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Favorite Tree Books for Children

Tree Narratives for Children

Favorite Narrative Tree Books - The Silvan Reverie

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

Favorite Nonfiction Tree Books - The Silvan Reverie

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

Favorite Tree Field Guides - The Silvan Reverie

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

Monarch Butterfly Nature Study

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

Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies - The Silvan Reverie

What is a Naturalist?

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Naturalist Picture Book Biographies

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

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

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure by Jennifer Thermes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatrix Potter by Alexandra Wallner

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

Another fantastic Beatrix Potter book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:
Notes:
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Favorite Nature Play Books

NATURE PLAY BOOKS

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

About Nature Play

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

(1) Nature Play is Born Out of Inactivity

The Silvan Reverie - Favorite Nature Play Books

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Nature Play Is Self-Directed

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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:

Play the Forest School Way

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

A Year of Forest School

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

Forest Club

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

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

Sticks and Stones

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

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

Whatever the Weather

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

I Love Dirt

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

The Wild Year Book

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

The Wild City Book

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

The Backyard Play Revolution

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

Nature’s Art Box

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

Nature Play Ideas Checklist

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

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

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

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

Hopefully it is of use to you!

Click here to access the free PDF of Nature Play Ideas

For Further Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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About This List

*List Updated August 21, 2019

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!

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 new book that’s a lovely introduction to birds. 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.

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.

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.

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

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

I honestly do not own any books on migration, but here are a few on my wishlist:

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.

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Mountains – Mini Unit

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ABOUT THIS UNIT

Lately for our preschool units I tend to plan things on the fly, paying attention to the interests of my kids. This unit was 100% driven by them. They had the idea and I quickly did a library grab of some books, and we watched the Mountains episode from Planet Earth II, then went from there on to other learning and play and crafts (thank you, Pinterest). This unit is not meant to be a comprehensive preschool unit where I cover every category of learning. Rather, I treated this more like a nature study and kept it play-based as much as possible.

BOOKS

OTHER RESOURCES

I’ve detailed in the ACTIVITIES section below how we have used these books and resources.

ACTIVITIES

Learn Mountain Terms

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We used both Geography A to Z and Mountains of the World to talk about how mountains are made and learn some new vocabulary.

Build Mountains to Learn about Mountain Zones

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The Golden Glow is a recent book that quickly became a family favorite. The story and illustrations are wonderful! On one page of the book the different zones of a mountain are depicted as Fox hikes to the top (pictured on top above), so we used that book and Mountains of the World to talk about what kind of plants and animals might live in the different zones. I did not expect my children to name all the zones in order or anything, but just to explore the fact that thing that live at low altitude might not be living at the top of the mountain.

Mapwork: Find Mountains Around the World

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My son in particular LOVES our MAPS book so I thought it would be fun to go through and find different famous mountains illustrated in various countries throughout the book. We used the map in Mountains of the World as well as a printout from Habitat Schoolhouse (Letter M Unit) do explore the locations of various mountains.

Specific Mountain Focus: Everest

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Of course we needed to look at the highest mountain peak in the world, right?  Habitat Schoolhouse (Letter Y Unit) has a nice brief info sheet about the Himalayas, as does the book The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth. Mount Everest is features in Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World so we also read about it there. We located the Himalayas in our MAPS book and explored the book Everest (this is a longer reference-style book with some stories so we did not read through the whole thing).

Learn about Mountain Wildlife

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We watched the Mountains episode of Planet Earth II, read the Mountains poem from Wild World, explored animals in Mountains of the World, and then I found the following animals from Learn Create Love for the kids to create:

Specific Animal Focus: The Yak

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After creating our Yaks we learned more about them from Habitat Schoolhouse (Letter Y Unit), Everest, and Mountains of the World.

PLAY: Small Worlds & Pretend/Role-Play

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We did a lot of pretend play with this Mountains unit, pretending to be different animals, especially the ones featured on the Mountains episode of Planet Earth II.

We also built small Mountain worlds with Schleich Animals and the following:

I really feel that play is the most meaningful learning avenue for my kids—they both love exploring books, but we often expand the information and stories through play!

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A Charlotte Mason Inspired Preschool Daily Rhythm

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Our Preschool Curriculum

In May 2017 we started our preschool at home with The Peaceful Preschool plus additional activities based on my children’s interests and seasonal changes in the natural world. I have mainly been “doing school” with my now-4 1/2-year-old and including my youngest (just now 3) to the degree that she is interested. It’s actually amazing what she has been able to pick up without direct schooling efforts on my part, just by participating and watching her older brother!

