Animal Tracks Nature Study

Animal Tracks Nature Study

Printed Resources:
For Fun:
  1. Print this sheet on to white card stock
  2. Cut each in to circles using 1.25″ circle hole punch
  3. Use Matte Mod Podge and adhere footprint circles to 1.5″ wood craft circles
  4. Coat top with Mod Podge again
  5. I later took a fine point Sharpie and wrote the name of the animal by the track so I could be sure to know what it was

Monarch Butterfly Nature Study

Monarch Butterfly Nature Study

Monarch-Specific Books:
Butterfly Books:
For Fun:

Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies

Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies - The Silvan Reverie

What is a Naturalist?

“We are all meant to be naturalists, each in his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” (Charlotte Mason)

A simple way to think of a naturalist is a person who studies plants, animals, and fungi in their natural environment. A professional naturalist traditionally will use more observational science than experimental methods, but that’s not a hard line. Many of the naturalists in this list used experiments to learn more about a field of interest: Beatrix Potter experimented with fungi spores and Maria Merian experimented with caterpillar larvae and host plants.

All of these books evoke images of a childhood spent immersed in nature. In some cases the children grow up to be adults in their specific childhood-field-of-interest: John James Audubon and birds, Jean Henri-Fabre and insects. In other cases there is not such a direct line to an adult career: Ansel Adams became a photographer, Beatrix Potter an author.

I will say that a couple of these books play up the “_________ was not your average child” mantra. The suggestion is that if a young child prefers to study insects or collect rocks than sit in a school desk all day or play video games then they are a bit abnormal. I find that the opposite is actually true–I think children have a natural-born inclination to absorb and enjoy the natural world to its fullest and to their hearts’ content.

“If children are to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults, nature needs to be integral to their everyday lives, from place-based learning at school to unstructured, unsupervised, even risk-prone play around home. Nature isn’t just a bunch of far-off plants, animals, and landscapes to learn about and visit once or twice a year. It’s an environment to be immersed in daily, especially during our childhood years.” (Scott D. Sampson, How to Raise a Wild Child)

Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

Anna Botsford Comstock is the author of Handbook of Nature Study. This picture book follows her life from childhood on, depicting a young girl entranced with the natural world who grows to be a woman widely acknowledged to be a nature expert and pioneer in the field of nature education. One of her main contributions was to encourage children’s interest in the natural world by conducting science and nature studies outdoors. She believed children need to experience nature for themselves, not just through books in a classroom.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

With a net in her hand, young Maria sets out to study insects closely and learn more about them. Since she lived in a time when people thought insects were “beasts of the devil,” Maria Merian is considered to be one of the first naturalists who studied insects through direct observation. She contributed much to the field of etymology. I appreciate that the illustrations in this book evoke the style of Maria Merian herself, who used watercolors, engravings, and etchings. The text in this book is rich, but a bit simpler than some of the others on this book list and therefore preschooler-friendly. In some ways this book is more of a playful and interesting story and less of a true biography.

Another option: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science — this book is a much longer and thorough biography of Maria Merian’s life, with excellent illustrations and even includes images of Maria Merian’s artwork.

Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt

One of my favorite wildflower nature study books. I personally loved reading this the first time to my kids because I got to learn more about Lady Bird Johnson. I had no idea she had such a connection to wildflowers. “To Lady Bird, the act of planting flowers helped people become better caretakers.” I love the idea of connecting to nature through gardening, not just through wild mountain adventures like John Muir. Later in life Lady Bird helped establish the National Wildflower Research Center, a fitting legacy for a girl and woman that love wildflowers so much and saw the need to protect them for the future.

Note: This book does address the assassination of JFK. It is handled gently but it might bring up some questions for younger readers.

