It feels like we’ve been stuck in an endless winter here in Nova Scotia. We’ve been getting hit with snowstorm after snowstorm and, as a result, many of us have crawled into our little house cocoons and are just crossing days off the calendar until spring.
Outside our living room window we keep a couple bird feeders and both children (Miss M - age 3.5 - and Mr. M - age 17 months) love watching the birds flit from feeder to feeder having their breakfast. I’m terrible at identifying birds but Miss M has learned much from her grandparents and is becoming quite the little ornithologist. We have a bird information station by the front window that includes a bird identification book and homemade flashcards. We also like to get non-fiction children’s books about birds from the library from time to time to add to the selection as well. All of these items inspire word recognition and a chance to read together to learn about our feathered friends.
The flashcards were made by my mother and were very simple to make. She took photos of each bird (or you could print them from the internet) and glued them to a piece of card stock. Then she wrote the name of the bird on the back. Done! (Is it any surprise that she is a former teacher and librarian?)
Last week, after yet another storm Miss M commented that the birdseed was running low in our feeder and we considered how the birds were faring with this snowy weather while foraging for food. Our suet holder had been long emptied and we certainly weren’t going to venture out into the storm to get more suet. After some googling I found most recipes required using a stove to melt lard or suet and I wanted something toddler friendly. I finally concocted my own recipe using things we had in the house and we decided to try our hand at making a simple and quick treat for the birds (if you have older children you can essentially do the same but melt the lard first and then mix it all up and set it to harden - this will make it much more durable than these ones).
Homemade Bird Treats
(makes 3-4 large suet cakes)
1 cup of birdseed (any kind)
½-1 cup lard
Add-ins (blueberries, corn, cranberries, apple, grapes, etc.) – cut up small if they’re larger pieces
Large cookie cutters (or an upside down wide mouthed glass)
Straws and scissors
We poured the birdseed in the bowl first and then added a few scoops of lard and started mixing. It was a bit hard to get everything stuck together at first but as we worked it started forming into a large lump. In hindsight using our hands would have probably worked better. If you have kids who like to get messy this would be great fun – just make sure they don’t eat it!
We kept adding more lard until we had all the birdseed and lard stuck together. Then we folded in our add-ins (we used frozen blueberries) and mixed it all up.
We laid one piece of wax paper on the counter and one on a cookie tray. We got out the cookie cutters (we used a pumpkin shape to make a round one and a gingerbread man shape). I smushed the mixture onto the wax paper on the counter to about half inch thick and the children cut out shapes. I used a spatula to slip under the shapes to scoop them up and lay them on the cookie tray. We then squished any extra suet back together and pressed it out again (just like you would with cut-out cookies) and made shapes until it was all gone.
We cut the straws into inch long pieces and pushed them through the suet cakes so that there would be a hole for the ribbon when they were ready. Then we popped them in the fridge and left them for about a day to firm up/dry out a bit (if you have a bigger freezer than I, that would significantly freeze up the firming process).
Once they were firm we took them out of the fridge and removed the straws. Then we laced the ribbon* through the holes and tied it in a knot.
We hung the round treat in a tree and put the gingerbread man one in our suet holder, as he was not as stable as the round ones. If they don't firm up enough or it's warmer weather you will need to put these in suet holders/cages as they soften up outside. As we were in a deep freeze they stayed hanging on the tree for about a week until the treat fell off the ribbon (as the birds had been eating around it). After that they happily perched on the snow and ate it from the ground.
The next morning the birds showed up and were thrilled with the new item on the Birdie Breakfast Buffet! As they dined Miss M looked through her cards to find the matching bird on it and then we flipped it over so she could see what the word looked like. If you look close at the photos below you can see we had a Chickadee and a Woodpecker join us this morning!
An everyday task like filling up the bird feeder ended up becoming a great opportunity to not only help out our friends in natures, but to work on letter and word recognition at the same time. My kind of storm activity!
*In the springtime have the children take special note of the ribbon you use as once the treat is all gone, the leftover ribbon could very well end up woven into a nest nearby!
Have you ever taken a daily task or chore and turned it into a reading opportunity? I'd love to hear how in the comments below!