Every Monday, Mary Yanalcanlin tromps through Bend's Drake Park with a group of preschoolers, pointing out birds, trees and wildlife.
She has been leading the free, informal class called Birding for Preschoolers for more than two years as a representative of the East Cascade Audubon Society (see “If you go,” Page D4).
“It's basically an exploration of nature with kids,” Yanalcanlin said. She believes these classes help plant the seeds of interest in nature for children. She loves the classes and what the experience is like for the kids. “I love seeing the excitement in their faces and their bodies when they observe something for the first time,” said Yanalcanlin. “Their excitement is what's exciting for me.”
Yanalcanlin didn't become interested in birds until about four years ago. She then joined the local Audubon group and suggested a kids' class. As a preschool teacher, Yanalcanlin says, when she encounters something new or interesting, she often thinks of how to share it with children.
Each class is different, based on the number and temperament of the children who attend. Sometimes the kids want to be more active; other times they have more questions and want more discussion.
During the hourlong class, Yanalcanlin tries to engage their senses: listening, seeing and especially touching. (Children might examine the tactile difference between a pinecone and a spruce cone, for instance.).
Yanalcanlin also includes songs and other activities.
A typical class might draw as few as three children or as many as 20 — warmer weather usually means more kids.
What the children encounter depends on the day and time of year. The group frequently encounters Canada geese, mallards, northern pintail ducks and pygmy and red-breasted nuthatches, as well as American robins and common ravens. More rare but still regularly spotted birds include red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and belted kingfishers, according to Yanalcanlin.
She also makes sure to include information for the parents in the group, to offer suggestions about how to explore nature with children.
She believes once someone starts pointing out birds, trees, flowers and other aspects of nature, they start to become more aware. Then, every time they encounter nature, they see more detail. “There is such beauty in the common,” said Yanalcanlin. And with awareness, she hopes, comes a desire for the children to learn more.
“As you get to know it, you get to love it and you want to protect it.”
The East Cascade Audubon Society also offers a monthly indoor class for kids called Fledgling Fun. This class is aimed at children in kindergarten to fifth grade, although preschoolers are also welcome. The class takes place from 3:45-5:15 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at The Environmental Center in Bend. Children learn about different topics through hands-on activities and arts and crafts.
Yanalcanlin says families are also welcome to attend field trips and other activities put on by the group, including Birding By Ear, a new class slated to begin sometime in the spring.
All of the programs are free.
“It's a great way to introduce yourself and young children to birds and nature,” Yanalcanlin said.