Books · Uncategorized

Nature Nonfiction Author Spotlight: Gail Gibbons

About Gail Gibbons’ Books

Gail Gibbons’ nonfiction picture books are likely already familiar to you. She has written close to 200 books, after all! Her books span a wide range of topics, from transportation to sharks, clocks to tornadoes, and holidays to apples. Her nonfiction picture books are aimed at children ages 4-8 years old but I think hold appeal for children well older than 8 years old.

There is so much to love about her books:

  1. Focusing in on one topic per book allows the child to learn in depth about a particular interesting topic.
  2. The text included is age-appropriate in length and complexity. The books make for a nice read aloud but can also be accessible to children who can read on their own. The narrative can hold the attention span of a preschooler and the information is interesting enough to engage an elementary aged student (and adults!)
  3. The illustrations are always beautiful, well-researched, detailed, and coordinate nicely with the text.
  4. She is thoughtful about balancing the information as a whole throughout each book, interspersing pages with one main illustration and a little bit of text with page spreads containing multiple illustrations and more detailed text.
  5. All of the books promote active learning whereby the child is drawn into the experience of learning and invited to broaden their world.

Recent Publications Highlight

I want to hone in on the most recent nature-based publications from the last year or two. Many titles are old favorites that have been updated. After introducing the new books, I will take a minute to discuss what the differences are in a “New and Updated” version of her existing title. You can also watch a detailed video, linked below!

You can view my entire list of nature nonfiction favorites from Gail Gibbons here:

Gail Gibbons Nature Nonfiction Favorites

***Note: The books featured below were provided as review copies by Holiday House. Opinions are my own.

Ladybugs (April 2022)

Volcanoes (January 2022)

Elephants of Africa (September 2021)

Marshes and Swamps (May 2021)

Gorillas (May 2021)

Monarch Butterfly (January 2021)

Spiders (October 2020)

Sharks (January 2020)

Migration was also published in 2020, which is a brand new title and definitely worth checking out! It’s one of my favorites.

What “New and Updated” Means

Several recent publications are actually updates from originals published years ago. The Monarch Butterfly book, for example, was originally published in 1991. It’s honestly wonderful that these books do still stand the test of time, though I completely understand the updates.

In all of the updated versions the illustrations have been saturated and been given a little bit of a facelift. In a few instances, details on illustrations have been changed. Overall the text is mostly the same but with changes here and there to provide a bit more clarity and detail. I hesitate to call these changes improvements because I do not really see any major faults with the originals. They do serve as nice updates. Overall, with the cover art and font changes, the alterations make the book feel more modern.

This is an example where text from Monarch Butterfly has been updated to provide clarity and more specific definitions (**the bottom book is the New and Updated version):

This is an example where illustrations from Monarch Butterfly have been updated (**the bottom book is the New and Updated version):

Overall I do not think you can go wrong if you purchase an original version — I know I have found a number of books in our collection as used copies for less than $5. It’s a great way to build a nonfiction library for curious children. That said, I do think the updates are an improvement and certainly will be the ones we start to see in circulation more.

BRAND NEW: STEAM Powered Workbooks!

Both the From Seed to Plant Workbook and the Monarch Butterfly Workbook were published in January 2022. These workbooks are specially designed for children in Grades K-1 but I think would work well for preschooler. The activities nicely pair with the books From Seed to Plant and Monarch Butterfly to help enhance the learning experience.

Each of these Workbooks is consumable. Children are asked to read along with the text of the book, then complete illustrations or fun games and even do some copywork to learn terminology. I can see these workbooks being useful in a number of educational environments! For an inside look at these, please see the video below.

Video Inside Look

More About Gail Gibbons

Gail Gibbons’ website

Gail Gibbons books at Holiday House

This website also provides lots of Educator resources!

Read Aloud Revival podcast: Excellent Nonfiction (with Gail Gibbons)

For More Book Reviews

Follow me on Goodreads
View my Amazon favorites

**Note that I use Amazon online here but do encourage you to purchase books from your local bookstore.

This content uses referral links. Please read my disclosure policy for more details.

Nature Study · Uncategorized

Becoming a Naturalist with Clare Walker Leslie

Clare Walker Leslie: An Introduction

I have shared about Clare Walker Leslie‘s books before in my post about Nature Journaling, but I thought I would take some time and explore in more detail some of Leslie’s thoughts on nature journaling and connection with nature as well as provide some information about her published works that I so enjoy.

Leslie’s work introduces people of all ages to studying nature and nature journaling. At its core, it is important to see that this act of studying nature is not about becoming an expert artist and producing nature journals that are works of art. Instead, this is about learning how to notice, how to pay attention, how to observe, and how to connect with nature.

Leslie guides children and adults on an adventure. She invites us to step outside and ask questions and open our eyes and hearts the appreciate the natural world. This is never burdensome! Being a naturalist is something anyone can do: simply spend some time outdoors and engage with it using all your senses.

About Clare Walker Leslie’s Books

I wanted to take some time to share about each of Clare Walker Leslie’s books, to give you idea of the scope of focus, that way if you are interested you can think about which one you would like to explore. One of my favorite aspects of Clare Walker Leslie’s approach to teaching is how accessible she makes it — I find that books like The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling can be stunning and detailed, but do not work as well as an entry point into the practice.