Looking ahead, I plan to finish the curriculum through Letter Z, and then start over again with The Peaceful Preschool Letter A with both of my kids (adding a few additional reading and writing lessons for my son as he continues to show signs of readiness). My son (4 1/2) checks off all the boxes on the lists of “Kindergarten Readiness” but I do not wish to start a kindergarten curriculum just yet with him. Why?? Because of Charlotte Mason…

A Quiet Growing Time

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“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it for the most part out in the fresh air.” (Charlotte Mason)

Charlotte Mason believed no formal schooling should be done until a child reached the age of 6. Now, I’m obviously not in that exact same frame of mind but I do love and appreciate the heart behind that.

Recently I wrote down my ideal focuses for my children’s days right now:

  • Read Alouds
  • Outdoor Play & Exploration
  • Knowledge of God
  • Habits & Character
  • Gentle Preschool Academics
  • Appreciation of Beauty

—Since my children have been tiny tots Read Alouds and Outdoor Play & Exploration have been the easiest and most natural for me to include in our days. Even on the rough days where I feel like I’m running on empty, we still do these two things. At the heart, these things inspire our deepest connections and incite my fondest memories.

—Knowledge of God includes: Bible stories, memory verses, and prayer.

—Habits & Character includes: daily and weekly chores, manners, self-care, and then the top three habits for Charlotte Mason in the early years are attention, obedience, and truthfulness. 

Appreciation of Beauty includes: poetry, art, music, and handcrafts.

Gentle Preschool Academics can be a harder thing to “nail down.” I will admit over the last year not all of my preschool activities for my kids have fit in to the “gentle” category.  Over the last year I have done a lot of add-on letter-of-the-week activities as we moved through each letter of the alphabet. I plan to still do some of these things, but definitely will be doing a lot less extra the second time through.

I have come to realize through my own efforts and by comparing curriculums, that The Peaceful Preschool absolutely fits the bill when it comes to a gentle academic guide in the early years, in line with Charlotte Mason’s “quiet growing time.” I plan to stick to The Peaceful Preschool moving forward.

Additional Charlotte Mason Resources on The Early Years

The Importance of Rhythm: A Platform for Growth

I highly recommend reading Simplicity Parenting for inspiration as to why having a daily rhythm matters!! Overall this book is so inspiring, but there is one particular chapter devoted especially to rhythm that I revisit every couple of months.

“Children depend on the rhythmic structure of the day–on its predictability, its regularity, its pulse…. By surrounding a young child with a sense of rhythm and ritual, you can help them order their physical, emotional, and intellectual view of the world. As little ones come to understand, with regularity, that ‘this is what we do,’ they feel solid earth under their feet, a platform for growth. Such a stable foundation can facilitate their mapmaking: the connectedness that they are charting in their brains, in relation to other people, and in their emerging worldview.” (Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne)

Our Daily Rhythm: At A Glance

Below is a scan of our Daily Rhythm sheet I hand illustrated for my kids, and we keep it hung on our fridge.

This is for those of you who are super busy and do not have time to read this entire blog post. I see you. I hear you. Here is the condensed version of this post:

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Our Daily Rhythm: In Detail

7:00 – 8:00 AM | Breakfast and Self Care

We have one hour between when my kids wake up and when my husband goes to work.

Most days my husband and I are awake for an hour or more before the kids. I like to read or paint or workout before the craze of the day begins.

All four of us eat breakfast together and then get ready for the day. Sometimes there is a decent chance for the the kids to get some just-dad-time in before he goes to work: lately they have been having him read books to them or play a short game.

7:00 – 8:00 AM | Chores OR Physical Play

“As has been well said, ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.’ And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” (Charlotte Mason)

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I used the chore cards from The Peaceful Press as a guide to create our personalized weekly chore plan you see above. There are daily chores listed at the bottom just as a little visual reminder of what we are already doing on a daily basis (e.g. dishes or toy clean-up) but do not need to happen at a designated “chore time.”

Each day I have 3 things listed and there’s at least one thing the kids can do mostly independent of me (except for Sunday: those tasks are for me). Usually I am able to give them a choice on which task they want to do. I expect their participation and I make it fun: lately we have been playing some Mary Poppins songs while we work.

