Empowering Kids to Run with Their Ideas

We have been working on a large-scale project for the past year. Last year our two bird-watching boys were devastated when a builder destroyed the woods beside our home to make room for a new house. They were very concerned about the birds’ loss of habitat.

They decided to remedy the situation by putting in a bird garden. Their vision was to plant shrubs and trees which would restore lost habitat, giving the birds food and shelter. They also wanted to have a water feature, some seed and nectar feeders and a place to sit so they could enjoy watching their feathered friends once again.

We agreed to help them turn their vision into reality. When we began this project last March, our four boys ranged in age from 3 to 11 years old. After a few days of laborious digging just to plant some small flowers, I hired someone with a power auger to dig holes in our hard, rocky Georgia clay. They did in 5 hours what would have taken us 5 years: they dug 40 holes, many large enough for trees.

After the holes were dug, we never needed to hire another professional. This was a project the boys wanted to do, and my desire was to help them run with it. They had ownership over the project, and they were the driving force behind everything we did.

Here you can see the woods beside our home as it looked two years ago, before it was destroyed to make room for a new house.

This is our side yard today, with much habitat restored.
We began researching trees and shrubs that are attractive to birds. We wanted every plant to be attractive to songbirds for food, shelter, or both. Little by little over the course of the past year we worked to fill those 40 holes. The boys had lots of practice preparing root bound plants, mixing enriched soil and manure with our Georgia clay, and learning how to plant trees and shrubs. Having never done much gardening before, I learned right along with them.

We are finally almost finished with the Songbird Garden. Last week we dug up one more area ourselves and planted butterfly bushes, bridal wreath and lantana to make Hummingbird Hollow.

The boys enjoy watching the birds at the feeding station from this bench. Hummingbird Hollow is in the foreground. Several of the butterfly bushes were transplanted from another part of our yard.

We have two feeding stations in the garden: a seed station for songbirds (which a kind neighbor built for us) and a nectar station for hummingbirds.

The boys have spent hours upon hours digging up large rocks in our woodsy backyard and carrying them to the garden, one by one or in heavy wagon-loads, to use as edging around all the shrub and flower beds. This hard work was one of our favorite projects. They love the natural look that it gives to the garden, and I love the fact that it was all free!

We worked together as a family to lay 124 cubic feet of mulch, creating garden paths around the plantings. My oldest son taught me how to lay weed block and spread the mulch, as he has helped my husband do it in other areas around the house.

I don’t think we could have pulled this project off without the help of our oldest son. Now aged 12, he provided a lot of the brawn that was needed for this undertaking. He proved himself very capable at many of the jobs I find tedious. For example, this week he proudly assembled two bird baths.

He also hung a tree face that we received as a gift. I love it!

The younger boys wanted to provide the birds with a dust bath for cleaning their feathers, and with rock and brush piles for foraging.

Working together, the 3 youngest boys dug a large pit for the dust bath and mixed sifted ash, sand and dirt together in the hole. They lined it with stones and we’ve already seen doves enjoying it. The rock pile and brush pile have also taken shape.

Each boy worked with his grandfather to build a birdhouse suited to a particular species.

They have also hung out nesting materials, including a feather duster and a cage with natural unprocessed cotton fibers. A clipped string mop head, meant to attract orioles, adorns one of the trees.

We recently learned about worms in our science lessons and the boys decided to begin a worm farm in order to have rich compost for the bird garden. They have been enjoying that ongoing project very much!

We have seen our bird population grow over the past year, and it has been a delight to see new species coming to our yard. We were thrilled a couple of months ago to see our first pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks in the yard, and this week we have been serenaded regularly by an Eastern Meadowlark.

Even more beneficial has been the time spent working together to accomplish a common goal. The boys have learned a lot about gardening, and we all feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Each boy, regardless of his age, was a valued member of the team, and each one feels the thrill of taking dominion over one little corner of the earth. The two middle boys feel encouraged and uplifted that the family helped them run with their idea. They feel loved, and excited about their next big idea!

I asked one of our sons this week if he would remember this special project for the rest of his life. He is the bird-lover, and it had been his idea in the first place. He shared with me that when he had conceived the idea for a bird garden, he imagined a hummingbird feeder, a few plants and a rock bench. The final product was beyond his wildest imagination. He said that he never could forget it, as this has been the biggest undertaking of his young life.

