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
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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:
Uncategorized

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

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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

Uncategorized

Favorite Bird Books for Children

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About This List

*List Updated March 22, 2020

Below I provided separate lists for fiction and nonfiction books about birds for children. Within each of those lists I also created sub-categories and a few favorites based on age level of the child. Nonfiction books are divided up by learning category (e.g. nests & eggs).

There is no book on this list I (and my kids) don’t enjoy. At the end of the post I did list out a few bird books that are out there which I do not care for, and why.

Happy birding!

Bird Narratives for Children

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

A beautiful and simple tale of a young girl who goes “owling” with her father one night in winter. Owl stories always seem to contain a bit of magic and this one does not disappoint. Owl Moon is easily one of my favorite children’s books, not just favorite bird book.

Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Follow Mr. and Mrs. Mallard as they figure out how best to care for their 8 ducklings in the bustling city of Boston. A fun tale containing the best kind of human-animal friendships. The simple line illustrations are perfection.

Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco

A charming story about Babushka, who wants to enter an egg-decorating contest (in traditional Ukrainian style), and an injured goose she cares for named Rechenka, who plays her own part in the contest.

Henny Penny by Paul Galdone

A classic tale about some gullible bird friends (Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurky) that get outsmarted by a Fox. Paul Galdone is a favorite for these types of classic tales — see also The Little Red Hen.

On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen

The author of Owl Moon wrote On Bird Hill, On Duck Pond, and On Gull Beach for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each of these three books does a wonderful job exploring birds in their natural habitats through a child’s viewpoint.

On Duck Pond by Jane Yolen
On Gull Beach by Jane Yolen
Bird Watch by Christie Matheson

A playful book that introduces a variety of birds and includes counting along with a look-and-find element that is perfect for young preschoolers!

Just Ducks! by Nicola Davies

Nicola Davies has a talent for combining narrative with facts & information. Kids can follow this sweet story of a girl who keeps track of her neighborhood ducks but also learn about Mallards along the way.

There’s a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems

You might be surprised I’m including and Elephant & Piggie book in my list, but I love how simple and funny this is and it still manages to introduce even the youngest readers to the lifecycle of birds (though, it happens MUCH quicker in this book, obviously).

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray

A lyrical story follows children as they listen to the calls of a variety of birds they encounter.

Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond

A charming story of a young girl participating in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Readers follow Ava as she learns the logistics and helps keep track of the bird count (readers can follow along the tally in a sidebar–a brilliant added detail!). A wonderful story that brings charm into citizen science, and will invite children to hone their own observation skills and take a closer look at the birds around them.

One Dark Bird by Liz Garton Scanlon

A gorgeously illustrated lyrical story of a starling murmuration. Counting up from 1 to 10 and more, the murmuration builds. This is so much more than a simple counting book and will invite a wide range of ages from around 0 to 8 to enjoy this simple wonder of nature.

Crow Not Crow by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

A fantastic book for learning the very beginnings of bird identification! The little girl in the story goes birding with her father and learns how to be more attune to different sizes, shapes, colors, and markings of birds.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

An absurdly cute story of three baby owls as they discuss where their mother went one night (to hunt for food for them, of course).

Little Bird by Germano Zullo

A sparse text (mostly wordless) picture book depicting a lovely friendship between bird and man. A book that feels like it needs hours to sink in after you read it — and I hardly can get through it without crying!

Mama Built A Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

A fun way to introduce the variety of nesting birds through a rhyming story and inviting illustrations. A nice variety of birds are represented. There is also included on each page a bit of extra facts to go back and learn about.

Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins

This is a simple tale of a bird building a nest — great for the youngest readers. Cute and fun with illustrations that are not meant to be realistic.

White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies

Another Nicola Davies (see Just Ducks! above) — the wonder of owls is represented so nicely through story, but the book also includes true facts to glean.

The Barn Owls by Tony Johnston

A lovely story that takes us through the lives of Barn Owls that live in a 100+ old barn and repeat the same rituals for their livelihood that their ancestors di.

Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

True to any Arnold Lobel story, these stories of Owl at Home are utterly charming and hilarious. What a fun friend to have through story!

Ivy Bird by Tania McCartney

An imaginative little girl spends her day with a variety of birds, pretending to be like them and their unique characteristics. The illustrations are vivid and Ivy is certainly a fun girl to spend some time with.

