Saturday, March 20, 2010

1st Grade Recycled Bird Nests

I have a thing for bird nests.  My photo of a bluebird nest (above) was recently published in KANSAS! magazine.  Besides making photographs of bird nests, I have collected a couple nests.  I have three or four nests that have fallen out of trees.  The best example I have is a robin's nest that blew down in my back yard during a storm last summer.

The top rim of the nest is just perfectly woven and lined with mud.  I think the nests are so beautiful and show that not only are the birds master builders, they are also quite resourceful.  I showed my first grade students the nest and how if you look at the bottom, you can see bits of string, something unidentified and fuzzy, and part of a plastic bag.  I really wanted to do a mixed media project with the first grade students so we made a drawing for the base, cut and glued paper eggs, and used newspaper for the nest.

This project took two 40-minute class periods to complete.

The background of the project is a drawing of a tree branch.  Or a whole tree, depending on how small your students draw!  I demonstrated drawing branches like we were zoomed in, instead of drawing the whole tree.  I showed the students how the branch is thicker closer to the trunk of the tree.  I stressed that we didn't want floating branches, so either at least one side of the branch needed to go all the way off the edge of the paper  or they could draw the branch connecting to the tree trunk which would go off the edge of the paper.  The students drew their branches in pencil first then used construction paper crayons to add color.  I let the students choose between light blue construction paper or some pale green card stock that was in the Art room.  To make the project faster, the drawing could be eliminated to just focus on the nest.  

To make the eggs, I gave each student a small piece of white paper.  I quartered 9x12 inch drawing paper and could probably have used smaller pieces.  We quickly reviewed using lines and shapes to make a pattern.  (I had to say "design" because if I only say pattern, the students think they can only make AB patterns from math class!)  The students used construction paper crayons to fill one side of their small piece of paper with a design.  We flipped the paper over and after demonstrating, I asked the students to draw 2 or 3 eggs on the back of their design paper.  If I had not told the students a number, I am sure I would have ended up with 13 and a half miniscule eggs!  I tried different measurements but I found most of the students drew little bitty eggs anyway.  I passed out scissors and the students cut out their eggs.  I picked up the scissors as soon as the eggs were cut out.  I have already found that if scissors are left at the tables these two things ALWAYS happen:
  1. Students continue cutting scrap paper into smaller and smaller pieces that end up on the floor.
  2. Students cut the corners off of their papers.  I don't know why that bugs me so much! 
As the students finished cutting out their eggs, I asked them to place the eggs on their drawing where they would be glued in place.  I asked the students to put their eggs a little bit above the branch so when the nest was added, it would look safe for the eggs and not like it would fall out of the tree.  The eggs were glued down and then I demonstrated making the nest.  The nest was made from newspaper.  I only used one section of the paper and after my 100+ students made their projects, I probably still have enough left for 4 or 5 more years!  To prepare the newspaper, I watered down brown tempera paint in a spray bottle.  I sprayed the newspaper to tint it brown, let it dry, then took it home and put it through my paper shredder!  The shredded paper went into a shopping bag and traveled to school.

When I made my sample, I very carefully glued a couple strips of newspaper at a time to make the nest.  The students had a different approach... I tried to get them to use thin layers of bottled glue but most made a big blob, took a pinch of newspaper, and plopped it down on the glue.  The students' method actually worked pretty good and it was a lot faster than my original plan!  The very best results were still achieved by using thin layers of glue.  You'll need to put down the first layer of newspaper and then add another layer of glue to avoid holes in the nest.  It is also helpful to lightly press the newspaper down to make sure it sticks.  If there is too much glue in one spot, the paper buckles when it dries on the rack.  

The gluing portion of this project can obviously get a little messy.  I called one table at a time to wash their hands.  Students who weren't washing were picking up the newspaper pieces from the floor.  I found that the nest pictures needed at least a whole day to dry on the rack before being stacked.  The students seemed to enjoy the project and the chance to help others if they finished early.  Even one of the students who wasn't super excited at first said:
Wow, this is way 'funner' than I thought it would be!


  1. Hey Katie, thanks for your comments on my Georgetown Elem. Blog....I love these little nests, what a sweet idea! I'm always looking for ways to bring recycling into my curriculum. You have a cool blog, I added you to my blog roll - josey

  2. I am loving these nests!! Another idea to borrow and create our way. And another use for shredded paper. At my school we have combined P.E., Art and Music every Friday. We call it R.A.M.P...."Rockin', Art, Music and P.E.". we have rotating centers for each subject. One Friday we used tons of shredded paper to create snow for our kids...they had a blast and it looked a lot like snow. Clever you for coming up with the bird nest project!