Small Wonders: Jean Henri-Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith

I absolutely love this biography because it is told in such an engaging and thrilling way — not just a simple run-through year-by-year of Jean Henri-Fabre’s life. We begin with the President of France visiting an old recluse man in a small town — but why would he visit such a man, and who is this person? We later learn it is Jean Henri-Fabre and the President has arrived to give him an award for his contributions to etymology. The early depictions of the young boy’s discoveries in nature are so inspiring and the imaginative settings are inviting–you literally just want to jump into the dreamy landscape. I think this book does an excellent job of depicting exactly what a naturalist is—not only seeing the infinite beauty in the tiniest of wonders, but taking time to observe, draw pictures, and record notes. And, lastly, to share those discoveries with others … which is worthy of reward.

Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure by Jennifer Thermes

This biography covers the adventurous years Darwin spent traveling on the HMS Beagle and on land throughout South America (not just the Galápagos Islands). This story celebrates the virtue of exploration and wonder—through the eyes of a young man we celebrate the observation of the tiniest of creatures, the mystery of dug-up bones, and the awe of active volcanoes. Do you know what it feels like to see a new creature or plant for this first time? This book evokes those emotions quite well. This book also comes with fun maps to explore and spark imagination as well as inviting illustrations, especially of the HMS Beagle. The adventure narrative is riveting and fun!

Note: Darwin’s religious views have been widely debated and discussed. This picture books omits any mention of that tension.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies

Audubon felt that studying birds in nature, in their natural habitat was preferable to book-learning. He would carry with him notebooks and pencils to illustrate birds that he actually observed. Beyond the fact that he is widely recognized as one of the best bird painters, he also helped pioneer the idea of bird banding to track migration. One thing I appreciate in this book is the relationship John James has with his father, who also loved birds and is an encouragement to the young boy. Many of the other stories in this list are told of an individual in isolation from others. It’s nice to highlight a positive family influence on inspiring a love of the natural world.

Note: This book is also on my list of Favorite Bird Books for Children

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo

You might be surprised that I’m including a fossil collector in my list of naturalists. The reason for this is that Sue Hendrickson’s childhood was that of a naturalist: she spent time in nature and had a particular fondness for finding and collecting nature treasures. The illustrations in the book show little Sue how hunting with a net or magnifying glass for any new discovery. This book ultimately inspires children to take things a little slower and spend the time to take a closer look at the natural world around them. Who know what they will find!

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott

“‘Ansel was antsy. He never walked–he ran.’ … ‘Why don’t you go outside?” suggested his father.” YES! Send them outside. Ansel Adams spent his childhood exploring Northern California and loving every minute of exploration and fresh air. When he was 14 he took a trip to the Yosemite Valley, falls in love (who wouldn’t?), and his parents gift him with a camera. The rest is history, of course.

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins

A little girl believes tress are her friends. Of course they are when you live in Northern California!! This is the enthralling story of Kate Sessions, whose passion for trees as a child stays with her into adulthood, where she finds herself bringing trees from around to the world to a little desert town known as San Diego. No one at that time could imagine San Diego as a lush and leafy city! Kate Sessions was also instrumental in creating Balboa Park to be what it is today: full of trees. The text and illustrations of this book are reminiscent of Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Utterly charming.

Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson

From a young age, Rachel was interested in spending time in nature and had a near-constant desire to learn and know more about all her observations. Then later, something shifts into her consciousness, and she takes notice and action. The images used in this book to depict the “going silent” natural world are quite gentle and I think appropriate for younger children. The book mainly focuses on Rachel’s time spent in nature, her curiosity and love for it. This is just my opinion, but I do not think we need to burden small children with all the ills of environmental degradation. I believe we should worry more about getting them out into nature and inviting them to love it. If they love it, of course they will want to preserve, honor, and protect it.

I think this other biography of Rachel Carson deals with the negative effects of DDT on the environment more directly (both in text and imagery), and may be more appropriate to read to older elementary children — Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor.

