The Birds of CCNS-The Project Approach in Action!

If you walk onto the grounds of CCNS you’ll be delighted to be surrounded by the calls and colors of doves, blue jays, sparrows, and chickadees yet their presence is by no accident. Rather, the return of CCNS’s abundant bird population is due to the interest and work of our students, particularly the threes and fours classes. How and why did so many species of birds decide to return home? Read on to learn about one example of the great rewards of The Project Approach.

A project is a deep study of a topic worth learning more about and is one of the ways we deliver curriculum at CCNS.  The Project Approach follows three distinctive phases beginning with the impetus for the project itself.


Phase I:  Initiating the Project

Although the Threes and Fours classes studied the same topic for their deep study, it started for two very difference reasons.  The Three Class have a class “animal” that differs each year that they use for their attendance tags.  This year their tags are birds.  Starting the year off there were bird’s nests and stuffed birds and many beautiful non-fiction books on birds in the classroom as provocations.  One of their classmates also raises chickens at her home and she and her mom shared their care and their eggs with the class.  The children became interested in learning more about the real creatures based on playing with the toys and observing the nests. The Fours Class had two new window bird feeders hung up at eye level in the meeting area full of inviting bird seed.  Watching them eagerly they became dismayed after a month of not seeing a single bird at their feeders.  Going on a bird watching walk around the grounds revealed a similar fate-they did not see a single bird! Now they were determined to bring the birds back to CCNS.

Phase II: Developing the Project                                            

CCNS has a wonderful relationship with the Darien Nature Center, so both classes worked with their naturalist, Emily.  The cornerstone of any project is the questions from the children.  Learning how to ask questions and then how to find answers is the real meat of the project and what increases mind brain capacity in children.  The Three’s questions focused on the unique body features of birds, while the Four’s were more interested in why they couldn’t see any birds at their school. Emily visited the Threes class and brought some live birds and artifacts with her. They especially liked drawing sketches of the woodland duck she let CCNS borrow to keep in the classrooms for several weeks.   The Fours took a trip to the Darien Nature Center to see the birds inside and outside the center and ask their questions.  There they noticed several free-standing bird feeders full of active birds, inciting the next phase of their project. Both classes got busy making bird feeders of various kinds to hang around the school, and the Fours invited the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, Joe, to come to CCNS to give advice on attracting birds to our feeders. Joe helped the Fours class select a bird feeder and all the necessary supplies based on the birds that would be native to our area.  The children installed and filled the feeder themselves as well as changed the seeds in their window feeders, even adding dried worms.  To the great excitement and sheer joy of all the teachers, parents and children the birds returned to CCNS!!  This allowed both the Threes and Fours classes to work together observing, identifying and sharing information about the birds that flocked to our outdoor classroom and each window feeder.  They became ornithologists! The Threes class researched and experimented with how the beaks of various birds worked, while the Fours class students each chose a specific bird they had observed and researched its features, food choices and size.  They also made costumes based on what they  had learned.

Phase III: The Culminating Event    

Celebrating learning is a major component of The Project Approach.  The Fours became additional experts for the Threes class going in to share what they had learned about each bird with the Threes having time to ask these “experts” questions.  They also shared their findings with the Twos class and their own families visited the class to hear their presentations.  The Threes class cut out bird shapes from clay and then used their research from photographs and books to paint them with authentic colors and markings to match the bird each clay piece represented.

In true CCNS fashion, the project became a community event with the children in different classes working together, as well as the parents becoming just as excited about seeing the birds back on our playground as the children.  Parents shared their knowledge such as with the chickens, their resources by sending in relevant books from home and shared photos of bird sightings around town.  The projects have officially come to an end, but the feeders are in place, and being filled just about every three days now that we have hungry doves, woodpeckers, house finches, sparrows, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals and tufted tit mice as regular guests.   We even have a very hungry and determined squirrel who has discovered our feeders…perhaps our next project.

Playing (and learning) in the snow!

When the children arrived at school last Monday, they were incredibly excited to see our playground covered in snow!  They had read Willow and The Snow Day Dance by Denise Brennan Nelson on Friday, and all went home to follow the book’s directions on how to make it snow… so they felt some ownership of the winter scene that greeted them.

Normally in the Fours, we begin our day outside for about 30 minutes, but this day we stayed out for well over an hour and a half.  It was a beautiful day, and because we go outside every single day, our students are well-trained to dress properly for rain, cold or snow.

It was not until the children started to need the bathroom or to feel hungry that we felt the need to go inside.  At CCNS, we have the flexibility to vary our schedules based on the needs of the children as well as exciting events that might occur – and what could be more exciting than the first snowfall of the season?!

Were we “just playing” for an hour and a half at the expense of our scheduled activities inside?

Absolutely.  But, we were also…

  • discovering the physics of creating sledding paths in deep powder.  Why weren’t we going fast? Why wasn’t it slippery? How did this change as more children came down the path?  Why were some starting to go faster than others? 
  • practicing the negotiation and problem-solving involved with sled turn-taking.
  • finding ice in various shapes and thicknesses all over the playground.  What is inside this ice?  What happens when I drop it?
  • stirring, mixing and packing snow in our outdoor kitchen; creating recipes while learning about the properties of snow and how they can be changed.
  • exercising and strengthening our bodies as we climbed the big hill over and over again, trudged through the thick snow or tried to push our way down slides packed heavy with snow.
  • excitedly and descriptively articulating our discoveries to our teachers and each other.

And, importantly, we were enjoying the beauty of nature, breathing the fresh air and experiencing how highly our CCNS parents and teachers value being outside and having time to explore.

We have a wonderful, large outdoor classroom at CCNS that is ever-changing… from falling leaves or a new snowfall, to a new raised garden bed built by the Fours, to the playground redesign in the works that will add new natural features to make this incredible space even more inviting for extended play and discovery.

Giving children the opportunity to spend more time in nature has garnered a good deal of press recently, and a strong body of research stresses the importance of this kind of experience for children.  It is reassuring to know that the children of CCNS are already benefiting from a rich, natural environment and from a learning community that values this important play.

Dana M. Gorman

Educational Director


To read a few recent articles on the value of outdoor play and learning, click here, here or here!