***Note: A review copy of Keeping a Nature Journal was provided to me by Storey Publishing and A Year In Nature: A Memoir of Solace was provided to me by Clare Walker Leslie. Reviews and opinions are my own.

Keeping a Nature Journal is an all-around excellent book for beginners as well as experts at nature journaling! Leslie is detailed and encouraging, and reminds us that literally everyone is capable of nature journaling: “You don’t need to know anything about nature, anything about drawing, anyting about writing, anything about what to use or how to draw to start nature journaling. You can be living anywhere–city, suburbs, countryside–and even be indoors…. All you need is the curiosity to say to yourself ‘What is happening out in nature right now, right here, right where I live?‘”

This book does the work of relieving your of any burden you might feel that nature journaling is or should be. Nature journaling is fun and a pleasurable practice, after all! Connecting with nature is an opportunity to slow down and be mindful. It’s also a wonderful way to truly connect with the place you live, recording and noting changes over time.

The book is divided into two main parts: Part 1 is “Getting Started” and takes you through the practical steps of setting up your nature journal and learning some basic practices and procedures. There are lots of example pages taken from the journals of Leslie incorporated throughout the text. In addition, Part 1 includes a detailed Introduction to Drawing section that is excellent for beginners. I find that Leslie’s style is accessible to all. She also encourages you to start with drawing skills and not worry about the use of watercolor and techniques if you are new to the process. Drawing is about observing, paying attention, and using perspective; and, as with any skill, you will get better the more you practice!

Part 2 of the book includes “Journaling Explorations” where Leslie takes you through some guided observations and practices, like learning to draw a flower, how to draw birds and understand their anatomy, or the complex skill of drawing landscapes. This section includes lots of guided examples and an incredible wealth of knowledge!

I’ll end the discussion here with a note from Clare Walker Leslie: “The main points I make when teaching are always to have fun; don’t stress about being a good artist; and realize this is more about seeing what you’re looking at than drawing it well.”

The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms is an excellent nature guide for kids. This book would work well as a Nature Study curriculum book for homeschool families. Intended for children ages 6-10.

Note that this book includes pages to record observations directly in to the book, but if you have multiple children I recommend downloading the FREE pages from the Storey Publishing website: The Nature Connection Worksheets.

The book guides you month-by-month through a range of nature-based learning activities. It involves teaching children how to observe the natural world. Note that the month-by-month approach does assume the changing seasons and so this would not work as a monthly guide for some areas of residence. For example, January invites you to learn about winter survival (warm-blooded versus cold-blooded adaptations) and snow. In October you will learn about why leaves change color, fungi, and the harvest.

Note that this book is divided into three parts: Part One is How to Be a Naturalist — how to find nature wherever you are. The themes and instructions here are similar to notes found in other of Clare Walker Leslie’s books, but these notes are particularly aimed at elementary-aged children. Children learn very simple and doable methods of observing and recording what they encounter in nature. They are even taught drawing methods. Part Two of the book is all about Learning the Sky — it includes specific lessons on weather, clouds, seasons, daylight, the moon, etc. Part Three includes the Month-by-Month Guide I described above.

A Year In Nature: A Memoir of Solace provides a wonderful in-depth view into the nature journals of Clare Walker Leslie. She selected 122 pages from her own illustrated/hand written journals over a four year period. We see a picture of her journals day by day, month by month, for a full year. This volume is incredibly inspirational. I think, again, this is a wonderful opportunity to see how Leslie teaches from her own experience. The point, of course, is not to replicate exactly what she does; but rather to take the inspiration of a woman documenting what she observes and transform the process in to something of your own on a blank paper. I think you will find encouragement through this book if you are hesitant to begin a nature journal. Incorporated throughout the text is also little bits of wisdom and life which add to the experience. I could even see this as an excellent tourism publicity for the Northeast! It’s beautiful.

Drawn to Nature: Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie is a compilation of pieces from Leslie’s actual journals. This is a great book to wander through. “This book is intended to be a companion, giving you permission and encouragement to take five minutes to stop and notice all the nature living right beside you. Breathe out and in, and bring it into your life.” There are wonderful page examples in this book I find personally inspiring: colors of the seasons, “beech nut essay,” local meadow grasses, “the colors out my desk window,” to name a few. I love that this provides a nice example of how to record what you observe, and how pairing text with illustrations might vary depending on what you are recording. It’s a beautiful, inspirational, and charming little book.

The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You is a fascinating invitation to explore and connect with the natural world where you are. I would say that this is a great starter guide if the idea of nature journaling at all feels overwhelming to you and committing to the in-depth self-education in Keeping a Nature Journal feels like too much. The Curious Nature Guide is a true guide on how to be curious!! What might you be interested in taking a closer look at? How do you open your senses to the world around you? How might you want to share your experiences with others? This book is really a lovely jumping off point. I would recommend this for anyone who feels like they need a quiet, calm voice to tell them how and why to slow down and connect with nature.

Nature All Year Long is a rich and intriguing picture book for children, which features the changes of the natural world through the seasons. Aimed at children 6-10 years old, Nature All Year Long would serve as a nice companion to a yearly nature study or nature education program, such as The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms. Again, this highlights seasonal changes in the eastern United States so I understand this will not fit for everyone as a yearly nature study companion. However, it would work well for a biome study if you do not live in this area of the world.

