Make/Play/Watch/Read: My Fine Feathered Friends

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Unfortunately, the Make/Play/Watch/Read series has been a little sporadic of late. The Evil Genius Family, like millions of others, is currently in COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney, Australia. It’s not ideal, but we are managing with Lockdown Learning, Zoom calls, and the brilliantly-timed Birds in Backyards Spring Survey—thanks to Birdlife Australia. Because if there is one thing I desperately need right now, it’s a simple activity to entertain the 8-year-old for 20 minutes while I finally grab a cup of coffee. It’s also a great theme idea for entertaining kids no matter which hemisphere you are in. Let’s fly!

Make: Your Own Research Journal for the Birds in Backyards Spring Survey

Yes, I am fully aware most of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere and thus are experiencing fall and not spring. Guess what? You can still do your own “birds in backyards survey.” It is perfect for any budding scientist.

Difference between screwing around and science

Wait, What Is the Birds in Backyards Spring Survey?

Fair question. Birds in Backyards Spring Survey is an initiative from BirdLife Australia and takes place during September and October. Over these two months, everyone is invited to spend 20 minutes watching an outside space and note down how many species you see, how many birds within each species, and the kind of habitat they’re using. Ideally, you want to be outside doing this, but considering the lockdown requirements in Sydney (and Melbourne), it is still possible to do it from a window or balcony.

You can then log your survey on Birdata (online or via the app), where it is then used by the Urban Birds team to monitor the health and populations of birds and the impact made by our gardens, our outdoor spaces, and our own behavior.

The Birds in Backyards Spring Survey is also great as a casual lead-in to the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, held for one week from October 18 to 24. For more details on both events, check out the official website here.

Now: Make Your Own Research Journal

This is probably one of the easiest tasks you will have, but it is more about the things to consider than the process of making it. To be honest, you don’t have to make anything; you can easily buy a notebook or staple a couple of pages together. Whatever you want to do, keep the following in mind:

  • Keep It Small-ish: Anything larger than A5 is going to be too much of a hassle for kids (and most adults) to carry with them. Keep it small and simple.
  • Be Inspired By the Blank Page: No lines. Just plain blank pages. Kids can still write their notes on a blank page. However, if you give them a lined book, they will instantly restrict their creative side. With a blank page, they may consider drawing the bird or its habitat or writing their notes around the page like a bird flying. Who knows?
  • Hold It Together: The book needs to be bound. Once you step outside, I guarantee at least one loose page will fall out or fly away. Bind up the pages, even with some staples and tape over the top.
  • Color the World: Pens and lead pencils are easy to read afterward but color sparks the memory! Give them a few colored pencils or markers, and see what they do.
DIY bird watching journal
Image by EG Mum of our DIY Bird Watching Journal

As fun as all of this creativity can be, it is equally important to teach kids how to record data as well. Use one page (and only one page) to point out the things they need to look for. Each survey lasts only 20 minutes, so you may want to set a time for them too. Afterward, if you are based in Australia, make sure to record your data with Birdata. If you are located elsewhere, note your records in your own spreadsheet and see what it shows you about your local area. Of course, we would love to hear about your research too—please share it with us on Facebook or Instagram!

Play: SkateBIRD (PC, Switch, Xbox, Amazon Luna)

This is possibly the most outrageous game I have seen so far in 2021, and I am totally loving it. The game is SkateBIRD, due for release on September 16 from Glass Bottom Games. You are a bird. Your Big Friend (the human) has retired from the life of skating and settled for a crappy job with long hours and little interaction at home. Your mission, as SkateBIRD, is to help your human regain their chill through the power of skateboarding! If you are not smiling by now, then check out the video here.

While the narrative is sweet in itself, the gameplay is loads of fun. Filled with a variety of locations and “skate parks,” your tiny little feathers are encouraged to skate more and more. You’ll make friends, discover new parks, and pick up some fancy clothing and mixtapes along the way. Fans of Tony Hawk will be familiar with the same controls, while newbies will pick it up fairly quickly. And it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. The whole point is to give it a go and see how far you can push the limits. Overall, the aim is to bring some joy back to Big Friend’s life, and no matter how you play this game, I guarantee you will win.

