Main Lesson Block: Birds


Alison Manzer is one of my favorite people, and I am so happy she agreed to guest post here at Sure as the World. I am using her main lesson block about birds to kick off our school year next week. One of the beauties of this block is it could be used for almost any age and at any time of the year – file it away for that inevitable “oh-no-what-are-we-going-to-do-next??!!XX” panic. I find Alison’s approach to Waldorf-inspired homeschooling in general and this block in particular to be fun and easy, yet so grounding and nourishing. She is a wonderful resource – so please don’t hesitate to comment and/or ask questions. (Be sure to click on the comments – they are chock full of even more great book suggestions and activities.)


Everywhere you go these days someone seems to be suggesting you go all in and sign up for some sort of challenge. Examples abound. There is the Crockpot 365 Challenge that dares you to try to use your crockpot every day for an entire year. Or how about the 40 Day Yoga Challenge, advertised at my local yoga studio, which invites you to try to practice yoga for 40 days in a row? And then of course, there is the Special K challenge, which encourages you to eat a bowl of Special K for two out of your three meals in order to lose weight.

I must admit that I have never been in the least tempted to take the challenge bait until I came up with this little Main Lesson Challenge for myself. I wanted to see if I could plan with EASE a Waldorf main lesson block that would use only books and supplies that I either had on hand or that I could get EASILY from the library, grocery store, hardware store, and the local Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. I also wanted my main lesson block to revolve around picture books because they are living books that bring a subject to life through story and pictures. They also are perfect to use with children (and adults) of all ages. Another criteria of mine was that this main lesson block had to be EASY to actually DO in a homeschool setting.

Initially I crafted this little main lesson block on Birds as a little Christmas gift to my Taproot 5th grade group. I dashed it off and emailed it last December with the hope that it would provide something easy, yet also MEANINGFUL and FUN, to turn to during those holiday hangover weeks of early January.

So without further ado – here is my BIRDS main lesson block.  I hope you enjoy it – and then take the challenge – and design your own main lesson block around a subject that inspires you and speaks to your heart. Remember that Steiner encouraged all of his teachers to create their own blocks. We all have the capacity to do this! Trust me, you too can create a main lesson block that is chock full of all of the beauty and wonder that this world has to offer. Go ahead. Take the challenge!

Bird Study 

Here is a collection of great picture books that revolve around birds. A short zoology main lesson –if you will. These books are all stories. They are all fantastic – I have used them all personally. In fact my seventeen year old son, Jack, just strolled by the couch as I was working on this and picked up Albert. He nonchalantly commented, “Oh, this is one of my favorite books.”  We used it when he was in 6th grade and James was in 4th grade … and he still refers to it as one of his favorites!

The books focus on many different birds. For each species you might look at some of the following topics: scientific nomenclature, anatomy and skeletons (lots of diagrams on-line –see Enchanted Learning), diet, climate areas and habitat, eggs, nesting habits and materials, life cycle, appearance and different morphs (pigeons), feathers and flight, migration, vocabulary words (clutch, fledge, incubation, preening) wild or domestic, comparing different birds beaks, feathers, feet and so on and how their bodies are adapted to their environments.


  • Bird watching and casual bird walks
  • Nature Center programs and hikes
  • Zoos and ponds at local parks
  • Raptor rescue programs and centers
  • Parrot rescue programs
  • Audubon Society
  • Making homemade bird feeders and houses-or buying some neat feeders and putting them out.
  • Feeding the pigeons in the park
  • Bird call CDs
  • Keeping a pet bird. Parakeets are very easy. We have had two of them for years (one is at least 6 and one is 4). We love them. If your child takes to this study…it could be a possible Christmas gift.
  • Beeswax and Clay modeling and Origami.
  • Beautiful colored pencil drawings and water-color paintings would be very easy to incorporate into this study.
  • I have seen patterns for little knitted owls as well.  Barbara Dewey makes a really cute one!
  • Keeping a nature journal of sketches and photos of birds you observe on your ramblings would also be a nice main lesson project.
  • A display or treasure box of little birds from one of those animal tubes would also be cool. A main lesson page report could be done on each bird in the tube.