The Art of Field Sketching is a nice highly detailed guide into nature illustration. This volume goes into further depth and provides more examples than provided in the Drawing section of Keeping a Nature Journal. This is great for those who want a bit more drawing instruction but also it provides a more detailed insight into Leslie’s style which I find to be so accessible. She says, “The art of field sketching is the art of learning to observe and draw nature quickly without worrying about the result.” If you think you can’t draw or don’t have the time and wish you did, this is the book for you!

My Favorites For Where to Start

Keeping a Nature Journal is my number one recommendation for where to start if you are interested in Clare Walker Leslie’s teaching style and incorporating nature observations into your routine.

For educators, I highly recommend The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms for ideas on incorporating nature learning with children.

You Might Also Enjoy…

Favorite Nature Journal Supplies and Resources

Phenology Made Easy

How to Create a Nature Cabinet

Favorite Nature-Based Books

My own personal nature journal

Nature Study · Uncategorized

How to Create a Nature Cabinet

Why a Nature Cabinet?

If you spend any time in nature with your children, you will know what it’s like to have them come home with pockets and hands full of treasures. So, what do you do with all those rocks and sticks and shells? Perhaps your child has a little tin or box where they keep their favorites, or maybe these things end up on your kitchen counter only to be forgotten about a day later. The good news is: if you make time in nature a priority, you likely already have a collection going … AND, it really is not to difficult or costly to work on curating a simple Nature Cabinet in your own home.

A curated Nature Cabinet is a nice way to organize and display your own family’s personalized collection of nature treasures and curiosities. The idea is that this cabinet and collection fits with your specific family and space, and is organized in a way that appeals to you. It’s your very own mini museum! There are many ways to go about creating such a space in your home, and I’m here to share ours as just one example. There are no specific requirements on the size of the collection or what you keep in it. Think about what makes sense to you.

Let’s discuss how exactly to go about collecting and curating your family’s nature cabinet…

Know What Is Legal

Protected properties have specific rules on taking from the land. Most collecting and foraging is illegal on federal or state owned lands. That said, I’m not going to pretend like I’ve never walked out of a protected area with a few rocks.⁣⁣ Generally speaking, we have collected most of our items from private property. Even then, there are laws in place. It would be helpful to read up on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and similar regulations. You may have localized rules to follow that people in other areas do not. It’s worth a little reading up because these rules are in place for a reason.

I know there is debate on this idea when it comes to parenting — letting kids be kids versus raising responsible citizens. Personally I do not feel the two are in opposition. For me it is generally important that I communicate in advance to my kids what the rules are of a specific place we are in and they can follow my lead. If they see me hunting for fossils to take home, they know it’s fine. If I say in advance: this is a special area and we will not be picking flowers or collecting anything of any kind, then we might take extra care to take photos along the way of things we find that are special and we keep those in our memories.

I do take time to explain to my kids WHY we don’t just pick whatever flower we want and why protected areas have the rules they have. This happened recently when we were in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spotted a morel mushroom. My kids were so trained to absolutely freak out with excitement and pick a morel should we spot one on our property, that it took a nice teaching moment to say, “We aren’t going to pick that one. It’s for everyone.” Obviously I’m not collecting a morel mushroom to put in my nature cabinet, but you get the point!

I don’t want the idea of a building a nature collection to seem like I am in support of a free-for-all where we just take and grab whatever we want. With that in mind, I’ll introduce my second point…

Be Honorable

In her incredible book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer presents the following ideas behind an “honorable harvest,” which is intended for harvesting plants or nature’s bounty to use for food, shelter, home remedies, etc. but I think these concepts also still apply to collecting nature items for an at-home nature cabinet:

  • Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.⁣⁣
  • Never take the first. Never take the last.⁣⁣
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. ⁣⁣
  • Take only what you need and leave some for others.⁣⁣
  • Use everything that you take. ⁣⁣
  • Take only that which is given to you. ⁣⁣
  • Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. ⁣⁣
  • Be grateful. ⁣⁣
  • Reciprocate the gift.⁣⁣
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.⁣⁣

I also live with a Leave No Trace educator so generally we follow those principles. There are great educational materials for kids on that site if you are interested.

Be Safe, Sanitize, Debug

WARNING: Skip this section if you’re squeamish.

Okay, so let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of bring nature INDOORS.

There’s nothing charming about bringing indoors a collection of pine cones and acorns only to find they’ve been run over by spiders and maggots in a day or two. ⁣⁣Someone once mailed us some large acorns from their yard in a zip-loc bag and it was full of maggots by the time it reached us!
⁣⁣
If you are wanting to keep small nature items like acorns or pinecones regularly indoors for play, math manipulatives, or crafts/decorations, then make sure you take the necessary steps to debug them. But also remember the honorable harvest. The spiders in those pine cones have a right to live too. ⁣⁣I often will give items like that a week or so “buffer” time in my screened-in porch or let them sit in the sun for awhile. Then, depending on the material and its purpose, I might put them in my oven at its lowest temp for an hour or so (cover your cookie sheets with foil!). For pine cones, this also helps solidify the sap so you don’t have that stickiness to deal with anymore.

The oven also works to sanitize things from animals that might carry diseases like birds nests or turtle shells. Cover a cookie sheet with foil, then place items in the 325 degree oven for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

Hand sanitizer is a helpful thing to bring on hikes in case you or your kids end up handling a nature item that might carry some bad germs. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that it is safe to handle feathers, as long as you are not in an area where there have been cases of the avian flu virus. That said, it’s really always a good idea to wash hands with soap and water after being out in nature.

Sanitizing Bones


For collecting bones, I generally do not let my young kids touch those things while out on the trail. If you are really prepared and have gloves and/or tweezers, then that’s an option for safe handling. Once we have collected bones home we figure out various ways to sanitize them. How we sanitize and clean bones depends on the state of the specimen. We had found a Heron skull that needed quite a bit of work, so we put it in our compost bin for awhile and let the beetles do their work. Then, we boiled the skull in a pot of water over an outdoor fire (don’t bring that stink indoors!), then I put some gloves on to de-meat the bones by hand. Yes, by hand. Then I did a rotation of (1) a overnight soak of dish soap + peroxide plus a gentle scrub, then (2) some time in the sun. Finally, I gave it about an hour bake in the oven at a low temp. This ensured it was clean and free of germs, plus there was nothing left on it that would invite anything else to grow on it.

I know that seems like a lot of work and it’s honestly not pretty. If you are interested in having some animal skulls or bones in your collection but don’t want to go through that process you can always find sellers (who have proper licenses!!) that sell that sort of thing and they have done all the dirty work for you! We actually bought a beaver skull from someone on Etsy because I really wanted one in our collection and after years of searching never found one. Beavers hold a special place in our hearts and the skull is a treasured nature curiosity in our collection even though we did not specifically find it.

Preserve Items in Resin

Preserving items in resin works well for live insects but there are lots of options. Here are the supplies I use:

I recommend reading all of the instructions of whatever resin kit you purchase and follow it. There are lots of safety precautions to take and it is important to follow them. I would not consider this a kid-friendly project.

Curate What Actually Enters Your Home

Nature items like rocks and shells don’t generally need extra effort to clean, but maybe you need to manage the AMOUNT of these things coming into your house.⁣⁣ One of my kids in particular seems to have no limit to the amount of little rocks she likes to bring home.

My kids each have their own nature treasure box to manage. If they run out of room then they need to make decisions on what to get rid of. I also tend to use our screened in porch as a buffer zone for nature collections. The kids are often convinced that the stick or rock they found is the best thing EVER. But let it sit for a few days on the porch and they usually forget about it. The real treasures are usually the ones that are tied to specific memories.

I also limit my kids’ take-home selections in person because obviously I don’t want a ton of random rocks on my porch that I have to then turn around and get rid of! I might say “pick one of your favorites” or ask them if they would like to take photos of the items they really love that way we can leave the item but not feel like we need to bring it all home.

Choose Which Items Are Hands-Off

I imagine in every nature collection there are some pretty special items that you have discovered along the way. It is always good to be clear about what is off-limits in terms of handling by the kids on their own, that way they are clear about what they can just explore as they wish. Obviously if you have toddlers and younger children, you are going to have to set up some actual physical limitations with your collection.

My main goal for our nature collection, now that my kids are old enough to be careful, is that they feel freedom to explore the items as they wish. That said, I do still communicate which items I would like them to be extra careful with.

It is also okay to put things up high or displayed on the wall where they can’t reach it!

Create an Inviting and Beautiful Display

I specifically use the words “inviting” and “beautiful” because building a nature collection at home does not have to be a specific size or type or look like someone else’s. Decide what looks beautiful to you and what makes sense both for your space and family culture. I chose to go with a larger sideboard for our cabinet because I feel like this is a core part of our family culture and wanted to celebrate it as much as possible. We needed lots of space, but your nature collection need not be this sizeable!

The nature cabinet display should be inviting–meaning, that the kids are interested and want to explore the items. This is special and valuable, but it’s a hands-on kind of museum where we are including the children. I like to always have a magnifying glass available. If you have a microscope or field guides it might be nice to keep those things nearby. Again, do what makes sense to you. I know many people like putting up nature identification posters or prints alongside their nature cabinet. You might even include your own nature photography or illustrations your children create to make it special.

Also, when I say “beautiful” I mean beautiful to you. Do not get hung up on all the items needing to be a certain aesthetic or style, though! Budgets matter. Plastic bins work just fine! Not everything needs to be vintage or wood or even look like a museum.

Your nature display might also have a bookshelf nearby. I do think having nature field guides nearby or storage in the cabinet is a great way to invite exploration, but even some kid-friendly nature nonfiction books work. You can view a lot of my favorite nature-based children’s books here.

You might also try rotating items regularly and changing the theme based on seasons or what is happening in the natural world around you. Or, maybe the theme could fit your child’s particular interests! There are lots of possibilities.

Try to Stay Organized

One main goal I have is to make sure the collection is not out of control. Here are a couple of storage solution ideas I have come up with:

  • ANYTHING works in terms of actual display and storage! Thrift shops are a great place to start. You do not need to spend a lot of money. Hunt for baskets or small wood bins in a variety of sizes. Try to even look around your house and make do with what you already have.
  • Divided trays or divided storage boxes work well for children’s personal collections or for separating similar items in a themed collection. This wood tray pictured below is actually a utensil divider that came with a cutlery set we got as a wedding gift.
  • Jars in a variety of sizes work well as “vases” for taller items like feathers or interesting sticks or dried plants. Glass jars also make a nice way to store small items but you can also see and appreciate them. You can use simple Ball jars found everywhere, hunt in thrift shops, or sometimes there are interesting shaped ones at places like the Target Dollar Spot. We found some mini glass jars with wood lids that way. I also use small vials with cork lids for collecting sand or dirt or making a little apothecary set of dried flowers/plants.
  • Vintage printer’s trays are also great for a unique wall display. These can be hard to find, though, so please don’t get too hung up on having something like this immediately! If you really want one, be patient and search online and in nearby antique shops.
  • Have fun with a simple label maker! I personally don’t feel I need to have absolutely everything catalogued and labeled but there are times when it’s both helpful and fun.

For more longer-term storage, I keep items separate in zip-loc bags and in a plastic storage bin. Sometimes we use items like acorns for crafts so I might have a bag of excess in a separate bin like that.

Having a separate bin helps me rotate some display items as well, just to change it up occasionally.

I also wanted to share this separate coffee table we have that was made from a printer’s tray (the same display I have hung on the wall above our cabinet). This coffee table was a lovely heirloom from my grandparents but I know there are lots of you with skilled woodworker family members and friends that could totally make something like this! It has a glass on top you can simply slide off to add items. My grandparents had every rock neatly labeled when they had it, but I’m not that detailed.

A Video Tour of our Nature Cabinet

Below is a video tour of the nature cabinet the kids and I put together in our home. Enjoy!

For Additional Exploration

Thank you for reading. I hope you have fun in your nature-collecting endeavors! And, feel free to ask my any questions below.

If you are a homeschooler interested in adding nature studies to your learning, I recommend any of the following resources:

You might also be interested in this post:

Natural Backyard Play Supplies


This content uses referral links. Please read my disclosure policy for more details.

Nature Study · Uncategorized

National Parks Unit Resources

National Parks Learning Unit - The Silvan Reverie

Curriculum:

Traveling the Parks uses guided lessons with a Student Notebook as a way to pretend to travel to National Parks throughout the U.S. together, learn about the parks in an engaging way, and includes wholistic learning. The curriculum mainly uses the book America’s National Parks (Lonely Planet Kids) as a guide. Maps are provided and prompts on what to record as you learn. There are curated booklists and videos to view based on each park. The pack also includes Animal Profiles as well as fun games to play as a family!

Book Seeds Profiles in Science: John Muir is an early elementary guide (ages 6 to 12) which features the life of John Muir as well as a number of science-based learning topics. The curriculum includes four STEAM activities, three art projects, nature study prompts, three guided “invitation to play” activities, books to read together, a kitchen classroom activity, as well as thoughtfully curated links to videos and additional learning. We love John Muir and this guide was as a huge hit for the whole family. We especially enjoyed reading John Muir: My Life In Nature together.

Books:

Park-Specific & Geography Books:

For Fun:

 

Nature Study · Uncategorized

Natural Backyard Play Supplies

Natural Backyard Play Supplies - The Silvan Reverie

“Daily exposure to the outdoors stimulates the brain in many ways: (1) There are no expectations. Children are forced to use their imagination in order for that stick, rock or pinecone to become a part of their world. (2) There are endless possibilities. The outdoors challenges the mind to constantly think in new ways. (3) There is no pressure. When engaging in active free play, children can play with others or not, make up their own rules or follow someone else’s, be rough-and-tumble or quiet and contemplative.” (Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom)

Books to Inspire Nature Play

See this post for all my favorites books to inspire outdoor nature play.

Note that I do not think anyone NEEDS any of these books! These types of books certainly are popular for publishers to put out in the last couple of years. And I get it. I think they can provide a fun way to flip through for ideas you might not have otherwise thought of. I certainly have appreciated having these and have learned a lot of new skills. I enjoy these types of new and fun activities with my kids, but we certainly aren’t referencing these books every week. They are there if we want to try something new.

Our Outdoor Play Supplies

Below I will be sharing a list of all our outdoor play supplies. I organized most of the smaller items in to an IKEA TROFAST storage system on our front screened-in porch. I absolutely love that the plastic bins can individually come out. The kids can handle moving them around and clean-up all on their own. PLUS, the bin itself serves as a play element.

Note that this is protected from the elements since it is housed on our porch. You could also store these types of things in a small shed or garden-tool bin.

Our mud kitchen supplies stay in a crate with that area of the yard. Other large items like tree stumps, ramps, crates, and tubs stay either in the yard or in our storage shed.

(1) Natural Loose Parts

The term “loose part” has become a bit of a fad. Basically it means something that can be played with in a very open-ended way. The opposite of a loose part is a “fixed toy”—a Mickey Mouse figurine can only ever be Mickey Mouse (and always happy because he is smiling). A pinecone or “loose part” can be currency or an ice cream cone or a mixer or a bug or a rocket ship or … even a Mickey Mouse!

Here’s what we have for loose parts play:

  • Tree slices (large & small)
    • We made ours but you can purchase these at craft stores or Amazon
  • Sticks (various lengths and widths)
  • Rocks (a variety of sizes)
  • Tree nuts
  • Acorns
  • Pine cones
  • Large movable tree stumps
  • Flat wooden boards

Nature Loose Parts Play - The Silvan Reverie

We also have some non-natural loose parts in the mix like old tires and rope. I’m also including a traditional wood block set made for us by my father-in-law.

We actually have a gravel driveway and the rocks there have proved to be a favorite yard toy for years.

Shells, dirt, sand, mulch, wood chips are just a few other ideas for natural loose parts.

We have small wood scoops for use with the small loose parts like acorns.

(2) Imaginative Play

Note that I’m including a separate list for imaginative play BUT the idea with the loose parts listed above is that they could also be used for pretend play. A pinecone can be a hand mixer in the kitchen or currency at a shop. A stick can be a horse or a wand or musical instrument. Small loose parts can be built in to small worlds like castles or bug villages.

  • Play Silks (be sure to see this list for the play possibilities with play silks if you are not already familiar with these)
  • Bow & Arrow
  • Butterfly Wings
  • Crowns (handmade, could be crafted or made with nature items)
  • Wands (just a plain stick or one that is crafted)
  • Bubbles
  • Pinwheels
  • Spray Bottles
  • Sheets, Tarps (for building shelters)
  • Garden tools (hand rakes are fun and so are kid-sized shovels and rakes)
  • Wheelbarrow (kid-sized)
  • Wagon
  • Baskets
  • Buckets
  • Tray for outdoor art & play dough
  • Peg dolls for fairy houses
  • Schleich animals
  • Small tubs for sensory play / water play
  • Sand pit

Backyard Nature Play - The Silvan Reverie

You can also construct stick shelters or use play silks or tarps for shelters to go along with imaginative play. As mentioned earlier, I also think imaginative play can include building small worlds for wooden peg dolls or other toys–e.g. build a camp site or fairy houses.

I will also say: if you have a tent, you can always set it up in your backyard for a couple of days for your kids to just play in!

(3) Mud & Water Kitchen

Note that you won’t find a Pinterest-worthy mud kitchen in our backyard. Here’s how I put it together: I scrounged around for items we already had. I spent no money. Remember you do not need elaborate & beautiful mud kitchens: you just want something your kids will want to play with!

The hose is nearby so the kids have a water source they can manage on their own to make mud.

  • Pots & Pants
  • Muffin tins, cake pans, pie pans
  • Plates, Bowls, Cups
  • Mixing spoons
  • Large mixing bowls
  • Pitchers
  • Canisters
  • Scoops
  • Buckets
  • Spray Bottles
  • Watering Cans
  • Large tubs for holding water

Again note that the natural loose parts listed above are often used as ingredients in our mud kitchen or used in water play.

Mud Pies Nature Play - The Silvan Reverie

(4) Nature Study, Art, & Handcrafts

I created a category for nature study and nature art because I find that we will bring back a variety of nature treasure from hikes to our yard and I wanted to have materials accessible to explore and play with those nature finds some more.

Art & Handcrafts

Organic Artist For Kids - The Silvan Reverie

Wildlife Observation & Nature Collection

(5) Games

I am aware there are a wide variety of lawn games but I wanted to share what we have: my preference is for (1) traditional games with not a lot of bells & whistles and minimal plastic parts, (2) games that can be used by small children and (3) games that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, wood tree slices make for great lily pad jumps in an obstacle course and can also be used to roll down ramps.

  • Rope Rings and Stakes for ring toss game
  • Bean Bags (we have a bean bag toss game with boards)
  • Wood Boards (various sizes work great for construction projects, ramps, etc.)
  • Milk crates
  • Kubb
  • Balls (a variety of sizes)
  • Wood Block Set
  • Old Tire(s)
  • Movable Tree Stumps
  • Rope(s)
  • Clips
  • Buckets

Other ideas for games are making water ramps with old gutters or PVC pipes. Make a pulley system. Make a scale. Create an obstacle course.

(6) Practical Stuff

I like to be well set up so that I am not having to run in and out of the house. Here are just a few things I keep with our outdoor supplies:

** I love this style of outdoor tarp blanket because it is light enough to be used to make a play tent and it is really easy to clean if we spill food on it while picnicking (you do not have to put it in the laundry, you can just wipe it down or hose it down). Also, it compacts down small so it is easy to travel with.

Nature Play Ideas Checklist

Nature Play Ideas Checklist - The Silvan Reverie

I have used this list for Nature Play ideas for a few years . 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.

Hopefully it is of use to you!

This printable is available to Newsletter Subscribers

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your backyard play adventures.

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Favorite Tree Books for Children

Favorite Tree Books For Children - The Silvan Reverie

Tree Narratives for Children

A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry

A poetic ode to the beauty of the presence of trees in our everyday lives. The simplicity is perfect and a lovely depiction of childhood.

*Great for preschoolers

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker

An allegorical depiction of a young girl standing up against deforestation. Based on Greta Thunberg’s life, this is also a testament to the power of community coming together.

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

I love ALL of The Fan Brothers books, and this one does not disappoint. A man transforms the spirit of a town and the life of an orphan boy by designing whimsical topiaries each night in secret. Charming and sweet. The best kind of story.