Beatrix Potter by Alexandra Wallner

There is no doubt that Beatrix Potter was a young naturalist. She spent much of her time illustrating her own pets, which later served as inspirations for her stories. What many do not know about Beatrix Potter is how her interest in drawing and painting mushrooms in particular also led to her interest in mycology. She even conducted her own observations experiments on spore germination, which were ignored at the time due to a woman’s place in society. Her love for nature continued throughout her life even after she stopped writing her stories.

Another fantastic Beatrix Potter book:

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle

Louis Fuertes was an ornithologist inspired by Audubon to paint his own artwork based on birds. The illustrations in this book are stunning, realistic, and engaging. The text is all written in prose. It’s a beautiful book that pays a nice tribute. I will say that it’s important to see that the illustrations venture more into a dreamy depiction and steer away from the style of Fuertes himself. The book The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon, for example, does a nice job with illustrations matching the style and era of Audubon.

Note: This book is also on my list of Favorite Bird Books for Children

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything by Anita Sanchez

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting to love this book when I got it from the library, but it’s so enthralling! I love the storytelling here and there is an appropriate amount of charm and humor involved in the creation of the scientific classification system: the naming of EVERYTHING! The story inspires an appreciation of Linnaeus for his incredible lifelong work. I love the page towards the end that shows people who speak a wide variety of languages using the exact same Latin word for carrot. What an accomplishment for one person!

Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez

This book is an easy hit for reptile-loving children! I had never heard of Joan Proctor before getting this book and we are quite amazed at her life’s work–especially her care for Komodo dragons at the London Zoo. The illustrations are fun and the story is an engaging read even for preschoolers — it does not read so fact-based as some of the other books on this list.

Honorable Mentions:

Constellations Nature Study



For Fun:
  • Air Dry Clay Constellations
  • Constellations / Night Sky Sensory Bin




Wolves Nature Study


*Note: I tried to focus on stories where wolves were depicted kindly. Many children’s stories depict wolves as the enemy (e.g. Red Riding Hood, Peter and the Wolf, The Three Little Pigs) so I wanted our nature study to counter those images. For older kids than mine, Kipling’s The Jungle Book might be another option.

For Fun:

Mushrooms Nature Study



*Note: Mushrooms aren’t plants so the title of this book isn’t great

For Fun:

Mushrooms 2.jpg


Wildflowers Nature Study


Nonfiction Books:
Favorite Field Guides:

Wildflowers 2

Printed Resources:
For Fun:


Additional Resources:



Birds of Prey Nature Study


For Fun:

Favorite Nature Play Books


“Giving your children time to engage in free play is like giving them a very special gift–a gfit that keeps on giving, preparing children for adulthood by cultivating and nurturing essential life skills. Play allows children opportunities to get creative, to pratice regulating emotions, to enhance social development, and even to learn about themselves inthe process. Having the ability to play away from the adult world opens up many opportunities and feelings of freedom.” -Angela Hanscom, Balanced and Barefoot (From Restricted Movement to Active Free Play)

About Nature Play

Before diving in to my favorite Nature Play Books, I wanted to first discuss a couple thoughts about nature play:

(1) Nature Play is Born Out of Inactivity

The Silvan Reverie - Favorite Nature Play Books

Rich nature play is often born out of inactivity (or boredom).

In this photo my kids are pretending to dig for dinosaur bones in our yard. They came up with the idea. I was sitting and reading my book, then paused to snap a photo and went back to my own thing. I was not a part of it, I don’t get credit for it, and there isn’t really anything astounding for me to do, claim, or share about it.

And the truth is — this, right here, is exactly the kind of nature play that is worthy of celebration! We give the most praise on social media to nature studies, nature arts and crafts projects, nature games, nature learning. All of those things are so beautiful and so worthy of celebrating. Truly.

BUT … nature play is a harder thing to photograph and share, and I think it is because the best kind of nature play is born out of inactivity, not activity. Boredom is a beautiful thing, friends. Boredom is a thing to chase after, not avoid or remedy. Boredom is an opportunity, not a problem to fix.

