One minute of silence: Listening to the birds at the Arboretum

Q: How do you teach kids the art of listening?

A: One minute at a time.

While hiking today at the Arboretum with 10 kids, I tried something new.

I held up my watch and said, “For one minute, let’s see how many birds we can hear.”

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It wasn’t perfect silence, but that’s okay.  The birds were raucous and many different sounds could be heard. Afterward, John said he heard a goose. Janet, an avid birder and one of our Sierra Club volunteers, said she heard the shrill call of a red-bellied woodpecker. The kids listened again.

They heard it. Their eyes grew larger, full of wonder. 

Where is the bird hiding? What does he look like?

Somehow, the rest of the hike seemed quieter. I don’t know if this is true, but that’s how it felt to me. We stopped by the spring and enjoyed some watercress. Some kids liked it and others thought it was too hot. It tasted a little peppery.

After the hike, we stopped at the Longenecker Gardens to enjoy a snack and to run around among the lilacs.
We saw swallows, a cat bird, a Baltimore oriole, chipping sparrows, robins, turkeys and yellow finches.

What a glorious day Spring day.

I think it’s important to teach kids the art of listening.

Who knows, that one minute of silence could lead to many more.

To listen to the red-bellied  woodpecker, go to

Diane Schwartz is a K-5 teacher at the Goodman Community Center in Madison, WI. She leads hiking, skiing and biking adventures. For a free 11-page Bubble Activity Guide,  just go to the home page and subscribe to this blog.


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