Book List

1. Tree of Cranes by Allen Say: A must for Christmas time!!!!  A beautiful Christmas story set in Japan. Maybe you could set up a small tree of cranes in your own home. Make origami cranes. This book is also gives a very detailed depiction of a Japanese household for the 3rd graders.

Cranes –especially Japanese cranes

2. Albert by Donna Joe Napoli: A story of a young man too afraid to leave his apartment until he befriends a pair of cardinals nesting on his window ledge.


3. The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson: A beautiful rendering of a Japanese fairy tale – woodcut illustrations.

Ducks – specifically mandarin ducks

4. Grimm’s Six Swans: As a go along, you could read the Christmas chapter in By the Shores of Silver Lake. Ma and the girls make Grace an exquisite swan cape for Christmas. Of course, Trumpet of the Swans would make a wonderful chapter book.


5.  Angelo by David Macaulay: Angelo rescues a wounded pigeon while working on restoring an old building in Rome.


6. My Grandmother’s Pigeon by Louise Erdrich: A wonderful, fanciful story about some extinct passenger pigeon eggs hatching in a nest left by an eccentric grandmother. Great illustrations to inspire any budding ornithologist.

Pigeons – passenger pigeons

7. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen: A classic – a father and son take a night-time walk in the woods in search of a great horned owl.   Farley Mowat’s  Owls in the Family is a great chapter book go along.


Non-fiction go alongs

Any books on specific birds and birds in general from the non-fiction juvenile section in your library are must for this study.  Online sources and/or an old-fashioned encyclopedia would also be helpful. Cornell University has a well-known ornithology program with its own website. I have looked at their material on pigeon morphs and it was very user-friendly.

An Egg is Quiet by Diana Hicks is very good.

The Boy who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies and Melissa Sweet is a treasure – another one of my boys’ favorites. Inspirational for painting and drawing. You could leaf through a book of Audubon’s paintings or go see an exhibit as well.

Enjoy! As always these are just suggestions. Just savoring these beautiful living books – observing and discussing the details discovered about the birds depicted in the stories – would be soul nourishing and memorable.  Anything else is gravy!!!


003Alison Manzer majored in history at the University of Chicago. Upon graduation she spent a year studying in the Basic Program at the University of Chicago which focuses on close readings of the classics. Alison continues to be passionate about studying history and literature and endeavors to use this enthusiasm to reach her students. She has taught courses on ancient history, World War II, and history through biography. She has also held a lively history club in her home for junior high and high school students for several years.

Alison has attended numerous Waldorf homeschooling workshops, and in 2010 she completed a seminar at the Ambleside School of Fredericksburg on the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She and her husband, Rob, have homeschooled their three sons in three different states. Over the years she has gained a good deal of experience in adapting her ideal of teaching history in a way that inspires both the head and the heart to a variety of children, communities and educational settings.

In her free time, Alison enjoys yoga, reading, cooking and exploring the scenic byways of Texas.

18 thoughts on “Main Lesson Block: Birds

  1. Alison,

    This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing it! Your flexibility and creativity in planning are such an inspiration to me. My little bird watchers are going to love these ideas! It’s something we can all do together. Love this!

  2. Yay, Alison! What a great book list. Many of them I have not read and look forward to. The activities are also wonderful. One bird activity I have always wanted to do is to take down the Christmas tree and decorate it with treats for birds(pine cone feeders, etc) I was thinking about your recommendation to start this after the “holiday hangover.” Thanks so much for these wonderful resources!

  3. A wonderful book list, surely!

    That Cornell site is also a great place to go and listen to bird calls — there are many recorded for each bird and that has been a wonderful resource to our neighborhood birding. We also love that the information for each bird is concise, but more than a list of stats (like our bird books).

    Local Audubon chapters often times have web resources for known rookeries and migratory stop overs in your area.

    Here is a link to a free coloring book of Audubon’s birds — 80 North American species—Coloring-Book-%28Includes-80-North-American-Species%29

    We have watched twice and are coming up for a third time this year the BBC production of Life of Birds with David Attenborough. Amazing. Enjoyed by all of us when Dinah was as little as 3 years old.