I wish there were hundreds of moments for me to hit “like” on when parents send their children outside with nothing to do, no agenda. When we reject the idea that our kids must be doing things worthy of a photo. When we reject the idea that we are in charge of stimulating their happiness. When we reject the idea that the ends matter more than the means. When we reject the idea that our kids need a gorgeously scenic nature backdrop to play in in order to live an amazing childhood.

(2) Nature Play Is Self-Directed


Roxaboxen. In my mind this is the ultimate children-at-nature-play book.⁣ A celebration of the active imagination at its best. With nothing but nature loose parts & random materials, children can create a dynamic & lasting fantastical world full of shops, houses, jails, and forts. The possibilities are endless.⁣

I wonder if, when we read this, we overlook a simple fact: no adults are present. Think about it. No adults are there snapping or staging photos. No adults are helping dig for treasure. No adults are there giving ideas on how to play with a stick. No adults are making sure the kids look clean and cute. No adults are setting the rules. No adults are fretting over the hurts or managing the conflicts. No adults are a part of the memories.⁣

In nature play, children do not *NEED* to be instructed or managed by adults.

Nature play is mostly self-directed; however, that doesn’t mean adult-directed activities, games, crafts, and nature studies are a bad thing. I believe they just need to be kept in their rightful place.

Books to Inspire Nature Play


So, keeping in mind those two points above, I do still think there is value in the following books that share fun and engaging ways to play in nature. The ideas presented here might not be NEW or something you couldn’t just find searching Pinterest, but I personally love having a physical book to peruse for inspiration instead of scouring the internet with my kids around.

Without further ado, here is my list of favorite books to inspire nature play:

Play the Forest School Way

This is the first of these types of nature play books that I ever bought. I like that there are nature games well represented here; it’s just just crafts. These games can be done in nature groups which is so inviting. You don’t have to just enjoy nature experiences alone — it can be enjoyed in community. I think this book would be super helpful for a nature group leader as all of the activities are well explained and contain guiding questions and thoughts: “What did you learn? What went wrong? How did you feel doing this activity?” I do think many activities skew for elementary-aged children, not so much for toddlers and preschoolers. Note that there are also only simple line illustrations in this book, no photographs.

A Year of Forest School

Similar format to Play the Forest School Way but has a few more activities AND this book is organized by the four seasons. At the end of each season are several ideas that come together for a group gathering/celebration: a group game, a craft or activity, and a fun outdoor recipe. I appreciate that many of the activities seem to be geared towards groups of children coming together. If you were to only purchase one of this book or Play the Forest School Way — I’d suggest buying this one. I think overall there’s a better range of ideas in here than the first book.

Forest Club

This book has a lovely balance of nature study + nature play activities. It is organized by the four seasons, and each season has relevant nature processes and flora and fauna to learn about, and then maybe 5-7 activities. I adore the juxtaposition here: on one page there is a spread of different types of leaves and on the next page is a craft to do with leaves—so you can just carry this book outside with you and invite your kids to learn as they create! This reminds me a lot of some of my favorite Clare Walker Leslie books: Nature All Year Long and The Nature Connection. Learning and play can coincide, and that’s a lovely lovely thing.

A review copy of this book was given to me by Quarto Kids but the opinions are my own.

Sticks and Stones

This book was written by the founder of the lovely Fireflies + Mud Pies. Each activity (using either sticks or or rocks) is described in detail and accompanied nicely with photographs. There’s never a question left on how to do something mentioned in the book. I will say that many activities will require adult supervision–with drilling or sawing involved. But, honestly that is a part of the fun. In the book it’s clear these are all family-friendly activities that can be enjoyed together.

A review copy of this book was given to me by Quarto Kids but the opinions are my own.