For more specific information about what we planted and how we did this project, please refer to my Birding Blog. Here are links to the posts about our Bird Garden project.

The first post about Phase one of this project can be found at this link:
Our Bird Garden

This post is about some of the birds we began seeing about half way through this project:
Fruits of the Bird Garden

This is the most recent post that gives specifics about some of the things we planted, construction of the dust bath, and instructions for how we did the paths:
Finishing the Bird Garden

UPDATE:  The children were thrilled when this project won first place in the Keep Our County Beautiful competition.  And we were all completely stunned when it also won second place for the state of Georgia in the Keep Georgia Beautiful competition!!  You can read details about it here!


  1. What a wonderful child-led project! You can tell that they really enjoy birding.

    I can tell that true spring is almost here in Alaska. I hear birds in the morning now. I can’t wait for warmer weather and more wildlife.

  2. Wow!!! I am so impressed. You know I love projects, and this is one of the best I have ever seen. Good job to all the boys and to Mom and Dad!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow!!! I am so impressed. It looks wonderful. You must all feel such a sense of accomplishment after all of that hard work.

    What a great family!

  4. What a marvelous job you all did. That is so inspiring!

  5. Wow! What a terrific project and learning experience. This will be something they will always remember. THanks for the inspiration 🙂

  6. What an awesome project. I am inspired to do the same with my back yard. Keep up the good work!!!

  7. This is so cool! You all did a fantastic job. I am so glad that even with all the work it entailed there was much fun to be had. They probably didn’t even realize how much “school” was happening while they did this. Enjoy it this summer!

  8. I saw your link to this post from the Apologia group. Now I know you from two egroups. 🙂 I thought you might what to tell the boys that they have a fan in our house. My oldest Pickles (5.5) loved reading this post and is even more excited to study “Flying Creatures” now.

    The sweetest part was how he told daddy later tonight that he is glad he doesn’t go to a “building school”. I think that comment came from seeing the fun things other homeschoolers do, too.

    Thanks for sharing. We enjoy witnessing your journey as a family.

    Sunday and family

  9. Katrina in TX says:

    I, too, saw your post on the Apologia yahoo group. What a wonderful job you all did – impressive! Thanks so much for sharing it with the rest of us.

  10. What a great project for boys!

  11. Molly, what a fantastic job your boys did!!! I love it ~ both the journey and the end result. We have had such a fun year making our yard more habitable for bird species too (no big project like your family, but lots of small things). It has made the Flying Creatures book really come alive for us. Thanks for all the great ideas!!

    Pam (from TLT)

  12. Wow! This is really inspiring! We too are working towards creating an area of bush at the back of our garden. This post has given me the impetus I need to get out there again.

    I look forward to getting to know you and your family through the pages of your blog. Thanks for dropping by and visiting mine!


  13. Hi Molly,

    What a great post and record of your journey. We are working on a much smaller scale butterfly/hummingbird garden…my middle son is the laborer and we work side by side on picking plants and then getting them into the ground. It is such a satisfying way to spend time together.

    Thanks for all the inspiration!
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  14. Talk about bird Utopia! You must have some very happy birds flying about your backyard.

    thanks for visiting our blog ;o)

  15. I’m just going to repeat others’ comments – Wow! Impressive! This is a project with long lasting effects.

  16. Your great-auntie in Virginia is bursting with pride over what you boys have accomplished, and especially for your love of nature and wildlife. You are both tender-hearted and super-industrious. I can’t wait to see your work first-hand. Can’t make it this year, but maybe next year you can show me around. Easter blessings to each of you, and of course to your Mom and Dad too. Love ya!

  17. Your boys should be very proud of all they accomplished. I am sure they will remember that for the rest of their lives. When they are grown and moved out every time they visit the memories will be there for them to see. Great Job

  18. Awesome! I LOVE this! They must be so proud, and you must be, too! So great of you to encourage them so. And as a fellow Georgian, I can sympathise with digging in that Georgia clay!

  19. Fantastic project! I bet your kids are just bursting with pride over their accomplishments.

    I don’t know if you know about this or not, but you can certify your yard if it meets certain criteria as a backyard habitat. The link is here: http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife/create.cfm?CFID=8959401&CFTOKEN=20ca8cd17aef9fa5-A99D395C-5056-A84B-C39A7A1FAF426CAA

  20. Awesome! This is a dream of my own as well. Keep us posted on the birds that come to visit.

  21. What an amazing project. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Well done.