Lead your tribe in some character-building mischief. In her book Emotional Poverty, Ruby Payne teaches that the core difference between favorable and unfavorable behavior is compassion. While compassion is a natural trait for some children, the sensitivity can be nurtured by rewarding and modeling compassionate behaviors. Social distancing can be an opportunity to make memories, build compassion in children, and touch someone less fortunate in your community without coming into actual contact.

Your mission, should you accept it, is to hang a bird feeder outside the window of an isolated elderly person. The only stipulations are that they have a rain gutter above their window and the homeowner or facility gives consent (by phone), including times that are best for privacy. Maintenance men are territorial by nature. If you come toward their building with a hammer and a nail, building maintenance tends to react with an “in your face explosion” emotional response, much like Dr. Payne describes in Emotional Poverty. Assure the facility in advance that the structure will neither be altered nor entered. The following instructions explain how.

In the television series MacGyver, the hero engineers his way out of each predicament by using random available objects held together by chewing gum to create an explosion. This will not require gum or an explosion, but not going to the store is the bomb. Use what is in your home. Here is what you will need:

  1. A bird feeder. Cheap dollar-store hummingbird feeders are ideal, but creating bird feeders from household objects will prevent venturing into the store and buying enough time for one trip to the bathroom alone. The only requirement is that the bird feeder be light in weight.
  2. Fishing line. Ask permission to harvest about three yards of used line off a family member’s fishing pole. Fishing line does not draw visual attention, which overcomes many facility objections. Angler-free homes can substitute dental floss, wire, string, or ask any parolee how to make rope out of a plastic grocery bag. People who have been incarcerated know how to MacGyver.
  3. Bird food. Hummingbird feeders can be filled with a homemade sugar-water solution, and in the absence of wild bird seed, pet bird seed, or whole unprocessed grains like quinoa, birdseed feeders can be filled with seeds from the kitchen. The exercise of repurposing culinary seed for use in bird feeders helps kids develop higher cognitive function by removing an object from its traditional category and applying it elsewhere. Spice cabinets may have celery seed, mustard seed, dill seed, and/or poppyseed, and most kitchens have a packet of pepper flakes and seeds that came with a pizza. Exploring the odor of each item reinforces the memory by utilizing the additional sense of smell. To expand the lesson and buy enough time for a cup of coffee, kids can include scent descriptions in their story journals. Many homes have outdated garden seeds in the back of a drawer, and you can search your refrigerator with new eyes. Seeds can be removed and dried from most fresh produce like tomato, squash, cucumber, or watermelon. Picking seeds out with tweezers develops manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination in young children.
  4. S-hook. The hook is to be placed over the edge of the gutter above the person’s window with the free end supporting the bird feeder, suspended by fishing line at a height visible from the person’s bed. Possible S-hook options are: a treble hook for fishing, paracord hooks that are popular on backpacks and keychains, or a cut-down wire coat hanger.


Discuss with children how pandemic isolation impacts the elderly. Those in long-term care and retirement facilities have not been allowed visits by family in an effort to protect their frail health. Children of every age can explore and discuss how it must feel to be alone without use of devices. Spend time having each child describe the position of one less advantaged in terms of access to loved ones, noting that people are an asset and expressing gratitude for each other. To make the lesson concrete, have them:

  • Journal or draw an elderly person and record how isolation feels from their perspective
  • Draw the person looking out the window watching kids hang a bird feeder
  • Draw the person watching birds at the bird feeder

The entire process recorded in picture or narrative from another’s viewpoint teaches compassion for others. Helping others and expressing gratitude are excellent tools for self-soothing that can be practiced as a family to develop healthy coping mechanisms in kids.

Test hang the hook/string/feeder at home. Older students can journal the steps of scientific theory with each test (experiment). Do not fill the bird feeder until after it is hung in place. Create and test a work-together plan to reach the gutter and hang the feeder like ninjas without coming into contact with anybody inside the building. This is the homeschool version of climbing the rope in the gym class to the tune of the Mission Impossible theme. Successful solutions frequently involve a child on the shoulders of an adult. Do not borrow anything from the facility to prevent transferring microbes to the inside.

For families that charge their batteries by helping the elderly, future activities might include building a music playlist for each decade and discovering how the music of our youth unlocks the mind.