We mark off the chore with an “X” when completed. “We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act repeated again and again becomes the habit” (Charlotte Mason). I do not do stickers or rewards — chores are for responsibility, not reward: when the task is complete, the kids feel capable for completing the work and responsible for taking care of the home they live in.

With chores there is obviously some flexibility: we can decide something can be done a later time, or maybe we need to do a little extra on a given day if we have guests coming over.

Physical work AND play

My kids wake up with a lot of energy so I like to let them get some of it out before requesting that they sit down at a table for 30 minutes for morning time or preschool activities. Luckily, doing chores is a GREAT way to get the blood circulating and do some physical work. If there aren’t many chores to do we may also have some physical play, a living room dance party, or do their yoga workout DVD, or a song & movement game from Games Children Sing & Play.

8:30 – 9:30 AM | Morning Time OR Preschool OR Unstructured Play

I see three different options for our time together in the morning:

  1. Morning Time
  2. Preschool
  3. Unstructured Play

Remember my kids are 4 1/2 and 3 so there is not an intensive amount of academics to get done in the course of a week!

I separated out “Morning Time” from “Preschool Activities” below and hopefully it will make sense why after I describe the differences below:

(1) Morning Time

“But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion.” (Charlotte Mason)

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If we have a “morning time” this will include some but not all of the following in one day:

I will not have a morning time like this every day of the week. More than likely this will be once a week. The important part for me is that I plan for it. I must plan for my children to have contact with God’s Truth–if I leave it to chance, it won’t happen.

As for the habits / character lesson — in Laying Down the Rails For Children they really suggest ONLY once for a habits lesson per week. And, they suggest spending 6-8 weeks on just one habit! We will first go through Charlotte Mason’s three core habits for the early years: attention, obedience, and truthfulness. Added bonus: many of these require habit-training for parents, not just the kids! For us — fun, age-appropriate games are involved: for example, for our Obedience lesson last week we played “Simon Says.”

An important point to add, in keeping with a “gentle” structure to our days: I will not do a morning time like this AND do a bunch preschool activities on the same day! Quality over quantity is my goal, and Charlotte Mason even advocated for short lessons to develop the habit of attention. When we move towards Kindergarten, I should be able to extend our morning time to include Bible time AND school. 

That said, if we do Preschool as detailed below, we will still do a prayer and brief review of our memory verse…

(2) Preschool

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For days in which we do preschool, we will continue to follow The Peaceful Preschool through Letter Z, and then we will begin again with Letter A. The aspects of The Peaceful Preschool we will do are:

  • Read Alouds (Here’s my blog post detailing how I select books for Preschool)
  • Phonics & Letter Formation (for my oldest I have begun to include some more advanced reading and writing activities (Montessori-based) and my daughter will follow the curriculum as-is)
  • Counting Skills
  • Fine Motor Skills

I often skip the Large Motor Skills from The Peaceful Preschool because I feel that our outdoor play & exploration time covers this pretty well. For more on that topic, I highly recommend reading Balanced and Barefoot!

I often will save the following activities from The Peaceful Preschool for later on in the day:

  • Practical Life Skills (baking / cooking project)
  • Art Skills (unless it directly relates to the Read Aloud)
(3) Unstructured Play

There currently are and will continue to be days where I have zero things pre-planned for my kids in terms of lessons. We play a lot. And: I leave plenty space for my children to be bored and figure out what to do with their time on their own.

Again, I recommend reading Simplicity Parenting if you are looking for ideas on how to create an inviting play environment at home with a minimalist approach: having fewer, high quality open-ended toys actually enhances children’s ability to have longer stretches of imaginative play.

During this time, even if I have no pre-planned learning activities, we often read stories too. See this post for book lists I reference to find read alouds!

Also, I want to point out: so much learning in the preschool years can happen naturally through play! In fact, often the best “teaching moments” happen with prompting from the kids through their play, not through something I pre-planned.

9:30 – 11:00 AM | Outdoor Time OR Errands OR Fun Outings

<INSERT SNACK BREAK>

The transition from the above time to going outside is made by having a snack break. If we are going outside we may just bring some snacks in the yard or on our walk with us. If we run errands or go out of the house, we may bring a snack in the car. The bottom line: morning snack is essential for my children’s happiness.

(1) Outdoor Time

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without” (Charlotte Mason).

