Vashon’s Fourth Grade Bird Art

Maury Island, Vashon, WA

Vashon’s Chautauqua Elementary School Fourth Grade Birding Program has been teaching students about the birds of Vashon-Maury since 1990. With community help from Vashon-Maury Island Audubon Society, Vashon Artists in the Schools, and Partners in Education, this study of birds (which began years ago with a few bird watching field-trips) has developed into a six-week curriculum unit that integrates reading, writing, science and art. Traditional classroom activities and community involvement combine to provide a rich experience for the fourth grade students.

Participants line up to observe birds

Classroom activities include:

  • Introduction to birds
    • Science videos
    • Articles – What makes a bird a bird; feather detective; etc
  • Taxonomy
    • History
    • Hands on activity – students make a visual, showing “Kingdom,” “Phylum,” etc. labels with descriptors and picture strips
  • Research
    • Participants observing and learning by the lake

    • Each student chooses a local bird to research
    • Introduces basic research techniques/note taking
    • Lesson: Using a field guide
    • Bird related vocabulary games
    • Lesson on collective nouns
  • Language Arts
  • Information gathered from research is used for writing.

    • Poetry
    • Students locate and memorize a bird poem

      Students write diamante poems about “their” bird

    • Letter writing
    • Students practice a friendly letter format by several thanks-you’s

    • Bird menus
    • Students imagine a restaurant their bird would find appealing… they create a menu for this restaurant, staying true to what their bird actually eats

    • Final project
    • Students create a game, song or story to share their learning with the rest of the class

    This year, local Audubon volunteers prepared four hour-long activities for the fourth graders:

  • Slide shows
  • Introduce students to the birds commonly found on our island – point out field markings, plumage and calls

  • Scopes/binoculars/field guides
  • Students learn how to use the equipment first-hand by trying to locate pictures of birds hidden out on the playground

    Worksheet for guided practice with field guides

  • Bird skins
  • Students observe (handle) 30-40 bird skins brought in from the Slater Museum. They note specific observations and sketch beaks/bills, feet and feathers

    Students explore on a field trip
  • Field trip
  • Opportunity to bird watch at a local estuary. Volunteers help locate and identify the birds (The bus for this trip is paid for by another community group, Partners in Education)

    “Vashon Artists in Schools” (the third community group) has funded Rose Belknap as our visiting artist for the past three years. This experience goes far beyond learning how to draw and paint realistic birds. Students practice observing; taking time to produce quality work; problem solving; and risk taking. They talk with each other, offering compliments and comparing drawings. And self-esteem sky rockets as these ten years old see themselves as accomplished artists!.

    Participants bird watch and relax by the lake
    After the students complete their art work with Rose, Audubon members scan the paintings and print greeting cards. These are sold in the community and proceeds are used to purchase additional equipment for the students. The opportunity to work with a community group on a project that comes “full circle” is both meaningful and educational for the students!

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