This guest blog post was written by Vanessa Rendall of Sydney, Australia. She is an elementary school teacher and librarian who specializes in gifted education and library services. She has always loved teaching children about the world they live in and how they can make a difference. She is also the mom to a five year old and two year old. Her blog, Flicking On The Book, bridges the gap between global environmental issues and understanding these issues in our own lives.
There is a lot of new research highlighting the importance of playing outside. It has been shown to increase happiness, problem solving skills, and motivation. When children play outside, they are free to be more imaginative since there are less boundaries. They can also solve problems more effectively and learn about the world they live in through their five senses.
As a teacher, I have always observed how children learn best when they are in a relaxed and informal environment. I love being outside; it just makes me happier. I love being in natural areas where there is less human activity and more time to sit back and admire what is around me. So when I became a librarian, I couldn’t think of a better way to get children outside than through reading books!
Now, you probably think of books as an inside activity, but what if we take the ideas from books and use them to inspire some outdoor play?
Here are several adorable children’s books covering various nature themes that will jumpstart your family’s outdoor adventures. We have also included a few examples of creative hands-on activities you can enjoy with your children based on each book.
Go On An Adventure
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt is a classic book that we all know and love. It is so much fun to read and sing along to. Follow along with the family as they wade through the grass, splash through the river, and squelch through the mud in search of a bear. What a surprise awaits them in the cave on the other side of the dark forest!
- Go on your own pretend bear hunt. Look for some swishy grass, splashy water, and sloshy mud.
- Search for the animals in your local area.
- Pack a bag and go on a short hike. Think of the different supplies you will need to cope with rain, wind, hot sun, or bugs on your hike.
Grow A Garden
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is about one boy’s quest for a greener world, one garden at a time. While out exploring one day, the boy discovers a struggling garden and decides to take care of it. As time passes, the garden spreads throughout the drab city, transforming it into a lush, green world. This is a poignant book that has inspired many cities to explore how they can become greener.
- Keep a seed diary. Plant seeds and watch them grow (use quick growing seeds like herbs, beans, or sunflowers).
- Look at a local park or your own backyard and redesign it so there is more green space.
- Make an inventory of the nature in your area. Discuss biodiversity of plants and animals with your children.
Mechanica by Lance Baldachin is an imaginative field guide for those who love the earth but wonder what will happen if we do not protect it. The book looks to the future when the earth is devoid of any natural life due to human destruction and consumption. However, mechanical creatures have been made to replace what was lost.
- Find some insects and sketch them. Look at how they move their arms and legs. Try to recreate an insect out of natural or recycled materials.
- Create an insect house for your local insects. Many insects are lacking in city gardens since there are not enough small holes for them to live in.
- Teach your children about the life cycles of insects and see if you can find evidence of different stages in your area (e.g. cocoon, butterfly).
Dig for Worms
The Worm Who Knew Karate by Terry Denton and Jill Lever is a hilarious book about a worm who decides to become braver and stronger through the art of karate. How can we help our children build their confidence?
- Dig up some dirt and search for earth worms in your backyard.
- Buy a worm farm or explore your local community garden’s worm farm.
- Feed the worms and learn what food they like best.
Discover New Places
Bogtrotter by Margaret Wild is about a delightful creature that lives in the bog. The book focuses on belonging, trying new things, challenging ourselves, playing outdoors, loneliness, and discovery. The illustrations by Judith Rossell are marvelous, really bringing to life the Bogtrotter and his feelings.
- Visit a park, national park, garden, or any other outdoor space that you have not seen yet.
- Take a path you typically go on, but do it slowly and mindfully, trying to notice the small things as you walk along.
- Take something outside that you normally do inside (e.g. have a picnic, do an art activity). Does it make a difference?
Stretch Your Imagination
Incredibilia, written by Libby Hathorn and illustrated by Gaye Chapman, contains pictures that really transport you to an imaginative world full of crazy creatures, whispy clouds, and natural beauty. You will love looking at each page and imagining what Georgie was thinking about, what she was playing, and how the others could play, too.
- Take some ribbons, balls, string, and scraps and see what you can do with them outside instead of playing with a specific toy.
- Create new names for the local insects, trees, and flowers in your garden or local park. Get those creative juices flowing!
- Go somewhere or find something that you think is incredibilia!
Leaf by Stephen Michael King shows the love of nature that children can have when given the chance. In this magical story, a little boy grows his own seedling in his hair and loves it, cares for it, and shares many adventures with it. He spends every waking minute finding the best way to care for his seedling. Unfortunately, he needs a haircut and the adult world tries to take his small tree away from him. His determination and resilience shines through and he continues to care for the tree as he grows older. This is a beautifully drawn book which not only intrigues the reader but really hits the spot on how we need to take a step back and let the natural world become a part of our daily lives.
- Perform a puppet show outside with leaves as the characters –draw on them and create a story.
- What can you grow out of different substances? Explore how seeds grow and what they need to grow.
- How heavy are different trees? Use problem solving to try and work this out.