This post contains affiliate links, see our full disclosure policy.
The long-awaited (by my kids) ornithology unit from Nancy Larson Science was everything my boys had hoped. Wonderfully guided and structured, the unit starts by reviewing what children already know about birds, and culminates in a research project on a chosen state bird.
Investigating Birds was the perfect ending to a complete and thorough study of a variety of topics in the physical world. We spent time exploring, learning and observing birds, from the finches and woodpeckers in our back yard, to the herons and egrets at the local lake. Each of the lessons focuses on a specific part of bird behavior or anatomy, and helps students classify them by looking for these characteristics.
Even though the lessons appear easy, it's more accurate to say that each lesson is done in a way that make it so easy to teach that even the most science-phobic parent will look like a pro. The quantity and quality of the learning are phenomenal, and my twins love to tell people they meet what they know about the bird on the porch (or in the tree, bush, etc) and how they know it. Their confidence in identifying basic characteristics of birds has blossomed wonderfully!
The unit teaches about the physical characteristics of birds and how to use that information to figure out what the bird eats, in what environment it could live, and more. The photo cards included with the kit are amazing! My boys adore animals, especially birds. Seeing the photos of the birds, and the robin's nest with eggs elicited "Oooohs and ahhs" from each in turn. At the end of each lesson, the reviews help solidify, and test that the intended knowledge was gained. Every so often, one or the other of the boys comments on how "easy" the reviews (or unit assessments) are. I tell them that all reviews and tests should be that way, if you have done the work, and if the teacher (or in this case, the curriculum) was effective. I can't honestly take credit for the teaching, because Nancy Larson does this beautifully.
Many kids have a base understanding of birds, Investigating Birds unit formalizes the knowledge already there, adds more, and helps kids understand why some birds live where they live, eat what they eat, and how to find more information. When you formalize information while adding new information, you wind up with knowledge that's much more organized and easy to access in the mind. Yes, Nancy Larson Science is great science made simple, but it's also great mental training for curious children.
After we learned about the basic physical characteristics of birds, we took the show on the road, and went outside to observe a bird or three in the back yard. As part of the unit, students observe a bird in the back yard, try to identify it and learn a little about it in the process. This really got the boys interested, because we got to go outside and look at something other than books. It's a great way to mix up the routine and give two active boys a break from laying on the floor, sprawled out with their books (rough life, I know).
We finally (according to the boys) got to the owl lesson, and they practically tripped over one another going for the kit contents to get the owl pellets. Here again, the hands-on approach is invaluable for learning. I knew that the digestive system of owls was very different from other birds, because they lack a crop, but had never seen, much less dissected, a pellet. At first, Daniel did not want to touch it, but he relaxed after a little while to only covering his mouth with his shirt. I'm still not sure what prompted the issue because there was no odor, no wet anything, and the pellets are all sterilized, but he had a moment and needed to have a little separation. David on the other hand, dove right in. They both have sensitive stomachs, so things like this happen sometimes, and it's sometimes unexpected. They sorted the bones according to the handy bone identification chart shipped with the kit, and had great fun trying to identify the animals that their owls had eaten.
This unit includes a bird research project as an assignment. Nancy Larson recommends the state bird, but one of the boys fell in love with a Nuttall's Woodpecker who is making a home in a tree in our back yard, so...guess what? Daniel researched the Nuttall's Woodpecker, and has a photo that I took while the male was building the nest. We watched as he took several days to build their nest; I think my head would have been pounding after all the pecking to hollow out the tree trunk, but he seemed unfazed.
The lessons impart a lot of information, each building upon the one previous, with scripted lessons that ensure that you review the last lesson before moving on. More than just imparting information though, Nancy Larson Science teaches kids how to find information, how to explore in a methodical way, and how to think.
The year we have spent with Nancy Larson has been full of discovery and wonder, worth every moment. For purchasing information, visit nancylarsonstore.com, for two kids, the cost is around $325 for one year of science with all the bells and whistles included. You can all of our reviews on Nancy Larson Science 2 via the following links: