The first weeks of a new school year brim with possibility, creativity, and a search for connection. Place and time are critical factors in anchoring these notions. For Friend School of Minnesota’s Jungle classroom of 1st and 2nd graders, the place was the sidewalk outside the art room. The time was right after a boisterous morning break outside. It was there that a tiny bird presented itself on the third day of school.

zebra finch

Moments before, we gathered together to line up to enter the building.  As we neared the side door entrance, we noticed a small bird peeking up at us from its location on the sidewalk. It noted each of us, standing its ground on the pavement with no intention of flying away.  We all peered down at the bird, perplexed by its observant eyes.

The little bird immediately sparked our communal schema and our circle time.  Discussion after  the sighting was filled with inquiry and personal connections. Many claimed the bird was a cardinal, that it had been hurt. Why was it there? Do we need to help it? I promised to go back outside during lunch to investigate and to take a photo, if possible.

The little bird was still there when I returned, and I took a picture right before it flew into the nearby window and then proceeded to fly away. I enlarged the photo and made posters for group work about the visitor. We gathered together and created a list of some of our observations and questions. Then, we broke into small groups and recorded shared information about the bird. Students labeled the bird, tried to identify it, and noted questions.

The end of the day left us with many questions about the unexpected visitor. I spoke with our art teacher Laura after school, and she told me that a bird had collided into one of her windows many times that day. I had a hunch that the Jungle class would take action after hearing what the bird did.

The next morning, our classroom was bubbling with excitement over a student’s bird guide. It seemed as though we had misidentified the bird and that we needed to re-think our research. I made copies of our bird photo for everyone to take home to continue researching. In addition, once students heard about the bird’s mishap with the window, they eagerly took action and created black silhouettes of various creatures to hang in our windows and in the art room to protect birds from flying into the glass.

Over the weekend, 1st and 2nd graders researched online and chatted with bird experts in their neighborhoods. They identified our bird as a zebra finch, a bird native to Central Australia and kept as a pet here in Minnesota. Due to continued enthusiasm, we researched the Zebra Finch Society of the United States to learn about basic care of the bird as a pet. We also created fiction stories about the adventures of our zebra finch. Students shared many creations from home, such as: hypotheses books, detailed, labeled photographs, various guide books, drawings, and a song.

Jungle classroom's 1st and 2nd graders learn all about zebra finches
Jungle classroom’s 1st and 2nd graders learn all about zebra finches.

Our zebra finch visitor truly anchored us as a community for the first three weeks of school, and the connections and interests keep coming. The bird activated schema and curiosity that allowed us to make meaningful connections to our community and to express ourselves with literacy activities aligned with scientific inquiry and environmental education. We look forward to future observations that anchor and excite us in the same way.

– Sabrina Winkelman, First and Second Grade Teacher