Whatever the Weather

Well, I hate to pick favorites but I genuinely feel that if I could only own one book on this list, it would be this one! This book is a nice pairing with There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather. The book is divided into four sections: Cold Weather, Rainy Weather, Sunny Weather, and Windy Weather. Obviously sunny days get a lot of attention, but what can we do to play in snow and rain and blustery days? This book has a wealth of truly unique and engaging ideas! The ice/snow ones are some of my favorites–a great inspiration to get out the door even when it takes an hour to bundle everyone up in winter gear!

I Love Dirt

Many of the ideas here are meant to be open-ended and experiential. Most have no physical product or craft to finish. Rather, the prompts are meant to engage the senses, increase awareness, and stimulate imagination. I think this is a great gateway book for those who want to engage more with nature in simple and mindful ways without sort of the “stress” that material prep brings. You don’t need to gather a bunch of supplies or do any prep work — just go outside and pay attention. I think that thoughtful connection with nature and attentiveness are a great gateway for children to desire to be playing in an outdoor setting.

The Wild Year Book

This book is organized by four seasons. Each season has roughly 12-15 ideas for crafts, games, and simple nature exploration. I appreciate so much that the activities are concisely explained with engaging real photos and simple steps. Each activity fits on one page in the little book! There are a lot of ideas in here that were new to me that I had not seen already on Instagram or Pinterest, so I appreciate the freshness there.

The Wild City Book

This book is a friendly reminder that city-dwellers have a wealth of opportunity to give children access to nature. It’s all a matter of perspective. Similar to The Wild Year Book (by the same authors), the activities in here are well presented with real photos (many show kids on asphalt) and concisely explained. I bought this book because I thought many activities would be relevant to us living in a forest, and I was right. I think these activities are not exclusive to an urban setting, and vice-versa with The Wild Year Book

The Backyard Play Revolution

This book has a wealth of practical ideas and supply lists for creating space for a natural backyard play in your life. It is not forest-school driven, but that is what I love about it! It’s so accessible and creative. I created my own similar list on this blog post if you are interested.

Nature’s Art Box

Every nature craft idea in here is wonderfully detailed. We have used the clay recipe in here for a number of crafts. There are probably 50-60 different craft ideas in here, categorized by the material which is very helpful. There is also a wonderfully detailed index of helpful nature materials, when and where you can find them, and how to use them. For example, there are 6 detailed pages of plants useful for coloring & painting.

Nature Play Ideas Checklist

Below you’ll find a link to the PDF of this nature play checklist I created for myself.


I have used this for a few years (and updated it this week). I find it is helpful to just glance at every once an awhile and have one or two ideas in the back of my mind that could be fun for us to do that week. I do not see this as a checklist where I feel like we have to do everything here or my kids will have a deprived childhood!

It simply is a list of ideas. Potential. Opportunities. Inspiration.

If you are confused about what something is that I put on here, Pinterest is your friend.

Hopefully it is of use to you!

Click here to access the free PDF of Nature Play Ideas

For Further Inspiration

Forest School Backyard Play Supplies — this is an older blog post and you will see some of the same books there, but I also detailed what our backyard nature supplies look like in that post.

Books to Inspire Outdoor Play And Learning — another old blog post with some of my favorite “Why Nature Engagement Matters” books!

Balanced and Barefoot by Angela Hanscom — this book is all about the myriad of benefits of unrestricted outdoor play. I appreciate that this isn’t just “forest school” but has a broader range of application.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne — this has nothing to do with. nature play, but this book has principles that align so much with the idea of gifting our children with childhood. The chapter “Filtering Out The Adult World” is especially relevant.

“Yes, daily life in America (or any other country) involves risks and dangers to children. There are perhaps even more risks now than when we were growing up…. Yet, as parents, we need to be more than just our desire to protect, no matter how noble and important that is. We need to live with confidence, to parent with a sense of strength and openness, and perhaps most of all, a sense of humor. The primal urge to protect is our cortisol spigot; I’m suggesting we not invite it to be turned so easily and so often.” -Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

Beetles Nature Study


Fiction Books:
Nonfiction Books:


Other Activities: