr. Malone (2014), a review of worldwide research shows that outdoor learning leads to a plethora of benefits to children’s learning and wellbeing. Children who have learning experiences outside the classroom achieve better on tests, achieve higher results in knowledge and skills acquisition and show improved confidence and self-esteem. They also have better motor skills and physical fitness, show increased leadership qualities and environmental responsibility. Furthermore, they have improved social competence, attention, self-esteem and mental health. Outdoor learning has also been found to support learning in maths and science and the use of creative and critical thinking skills (Waliczek, T.M., Logan, P. & Zajicek, J.M., 2003).
In the winter, the weather can make it more challenging to get children outside. Making pinecone birdfeeders is a great way to get young children learning outside the classroom in colder weather. It provides an opportunity for children to think about animals– what they need to live and where they live (habitat). They can also observe the world around them and see how the environment changes during the winter months.
Pinecone birdfeeders – Take it further
Children can also make Bird Food Cakes / Suet Cakes. These can be frozen and saved so if you make a batch you can put them out one at a time over the winter months. Get children to record their observations, including make tally charts or other data graphs.
You may want to see some other posts on outdoor learning in preschool and early years. This includes my posts on mud kitchens, music wall, reading tree, shapes with sticks, autumn learning activities, chalk clock, rock water painting or N’ice flower surprise.
K. A. Malone (2008). Every Experience Matters: An evidence based research report on the role of learning outside the classroom for children’s whole development from birth to eighteen years. Farming and Countryside Education (FACE). Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Karen_Malone3/publication/265231721_every_experience_matters_An_evidence_based_research_report_on_the_role_of_learning_outside_the_classroom_for_children’s_whole_development_from_birth_to_eighteen_years/links/54414e170cf2a6a049a5704f/every-experience-matters-An-evidence-based-research-report-on-the-role-of-learning-outside-the-classroom-for-childrens-whole-development-from-birth-to-eighteen-years.pdf [Accessed 15 November 2019]
Waliczek, T.M., Logan, P. & Zajicek, J.M. (2003). Exploring the Impact of Outdoor Environmental Activities on Children Using a Qualitative Text Data Analysis System. HortTechnology 13(4), 684-688.