October and November brings the sound of geese honking their way to the south in search of open water and a fresh source of aquatic plants. Often unseen, songbirds make their way south during the night in search of their own sources of winter food too. Living in Michigan the changes animals undertake to survive winter is evident as our winters are rather harsh. Although winters can be tough the journey south has its own battles including wind turbines, skyscrapers, windows in homes, fog, storms, lack of water and more. Help your kiddos understand the difficult journey these critters experience with this migration obstacle course.
Materials that we used:
- Dowels x10
- Laminated pictures of windows x6
- Laminated pictures of skyscrapers x4
- Poly spots x20
- Hula hoops x2
- Basket (that looks like a nest)
- Poker chips
- Ropes x2
Since we live in Michigan our first “destination location” was where the children started. Birds spend their springs in Michigan where they nest and raise their young. We prepared our starting point as Michigan with a hula hoop and the basket that looks like a nest. The hula hoop gives the sense of space and a destination for young learners while the basket reminds them of the nesting season.
Next I set up the windows by taping the laminated pictures to individual dowels and sticking them in the ground in a staggered fashion. The kiddos that I usually work with are in a rural location so we talked about the windows in houses first since that is the first obstacle the birds in their neighborhoods would face. Birds have a hard time recognizing that windows are a physical object especially when they are clean. You can encourage your students to cut out shapes with white paper and tape them in their windows to help the birds recognize that the window is actually there.
Next came the skyscrapers. The skyscrapers were also taped to individual dowels and stuck in the ground in a staggered fashion. A lot of these kiddos were unfamiliar with what a skyscraper is so we talked about them as super huge buildings that you can’t even see the tops of when you stand at their base. They were pretty impressed with that since most of them have never seen a building that big. We talked about how these large buildings would create a problem for birds that are small since they have to find their way around such an enormous obstacle.
The last obstacle that I placed out were water sources. These were simply poly spots tossed on the ground within hopping distance of each other and in a staggered fashion. The kiddos were charged with the challenge of hopping from water spot to water spot to reach Florida (which was actually good gross motor practice).
The second destination station was Florida. A lot of birds that migrate from Michigan south end up in Florida or the Caribbean islands. When they reached “Florida”, a hula hoop with poker chips, they were to pick up one piece of food and head back toward Michigan. The hula hoop provides that sense of space again and the poker chips are a physical connection to the food the birds are searching for that they cannot get in Michigan.
The obstacle course directions that I gave the kiddos are as follows: All birds and insects (students) begin in Michigan preparing for migration by getting in a line. Then, when I say migrate, you have to fly in between the windows without running into any. If you run into a window then you have to sit down and count to five since you are stunned. Then you have to fly in between the skyscrapers without running into any of those. If you run into a skyscraper you have to sit down and count to five as you would be stunned again. Then you have to hop from water source to water source. Once you’ve done that you have successfully made it to Florida and you have to grab one piece of food and fly back toward Michigan making it through the obstacles again. When you reach Michigan you place your food in the nest and head back toward Florida. As you fly you need to watch out for other birds and insects and wait your turn if there’s a “traffic jam” at any obstacle. You also need to stay in between the ropes that line the obstacle course (I placed two long ropes that would keep them within the boundaries so that they didn’t just fly around everything).
Overall they absolutely loved this course! It was a physical way for the students to connect with the migration of birds in their community. They were able to relate to the hardship of finding water when the leaves covered the dots which led to a discussion on humans altering the environment and filling in ponds and other waterways that birds use for migration. Gather some materials of your own and put together an obstacle course for the kiddos in your life!