Play SkateBIRD, coolest of birds

SkateBIRD is available on PC (Steam and Itch.io), Switch, Xbox, and Amazon Luna as of September 16. The game supports English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional). For a cruisy little game, it has a lot of heart. Considering our current “work from home” orders, my fave was easily the Office Skate Park. That needs to be me. Right now.

Watch: Penguin Bloom (Netflix)

I once heard, all you need to fix a bad reputation is good PR. Well, it took a Hollywood movie to help the reputation of Australia’s most feared bird: the magpie. Magpies are found almost everywhere in the world but the Australian magpie can be an absolute… Well, I don’t have a lot of nice words for the Australian magpie. #straya

However, after watching Penguin Bloom, I think I might have developed a soft spot for them. Maybe. Possibly.

Watch Penguin Bloom

Penguin Bloom is based on the book of the same name, which is also based on a true story. It stars Naomi Watts as Sam Bloom, a mother of three who suffers a major accident leaving her partially paralyzed from the chest down. An injury like this impacts everyone; Sam’s life is never the same again, but her family is also struggling with how to live this new “normal.” A year after the accident, Sam’s children find an injured magpie and bring it home. Gradually and cautiously, Sam builds a relationship with Penguin and subsequently reconnects with the family again.

It may sound cheesy and a little quirky, however, the characters are very real and portrayed beautifully in this movie. Watts captures Sam’s frustration with her new reality while the rest of the family provides an amazing set—I especially loved the eldest child, Noah (portrayed by Griffin Murray-Johnston).

The Real Bloom family behind Penguin Bloom
The real Bloom family, who inspired the movie ‘Penguin Bloom.’ (including Penguin)

Penguin Bloom is available on Netflix. For more details about Sam and her family, check out their website here.

Read: The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan

If you have already given the “bird survey” a go then you are going to love The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse. And if you’re a fan of Matisse, then you already know how COLOR is the star of the book.

Read The Iridescence of Birds Henri Matisse

For those of us living in cities, it would be accurate to say we are familiar with the common pigeon. It’s also fair to say most people don’t think much of pigeons. It would have been easy for me to use Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (the most exciting book about pigeons I could find). However, ever since I was a child, there has always been something dazzling about the colorful breast of a common grey pigeon. The way it sparkles in the sunlight, giving off flashes of green and purple. I always wanted to have hair like that. (Maybe when I’m out of lockdown, that’s what I should ask for at the hairdressers.) For many years, I thought I was the only child who thought like that, especially since everyone else seemed to feel some sort of disgust towards the bird.

Without any prompting from me, our 8-year-old daughter has noticed the same thing. She too marvels at the iridescence of pigeons. She has for many years. Zaltu is also an artist who loves color. She is also a naturalist who especially loves birds. When I heard of this book, I knew it would be perfect for her—her art and her love for birdwatching.

Image from The Iridescence of Birds

Henri Matisse was a French artist who is probably best known for his brightly colored work from 1900 to 1905 (although his extensive catalog goes beyond that). Matisse was a co-founder of the “Fauvist” movement, incorporating bright colors and bold brushstrokes to evoke all of the emotions in what was otherwise considered “non-naturalistic.” To learn more about Matisse and this style of painting, check out fellow GeekMom and her Be the Artist series.

Much of his work is inspired by his passion to paint how things made him feel, and not just what he saw. The Iridescence of Birds explores his earliest influences, looking at the simple touches on his childhood. Things we as parents may not always see until years later. Matisse’s mother loved to paint plates with colorful birds to brighten the otherwise grey walls. His father gave Matisse pigeons to care for, sparking the fascination with the iridescent plumage. The Iridescence of Birds is a book filled with little touches from his childhood, each leaving a mark until the adult Matisse is ready to step forth and share his vision with the world.

The Iridescence of Birds is one of those beautiful books that will encourage young children to explore just a little more. It is one of my favorite picture-book biographies and is regularly pulled out at the start of any “art day” in our family. This book deserves to be a book and enjoyed as a book, especially right before you head outside for some birdwatching. Say hi to the pigeons for me.

Image from SkateBIRD, coolest of birds

Our Make/Play/Watch/Read series are merely a starting point for adventure. Like Matisse and his parents, our role as GeekMoms (and other Geek-carers) is to nurture whatever interest our kids may be showing today. Of course, there is no guarantee it will be the same interest next week. I can only hope that if today they love birds, then we have given you a few ideas to work with. Have fun!

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