    Since moving here, the girls and I have become avid bird lovers. Grace just said yesterday that she hopes that her children love birds as much as she does. That got me to thinking that it is living in a place with an abundance and diversity of birds is what gave us our love. I grew up in the desert with far fewer birds and nary a song bird and never thought much of birds. Living here and living here with little girls has changed all that (:

  4. Alison, you rock! And you know what a bird lover I am. Watching nests in spring, migrations in fall and spring, making feeders….and two of my all-time favorite books are Owl Moon and The Boy Who Drew Birds. So cool that Jack mentioned one of his favs as you were planning this block!

    Steiner for sure gave lots of examples and then suggested that teachers create their own blocks. You offer such inspiration here, Alison, to do that with what you have on hand, and start with something YOU love! From there I always say “go deep not wide.”

    Enjoy those beautiful, flying paintings everyone,

  5. Thank you all – Kelley, Emmie, Mama, and Jean – for your enthusiastic responses and your perfect suggestions!
    Kelley – Melissa Wiley recently mentioned a book “Drawing Birds with Colored Pencils” by Karen Poole that Kenton might like. It looks fairly advanced, so it might be the type of challenge he enjoys.
    Emmie – Love the Christmas tree bird feeder idea – I too have been meaning to do that for years. And I AM going to do it this year, since last year we left are tree up so long that spiders created nests in it and our home almost became the setting for a bad, holiday movie adaptation of Charlotte’s Web.
    Mama – amazing suggestions. Local Audubon chapters would be a wonderful resource – as is the link to the coloring sheets. I so want to watch the Attenborrough Life of Birds. Just checked out the book that goes along with the series from the library – it looks spectacular.
    And Jean, my “partner in crime” thank you for your support. I had fun with this – I knew many of the books would be on your favs list. And what you say is so true – go deep not wide – that is why I love the idea of focusing on just one type of animal for a spell. Hmmm…as I was driving through the Juiceland “drive through” today, I started thinking about doing a similar main lesson on insects..OK off to peruse my bookshelves!!
    Love to you all – oh and forgot to mention The Wheel on the School by deJong as a possible go along:)

  6. We loved The Wheel on the School – it was a Mama suggestion.

    So much goodness going on around this little blog lately – I am loving it!! And although I have been thoroughly enjoying my August Break, I have so many posts in the works, I can’t wait to get back to blogging for real in September.

    Glad you are all here – both on the blog and in my life. You bless me beyond measure.

  7. Oh, I recognize the book Albert as a suggestion Mama made to me also. I know I will have to read that one! Another great picture book(truly picture, few words) is Bob Graham’s “How to Heal a Broken Wing.” It is lovely!

      • Wow, How to Heal a Broken Wing looks perfect for this block. Can’t wait to check it out. It looks like it would be a great book to read with Angelo which is about a wounded pigeon. Thanks!!! This back and forth book talk is such a blast!!!

        • Last one, promise. I have become a total fan of the work of Jon Young who wrote Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. He also wrote a book which I have not read, but looks amazing: What the Robin Knows. It would be good for adults or teens I think. This is fun!

          • I just looked up What the Robin Knows, This could morph into a cool Bird Block for the older set “teens and beyond.” I love discovering new authors. Thanks!!!

  8. Greetings from the Poconos! Thanks for all of these great ideas. We’re bird lovers in our family too. We brought along a set of binoculars, and Maryjo Koch’s Bird, Egg, Feather, Nest–a lovely book previously suggested by Sheila. Another resource that we brought is the National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America. It’s fun watching for bald eagles in this area. Birds seem to embody such beauty and freedom! Here’s to all of us taking flight!

    • Hello my dear friend. Thanks for checking in from your vacation. Bald Eagles …. so thrilling! Thank you (and Sheila) for the Maryjo Koch shout out. I just looked her up …this book looks so fantastic and she has many others. Can’t wait!!!

  9. Pingback: Bird Block | Sure as the World

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