Tall, Tall Tree by Anthony Fredericks

A lyrical counting book in a giant redwood ecosystem. Learn about all that lives in this unique habitat — perfect for anyone totally enthralled by these giant trees.

*Great for preschoolers

The Little Fir Tree by Christoper Corr

You can view more of my favorite Holiday evergreen trees on my Conifers Nature Study post. I’m including this one on my “regular” list because the story is a classic one — based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale. Our family loves these illustrations so much!

Seeds and Trees by Brandon Walden

A powerful story about friendship and kind words and the state of our hearts. Emotions are represented as good trees and bad trees, and the visual landscape is stunning. A beautiful story with an important and timeless message.

The Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree by Naoko Stoop

A library built into the nook of a tree in the woods with friendship at the root? Who wouldn’t want such a thing! This book has been a long-time favorite in our family. So sweet.

The Shady Tree by Demi

A Chinese fable about greed versus generosity. This book has the similar unforeseen shift in story like The Empty Pot.

Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins

Is there anything NOT to love about treehouses? This book imagines all the possibilities of treehouses in the spirit of all children. So imaginative and inviting!

Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon

Such a charming story with a female protagonists who solves a windy problem by planting trees. This just so happens to be a legitimate environmentally-friendly solution!

The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward

A simple rhyming story about the life of an old oak tree and all of the life it supports. The details are quite lovely and I find this so charming and simple.

*Great for preschoolers

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins

This is the true story of Kate Sessions who was instrumental in bringing trees from around to the world to a little desert town known as San Diego.

This book also appears on my Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies.

Tree by Britta Teckentrup

A peek-through book that depicts a single tree through all four seasons. Lots to enjoy on each page and the story is rhythmical and lovely.

*Great for preschoolers

Redwoods by Jason Chin

A fun depiction of the the power of books and the mystery of the redwood forests. A boy imagines himself into the redwood forests as he learns important facts. This is one of those nonfiction-books-disguised-as-fiction. Unique and fun!

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This classic. I can remember reading this so many times as a kid. The tree is so simply illustrated and yet incredible impactful in the imaginations of many.

Maple by Lori Nichols

There are other books in this series and they are a lot about the sisters Maple & Willow and their relationship. I love the idea that a child can find friendship in a tree, or really anything natural in their yard.

Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses by Shira Boss

The title explains the bulk of this story — a true story about Bob Redman, an arborist in New York City, and his passion for trees. Most naturalists do in fact have close ties with nature as children.

A Year Around the Great Oak by Gerda Muller

I love Gerda Muller so much! This book is a wonderful depiction of a tree through the seasons and how the children relate to it. Also the tree in this book is a 300 year old gorgeous oak tree!

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson

There are several Fletcher books but I particularly love this one. I adore Fletcher’s desperation to save his tree because he doesn’t understand that the leaves falling is totally natural. Too sweet.

Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves by Annemarie Riley Guertin

A stunningly illustrated tale about kindness, told as a classic story. We learn why Cardinals do not migrate south in the winter AND why evergreens keep their leaves. Thanks to a little generosity from the trees and magic from Jack Frost.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

A hilariously absurd story from Oliver Jeffers that will have everyone giggling. Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree one day and then cycles through increasingly crazy objects to fling up in the tree to free the kite.

The Things That I Love About Trees by Chris Butterworth

I adore the illustrations in this book and the fact that it takes you through all four seasons and describes things to appreciate about trees in each season. A lovely depiction of a childhood spent in nature.

UPCOMING RELEASES:

Peter and the Tree Children by Peter Wohlleben — April 2020

Under My Tree by Muriel Tallandier — April 2020

Holiday Evergreen Tree Books

Favorite Holiday Tree Books - The Silvan Reverie

See this blog post: Conifers Nature Study for a list of favorite holiday books featuring evergreen trees.

Tree Nonfiction Books For Children

The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups

This book is a great crossover from a field guide to a nonfiction read. It is not meant to be a field guide but could work that way for you. Each tree gets a 2-page spread and I think it is nicely representative of North American species.

Tell Me, Tree

Gail Gibbons is the Queen of nature books! And this one does not disappoint. Tell Me, Tree is a little different in style than her other books, but she always has a great balance of text and images to keep the reader interested.

The Magic and Mystery of Trees

This is such a fun reference book to learn all about trees. I think pretty much anything you can think of is covered in this book! The illustrations are appealing to kids but I think do a great job of referencing true-to-life imagery.

Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing the Trees

If you have followed me for any time on Instagram, you will know how much I love the Crinkleroot books. This is a nonfiction learning book, but a true living book with a wonderful narrative that presents information through story and not just facts.

Trees: A Rooted History

This book is one of those appealing coffee-table type books that I often feel appeal more to adults than children. BUT, I will honestly say that my kids love this book. I think it helps that it is specific to trees and there is a whole world about trees to explore on these oversized pages. It’s beautiful and engaging.

Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them

This book is so fascinating. I personally love learning about trees around the world and going beyond the trees we see everyday.

Favorite Tree Field Guides

The Sibley Guide to Trees

This has to be my favorite field guide (of any category) that we own! I consider this a must-own for any nature-loving family. It is perfect.

