Activities and advice for enjoying nature with your kids.
Through Kids’ Eyes
The only essential item for a birder of any age is a pair of “bird-worthy” binoculars. Once you decide your child is ready for a pair of her own (there’s really no “right” age), follow the suggestions below on finding and using a kid-friendly model.—Wayne Mones
- Comfort is key Kids have small faces and hands, so they need bins that are easy to hold, can be adjusted to match the distance between their eyes, and allow them to easily reach the focus knob. The binoculars should be light enough to wear comfortably.
- Keep magnification low Don’t buy binoculars with more than 8x magnification; 6x is better. High magnification equals a narrow field of view and a shaky image, making bins harder to use—especially for kids.
- Adjust to fit Spend a few minutes with your child adjusting the binoculars to match the distance between her eyes. If she doesn’t wear glasses, extend the eyecups; keep them retracted if she does. Make sure that she can see a single image and that she can turn the focus knob easily.
- Practice Take your child to a pond or the seashore, where she can look at waterfowl and wading birds, which are big and stay in one place long enough to find with binoculars. Teach her to first look at the bird without binoculars and to then bring them up to her eyes without looking away from the bird. Move on to smaller, faster birds when she seems ready. Teach your child to always wear the binocular strap around her neck.
- What to buy Pentax Papilio 6.5x21 (less than $120). Designed to look at butterflies, these bins focus down to 18 inches, so kids can use them to examine bugs and flowers as well as birds. They weigh almost nothing. Leupold Yosemite 6x30 Porro Prism (about $80). These bins were inspired by a Leupold employee who wanted bird-worthy, kid-friendly bins for his six-year-old daughter. They are bright, sharp, and lightweight. Nikon Prostaff 8x25 (about $100). This model is sized for a child’s hand and face and provides a sharp, bright image.
After hearing about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, 11-year-old artist Olivia Bouler was devastated—and determined to act. So she began sending her bird illustrations to donors who contribute to conservation groups involved in oil spill relief (Audubon is one). But her interest in birds transcends the recent disaster. Olivia, who wants to be an ornithologist, has also hooked her family on birds. They’ll travel to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about birds and the environment, and to advocate for clean energy. “If you can do something to help,” says Olivia, “shoot for the stars.” See her artwork here. —Julie Leibach
“I grew up during a time when mothers shoved their kids out the door and didn’t expect them home until lunch, and then again once the first streetlights went on. Between those times you’d find me out in the woods, catching turtles, picking berries, exploring creeks.”—Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
Tag, You’re It
This summer play tag with the thousands of monarchs migrating across the United States to their wintering grounds in Mexico and California. Every August since 1992, citizen scientists have helped the nonprofit group Monarch Watch apply numbered IDs, which help researchers chart the butterflies’ paths and learn about their migration. Families living near Monarch Watch, which is based in Lawrence, Kansas, can participate in its free annual tagging day on September 18. If you live elsewhere, ask your local nature center if it’s holding an event, or host one of your own by buying tags from Monarch Watch (25 cost $15). Monarch Watch’s website offers detailed tagging instructions, and its director, Chip Taylor, provides a few pointers: Start anytime after the first week of August, though your best bet is September, which Taylor calls “migration month.” Use nets at least 24 inches deep to avoid harming these flyers’ wings. Handle them carefully, and place the tag mid-hind wing. Finally, submit your data to the site listed above. Then check back online next year to learn where the butterflies spent the winter.—Michele Wilson
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