When I think of all the time I spent outdoors as a child, I feel sad that many of today’s kids don’t have that same experience. Play dates are scheduled and lessons and sports activities take up a good part of the afterschool experience. Connecting to nature and the environment can have positive physical and mental benefits. Even in the dead of winter, you can connect a child to nature with kid’s books that celebrate the outdoors. Imaginations can flourish with a good read. All the better if you can pack a picnic and bring the reading adventure into nature.
To Market to Market by Niki Mc Clure follows a mother and son as they shop for ingredients on their weekly list. The cheese comes from goats and napkins are dyed with natural indigo. Step by step, the work that goes into growing or making products are simply explained and wonderfully illustrated with the detailed paper cuts McClure has become known for. My favorite is Steve the salmon smoker. Just three basic ingredients of salmon, salt and alder smoke combined with a little time are all that’s needed. If ever there was a time for children to “know their food” this book will give kids the backstory on how it arrives at the table. Ages 4-8 years
Nancy White Carlstrom listens to the weather in What Does the Sky Say. Each day is different and brings new challenges and joy. Moving through the seasons, Carlstrom writes about a little girl who reminds us to take advantage of all the world has to offer and experience each of the changing skies as a new beginning. “After the rain, there is always sunshine.” Ages 4 and up.
Fall is a season I always enjoy with the brilliance of the leaves changing in New England. I’ve collected fallen leaves and pressed them between books for as long as I can remember. Looking at their silhouette reminds me of all kinds of people and animals, just like the author of The Leaf Man, Lois Ehlert. The wind is in charge, and the leaf man will go wherever it might take him. This playful story is sure to stir the imagination of children as the illustrations use actual leaves to form fish and ducks, accented with seeds and acorns. Nature walks will never be the same. Ages 4-8 years.
Tropical rainforests and the environment are hard at work in The Great Kapok Tree. Lynne Cherry takes the reader deep into the heart of the Amazon with her beautiful colored pencil and watercolor drawings. As a man falls into long sleep just before cutting into a kapok tree, all the animals and creatures of the forest visit him. On by one, they introduce the concept of conservation and the interdependence of all living things. He wakes up forever changed. A map at the end of the story shows the endangered forests of the earth and the creatures that live there. Ages 4-8 years.
Famed gardener C.Z. Guest was a natural fit to tell the story of Ganny, who shows little Bun how to use all the tools in her shed and plant a garden from start to finish. Tiny Green Thumbs is a DIY for youngsters interested in starting their own patch of green. After all their hard work, which includes playing hide and seek amongst the corn stalks and a little bit of weeding, they find pickles growing under the leaves and enjoy a hard earned vegetarian feast. Ages 3-7 years.
Anyone who loves the ocean will appreciate The Hidden Forest by Jeannie Baker. Using beautiful collages to illustrate her book, the author takes a journey under the sea. Incorporating natural materials such as sponges, sand and kelp into her unusual pictures introduces a starting point for creative discussions about what is found at the shore. Ben and his more experienced friend Sophie dive off the coast of Tasmania and explore a beautiful world beneath the surface. Learning about seaweed and underwater creatures is a great way to show children respect for the water and overcome fear of the unknown. Once Ben realizes what a fascinating, hidden world lies under the waves; he releases his fish back into the wild. Ages 5-9 years.
Hive collapse has been in the news for a few years now and the importance of bees and pollination is the subject of These Bees Count by Alison Formento. Using pretty paper cut illustrations, the relevance of the busy bee’s work is highlighted in Mr. Tate’s multicultural class. As they produce honey and make flowers grow, the bees count their way through the environment of a variety of flowers. Ages 4-7 years.
Connecting children with the great outdoors is good for both their psychological and physical development. Nature can teach children many things about science and encourage creativity. Even more important however, is the fact that tomorrow’s stewards for the planet need to be connected with the natural world.