Peterson First Guide to Trees

These Peterson “First Guide” series are great for children! They are compact and information is not overwhelming. Obviously this will not be as extensive, but I think it is a great first place to get into field guides.

National Audubon Society: Field Guide to Trees (Eastern Edition)

The National Audubon Society guides use real photos as opposed to illustrations, which I think many find helpful. The photos are often organized in ways that children and non-botanists think about what they are seeing: color and shape. You can peruse a real photo section of yellow fall leaves, or acorns, or berries. So helpful!

Tree Finder

This is a simple booklet in black-and-white that is great for learning botanical terms and working through a decision-tree to get to the answer.

Winter Tree Finder

Similar to above, this is so helpful for identifying winter trees.

Sibley’s Common Trees of Trails and Forest of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest

This is obviously a very specific guide to my region, but I wanted to say that I highly recommend finding a tree guide as specific as you can find to your region. This reduces the sample size in your field guide when trying to identify something you see in your area. Especially for kids, something like this is much less daunting than perusing the Sibley guide I mentioned above.

Other Booklists of Note

You may also be interested in the following booklists on my website:

Favorite Bird Books for Children
Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies
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Wild Cats Nature Study

Wild Cats Nature Study - The Silvan Reverie

Nonfiction Books:
Fiction Books:

There are a great number of children’s books that feature tigers and lions, so I am not even going to bother listing them (though I will put in a shout-out for Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, an all-time family favorite).

For other wild cats, check out these titles:

Resources
FOR MORE OF OUR NATURE STUDIES SEE THIS PAGE
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Phenology Made Easy

Phenology Made Easy - The Silvan Reverie

For all of 2019 I kept a Phenology Wheel, one for each month. This type of wheel requires hours of work each month and is something I personally enjoy and find meaningful. However, I understand there is a desire to do this sort of thing but not everyone feels they have the time or is comfortable committing to that much illustration work.

So, with that in mind, I thought I would share some resources to invite you do participate in a phenological study for 2020 in a way that’s inviting and meaningful, but takes less time.

What is Phenology?

Phenology is simply a recorded journal of what is happening in the natural world where you live over time. Theoretically you could have recorded data for year after year and be able to compare important seasonal shifts, like what day did you hear the first Red-winged Blackbird reappear in spring? When did the first Daffodil bloom? When did your favorite tree lose all its leaves? When was the first snow?

A phenological record can be many things: a wheel is a nice visual tool that looks pretty, but keep in mind you don’t need to have something that detailed to record your phenological year!!

Two great inspiring people who held a passion for Phenology are Edith Holden and Aldo Leopold. Both of these mostly have written records just like you would record a journal:

You don’t need to illustrate everything, is all I’m saying! In fact, you do not need to do any illustration at all to keep a Phenology Journal!

I keep a draft document on my computer and write in a few notes here and there as days pass. No illustration, just a quick note: “Spotted bobcat tracks on 1/15.” Simple. Easy. Quick. But it still has meaning and value — it’s so fun to go back over the whole year and read through and remember those experiences even if I do not have an illustration to match in my Phenology Wheel journal.

Phenology Resources Made Easy

Phenology Made Easy - The Silvan Reverie

First, one of my favorite resources is this:

Lynn’s Guide is so thorough and wonderful! She explains the whole process and provides many examples. She also provides a lot of ideas for what to include in your wheel! This tool is an excellent resource that is also kid-friendly. My own kids are excited about doing one like this in 2020.

Okay, so in my Phenology Wheel for every day of the year I track sunrise/sunset, daily low/high temperature, weather, and the moon phase. Below are other resources you could use as a way to mark your phenological study this year without the need to do all of that illustration yourself:

If you are using Lynn’s Phenology Wheel Guide you could easily add to your page simple data for each month (represented as one wedge of the wheel) such as:

  • Total precipitation for each month
  • Average temperature
  • Full moon name

This alleviates the time commitment to track this information every single day of the year.

Or, here’s the thing — as I said before, you do not have to have a Phenology Wheel in order to keep a Phenology Journal! You could simply use a few of the above resources to keep track of the moon and/or temperature, and then keep a written record in a notebook of what you notice in nature. No illustration required!

Favorite Nature Journal Resources

Phenology Made Easy - The Silvan Reverie

On this blog post I detail how I create my Phenology Wheels for each month and what resources I use to create it.

I plan to use the same notebooks with watercolor paper for my kids to do their phenology wheel, which will be just one year represented by 12 wedges.

I’m excited for another year of discovery and paying attention, being present to the created world and its natural rhythms, which root us in a real embodied life gifted to us.

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry

Happy 2020!

 

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Conifers Nature Study

Conifers Nature Study - The Silvan Reverie

Fiction Books:
Holiday Themed Fiction Books:
Nonfiction Books:
Conifers Nature Study - The Silvan Reverie
Resources:

Conifers Nature Study - The Silvan Reverie

A Little Note

Remember that terminology is important! Not all conifers are evergreen, and not all evergreens are conifers.

FOR MORE OF OUR NATURE STUDIES SEE THIS PAGE

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Monarch Butterfly Nature Study

Monarchs Nature Study.jpg

Monarch-Specific Books:
Butterfly Books:
Resources:
For Fun:
FOR MORE OF OUR NATURE STUDIES SEE THIS PAGE