Bird Explorations

To supplement their growing interest in birds, the White Room children used the sensory and grounding medium of clay to explore the different parts and forms of birds. After a while of just reacquainting themselves with clay and practicing the different ways in which it can be molded and manipulated, they began their work on their forms. They used photos of PSA’s very own zebra finches and a female cardinal as rough references for their imagined birds. As they worked, the children developed stories about their creations and shared their understandings and knowledge about birds.IMG_4843 (1)IMG_4852

“I want to make a Blue Jay. Did you know that Blue Jays don’t really like any other birds? When they talk, they say ‘Stay away! Stay away!’ I think that must be right…or maybe not. I should find out. Look at this great Blue Jay! Just pretend it’s blue, okay?”IMG_4839

“Cardinals are my favorite ‘cause I like red, pink, and blue. Cardinals make the sound ‘Whaa-cheer, whaa- cheer. What. What. What. What.”

“There are lots of birds that look all different…just like people. People are people but look all different, too!”

Using clay takes a bit of finger and hand strength and motor skill- particularly when working with it to create a “something”. Areas and joins need to be smoothed together and objects placed into the clay need to be secured. The children were very focused in these aspects of working the clay. It is also very calming and grounding and this attribute opened up and made space for the children’s creative story-telling.IMG_4871

“This is a purple bird that lives far away. Once upon a time, the bird came here and slipped on some ice. Look, it’s toes curl up so it couldn’t grab onto the ice like some Madison birds. It hurt the wing. See how it’s all bent?”

One student made two birds which she labeled as “family” and called the smaller of the two, the baby. After creating them, she held them facing each other and used them to talk to each other in imaginative play. “Don’t cry , baby. Are you hungry? Hop over here…you like some food? How about yogurt? No…what about bugs? Some birds eat bugs. Kinda yucky!”


Another student pointed out the tail feathers of a zebra finch. “I need something to make a butt. A bird butt.” She laughed loudly and added a piece of birch bark on the back of her bird and then covered it in clay. “This looks like a hotdog bird!”


Clay is an expressive and responsive medium – great for exploring beginning form making. Though the feel and texture of it can be an acquired taste (it sometimes has a grainy feel and dries quickly) – it’s grounding quality almost always invites/initiates conversation. Through this conversation, the children shared their ideas and understandings about birds – but also, their ideas and astute understandings about the world and their lives.


In the classroom, after looking at some books about animal homes and birds’ nests, the children began creating their own animal homes.


In the classroom, the teachers set up this experience to give the children the chance to
interact as a larger group as they painted and so that they could see one another as they painted. Would they be interested in painting the birds visible in the middle of the table? Would they be interested in what the other children were painting?Picture3Picture6

A student paints the goldfinch in front of her.
“A funny-looking cardinal!”


In the classroom, the teachers presented the students with a question: What did you learn about birds?

“Birds live in a nest. Birds fly. I like the sound they make. They have beaks and feathers”
“I learned a cardinal.”
“I know about owls, and woodpeckers. Birds like to fly.”
“Birds eat seeds.”

Later, back in the art studio, the White Room children began a study of a Wisconsin bird of their choosing. The children picked which birds they were interested in, examined photos of the birds, their feathers, and their eggs, and listened to their bird calls. We discussed the sounds the birds made, and the colors and shapes the children noticed in the photos. First, the children focused on drawing and painting their bird’s egg.

Listening to the bird calls, many of the children realized that they had heard the sounds
before. “Wait! I know that! I heard that birdie in the sky. This is that birdie on the ground? It makes a lot of noise!”IMG_5851

The children also noticed the details and color variations in the photographs of the eggs. They used watercolor paint and a toothbrush to make the splattering marks.
“I see tiny little dots, like teeny, tiny sparkles. What is it? I think it might just be some dirt.”

The photos also challenged the children’s ideas about birds.
“What? How can a yellow bird with yellow feathers, make bluish eggs? I didn’t know that happened!”


“These eggs are more pointy at one end. Not a circle. Look, I made a point like that!” IMG_5863

“What are these ? (dots on egg) Did the bird make that happen? Is it paint? Were they born that way?

“My bird likes to put leaves in it’s nest ‘cause it’s probably softer for the babies.”

As the children are also studying birds in their classroom, they seemed really excited about doing this work, and about birds as an interesting subject matter. The teachers were struck by their astute observations and ideas, and how they seem to connect with birds.

Continuing their study of their Wisconsin birds, the students next made observational drawings of the birds feathers. To start their work, they discussed some of the parts of feathers: the vane (feather part), downy barbs (the fuzzy feathers at the bottom), and the hollow shaft or calamus. The children also followed this break-down when drawing their study and their final piece.

“I made a feather! It’s just like that one!”
Barn Owl feather

As the children drew and painted, they talked about the things they noticed about the feathers. They commented on the colors – “This is a blackish-bluish feather” – and what the different shapes looked like to them.IMG_6342

Student: My feather kinda looks like a tree.
Student: Mine does, too! This parts the trunk and that’s the leaves.
Student: They all look a little bit like trees! Trees might be the feathers of the earth.

“My feather is orange on top and grey on the bottom. How do feathers get like that?”


We are excited to see where this exploration takes us next!

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