Lali’s Feather by Farhana Zia

Lali find a random feather in a field and sets out to find out where it came from and to bring it home. She asks a wide variety of birds if the feather is theirs. I love this book, set in an Indian village, because it shows kindness and treasuring the present.

The Burgess Bird Book for Children

Learn real information about birds through story. Thornton Burgess is just the best — on any “living book” must-read list for sure.

Hawk, I’m Your Brother by Byrd Baylor

For all the kids who have dreamed about flying. The line illustrations are wonderful enough to earn a Caldecott honor, but the story told through prose is equally notable.

Favorites for the Youngest Preschoolers: There’s a Bird on Your Head!, Bird Watch, Mama Built A Little Nest, Owl Babies

Favorites for Preschool & Kindergarten:Make Way For Ducklings, Rechenka’s Eggs, Henny Penny, Owl Moon

Favorites for Early Elementary: The Burgess Bird Book for Children

Bird Nonfiction Books For Children

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General Bird Learning
The Big Book of Birds by Yuval Zommer

A lovely introduction to birds for kids. Provides general information about birds in a fun way and dives deeper in to a range of bird species throughout the world. I think there could be more here, but overall this is fun and engaging! The kids love all of Yuval Zommer’s “Big Book” books.

Nests, Eggs, Birds: An Illustrated Aviary by Kelsey Oseid

This is a gorgeous and engaging educational read that features highlights of birds as well as their nests and eggs. I love the format of this book and how the information is presented in such an interesting way.

Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing the Birds by Jim Arnosky

I love all the Crinkleroot books but this one is my favorite. It’s just a really fun way to present a learning topic to children–by following a trusted guide (a gnome named Crinkleroot who was born in a tree and raised by bees)

National Wildlife Federation World of Birds

A fantastic resource for bird lovers! The amount of information presented on a given bird species is fun and inviting to read.

Fly With Me: A Celebration of Birds through Pictures, Poems, and Stories

This book has a lot of content — stories, poems, quotes, real facts about specific birds, information to learn about birds as a whole. A great reference to have around. It also uses real photos!

General Bird Learning – Best for Toddlers & Preschoolers
About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill

About the simplest book version of what a bird is out there. The illustrations are lovely and I think this is so great for the youngest readers. Cathryn Sill has a whole series of “About” books for the natural world worthy of checking out as well!

A Bird is a Bird by Lizzy Rockwell

A fun introduction to birds! I love the diversity of birds represented and this is a fun an engaging read.

Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen

An A to Z book that includes charming and amusing illustrations. Great for preschoolers learning their alphabet!

Biography & True Story
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davis

A lovely account of the life of Audubon and his contribution to the world of ornithology.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends by Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Love the illustrations and the way the story is presented here on the citizen science practice of bird counts!

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.

Nests & Eggs
A Nest Is Noisy* by Dianna Hutts Aston

This book is just a must-have for any young naturalist’s library. The illustrations are just beautiful and the poetic language is engaging. Along the journey, real facts are included to learn more.

An Egg Is Quiet* by Dianna Hutts Aston

Similar to above — just a super engaging way to explore the beauty and wonder of eggs!

Even An Ostrich Needs A Nest by Irene Kelly

Explores a wide variety of materials and function of bird nests. There is a decent amount of text here so A Nest Is Noisy would be better for younger readers. One thing I absolutely love about this book is the map provided at the back showing where all the birds represented in this book live.

All Kinds of Nests by Eun-gyu Choi

Another beautiful introduction to a wide variety of bird nests! The style here is a bit more playful than A Nest Is Noisy.

Birds Build Nests by Yvonne Winer

This book is out of print but an excellent read! The narrative  (in prose) takes you through a range of nest types and even include a detailed nest identification guide in the back of the book! The guide specifies which birds are featured in the story and gives more detail about the nests and location.

Take-Along Guide: Birds, Nest, and Eggs by Mel Boring

A reference guide that’s not meant to be thorough — only 15 birds are represented. That said, this is such a great reference for kids if you are learning about any of the species in here.

*Book also depicts animals other than birds.

I also love the book We Build Our Homes by Laura Knowles — this features a number of birds but also mammals and insects.

Fiction stories that fit in with the Nests & Eggs theme: Mama Built A Little Nest, Bird Builds a Nest, and an honorable mention to The Apple Pie Tree (which really is about following an apple tree through the seasons but also features nesting Robins).

