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.

Uncategorized

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
Uncategorized

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

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Monarch-Specific Books:
Butterfly Books:
Resources:
For Fun:
FOR MORE OF OUR NATURE STUDIES SEE THIS PAGE
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Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies

Naturalist Picture Book Biographies - The Silvan Reverie.jpg

**List updated 4/4/20

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:
Notes:
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Favorite Nature Play Books

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

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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

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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.

Nature Play Ideas Checklist

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

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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

For Further Inspiration

Natural Backyard Play Supplies — I detailed what our backyard nature supplies look like in that post.

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

**note this list has been updated 5/19/20