Beaks & Feet
Beaks! by Sneed B. Collard III

I love this book so much! The diversity of beak adaptations are well-represented and detailed.

Unbeatable Beaks by Stephen Swinburne

A simpler version of Beaks! by Sneed B. Collard III — just less text overall but still does an excellent job covering the subject matter. It’s out of print and hard to come by!

Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet Are Neat by Laurie Ellen Angus

Simple text and illustrations — a fun introduction to the diversity of bird feet! Contains a nice summary table in the back of the book.

Wings & Feathers
Wings* by Sneed B. Collard III

Similar format to Beaks! — lots of great detail provided on the topic. Note that other animals with wings are represented.

Feathers Not Just For Flying by Melissa Stewart

This is a fantastic book on feathers! The illustrations are wonderful and I think all the information is presented in a meaningful way. New vocabulary terms are well defined. A nice variety of bird species are represented.

*Books also depicts animals other than birds.

Honorable Mention: The Book of Flight is a fun book about flying but also represents other animals besides birds.

Bird Sounds
The Little Book of Backyard Bird Songs

House Wren, American Goldfinch, Red-Winged Blackbird, Killdeer, House Finch, Great Horned Owl, Blue Jay, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove

The Little Book of Woodland Bird Songs

Red Crossbill, Hermit Thrush, Black-Capped Chickadee, Common Loon, Red-Eyed Vireo, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Purple Finch, Barred Owl, Wild Turkey, Downy Woodpecker

Sounds of Nature: World of Birds

Bird sounds are presented by habitat — Rainforest, Mountains, Desert, Prairie, Woods, Ice, Wetlands, City, Ocean, Bush

Love the diversity represented here — so many birds to learn about!

Narrative that fits with the Bird Sounds theme: Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?

Specific Groups of Bird Species
Watching Water Birds by Jim Arnosky

Loons, Grebes, Mergansers, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, Gulls, Herons

Thunder Birds by Jim Arnosky

Eagles, Hawks, Falcons, Owls, Vultures, Herons, Egrets, Pelicans, Loons, Cormorants, Gannets

A few life-size fold-out pages are includes. Excellent life-like illustrations!

All About Owls by Jim Arnosky

For narratives about owls: Owl Moon, Owl Babies, White Owl, Barn Owl, The Barn Owls

Owls by Gail Gibbons

For narratives about owls: Owl Moon, Owl Babies, White Owl, Barn Owl, The Barn Owls

Ducks! by Gail Gibbons

For narratives about ducks: Make Way For Ducklings, On Duck Pond, Just Ducks!

Birds of Prey by Robert Bateman
Soaring With the Wind: The Bald Eagle by Gail Gibbons
Backyard Birds of Summer by Carol Lerner

Grosbeaks, Buntings, Gray catbird, Hummingbirds, Orioles, Tanagers, Wren, Swallows, Eastern Phoebe, Bluebirds

Tips on attracting birds to your yard.

Backyard Birds of Winter by Carol Lerner

Chickadees and Titmice, Cardinal, Blackbirds, Carolina Wren, Thrushes, Sparrows and Juncos, Rufous-sided Towhee, Jays, Crows, and Magpies, Finches

Bird Poetry

Superlative Birds by Leslie Bulion includes poems as well as scientific explorations.

What I Did Not Cover:

PENGUINS

I feel this deserves it’s own category because there are SO MANY penguin books out there. For nonfiction, my favorite is Penguins! by Gail Gibbons.

MIGRATION

Note I have not read all of these but here is my list. Many of these cover not just birds but mammals and insects as well:

Bird Books I Do Not Care For:

The two Britta Teckentrup books both feel more like adult coffee-table books than children’s books. The information, while interesting, is not presented in any meaningful way. Plus, the illustrations are not realistic.

Bird House is a life-the-flap book which I typically do not enjoy — especially in a book like this with so much information. I have trouble determining what age group this book is aimed at.

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Bird Field Guides

Last but not least I’m going to share a list of our favorite field guides:

I also recommend trying to find a state- or region-specific guide. For example, we have this Birds of Indiana field guide and Birds of Indiana book.

Sibley also makes postcards and flashcards which are lovely companions (I use the postcards as flashcards for my 5 and 4 year old because they are simpler than the flashcard design).

I also highly recommend the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds Website as a fantastic learning resource.