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Often in the mornings, our outdoor time involves movement: we are walking or hiking or off exploring. We live on a camp property so there are lots of options of places for us to explore. After a walk we stay outside and play in the yard until lunch.

I also LOVE using the outdoors as our natural learning environment because it requires zero pre-planning on my part. We use all of our senses. We pay attention to seasonal changes. We observe, we collect, we treasure. We nature journal. We share stories of our experiences.

Additional Resources on Outdoor Time:

(2) Errands

I am a morning errand-runner because I feel that it avoids crowds and traffic. I try to keep errand I do with the kids to once per week.

(3) Fun Outings

A children’s museum, playground, nature walk with friends, the zoo, the library are some options for us. We typically have something like about once a week.

11:30 AM | Lunch

After lunch my kids clean up the common space: all toys and books and art supplies go away other than what my son wants to keep out in the kids’ room for his quiet time.

12:30 – 2:30 PM | Quiet Time

The kids typically get 30 minutes of screen time after lunch. I like having a set expected time that the screen time happens, because then they aren’t requesting (or demanding) it all throughout the day. Weekends we may watch an extra show in the evening or a movie as a family.

My daughter naps in our bed (since the kids share a room). I always read her a book first.

My son has his quiet time in the kids’ room. I read him a book and he either looks at books or plays with toys and puzzles.

The time they are actually in their separate rooms & the time I get in solitude to myself usually is about 1 hour 20 minutes. I usually read or do something creative or catch up on computer stuff.

2:30 – 3:00 PM | Tea Time OR Additional Preschool Activities

Generally speaking the focus during our afternoon together time will be beauty and togetherness: sharing tea, poetry, stories, art, music, baking, etc. I really enjoy this time because we all come together at the table for some arts and culture (and sweet treats) after our separate quiet times.

(1) Tea Time

“Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers…Poetry supplies us with tools for the modeling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at ourselves” (Charlotte Mason).

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For tea time, we make either cinnamon or peppermint tea (because the kids actually drink it), and either:

(a) Read a few poems. As of now we do not work on memorizing any poems, but on Charlotte Mason’s Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six she has listed “to recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns,” so I would like to start doing this.

Here are our favorite poetry books:

OR

(b) Read short stories that aren’t poetry but we enjoy reading during this tea time:

OR

(c) Read from chapter books. I find that this afternoon tea time is a great time to read chapter books which do not hold my 3 year old’s attention as well at other points in the day. If she’s sitting at the table with us and has a snack, she’ll stay and listen.

Lately we have been enjoying Beatrix Potter and Thornton Burgess Animal Stories.

(2) Additional Preschool Activities

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At this time we might do any ONE of the following additional fun Preschool Activities. I never feel like these following things have to happen; but, our afternoon time at the kitchen table where we come together after our quiet times has proven to be a nice time to explore some poetry or art or culture together. This is an example of our natural daily rhythm existing before adding in activities. These activities are built in to our natural daily rhythm, and not some academic agenda or checklist:

  • A baking project from The Peaceful Preschool
  • An art project from The Peaceful Preschool
  • A Picture Study from the Ambleside Online schedule (to incorporate art into our days in an informal way, as opposed to doing a true academic Picture Study the Charlotte Mason way (for a child greater than 6))
  • A Music Study from Ambleside Online schedule (again, keeping this more informal, I plan to select one classical composition at a time to listen to, naming the composer for my kids — we are not doing a detailed academic study of a composer as you would with older children but I thought it would be fun to coincide with the Ambleside schedule)
  • An Arts & Culture study from The Habitat Schoolhouse
    • This may involve looking at art, learning about artists, musicians, or other countries and cultures (likely using our MAPS book)
  • An Animal & Plant study from The Habitat Schoolhouse

Note: I would never do several of these at once! And, further: I will not hit all of these categories in a given week. I see this not a checklist, but more of an opportunity.

3:00 – 5:30 PM | Outside Time

“We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his 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).

This may include unstructured play, a hike or walk, maybe a specific nature study, or maybe even a trip to a close playground.

There may be some outdoor play and learning activities that I have for us to do as well.

A Note About Nature Study:

For our “nature studies” — to me this mostly means that we are present to the natural world around us, taking everything in with all of our senses. We observe, we discuss, sometimes the kids add to their nature journals.

I do not do anything super extensive by way of academics here. I like to keep it fun and playful, but mostly just keeping in step with the season we are in and knowing fully the place in which we live.

I have looked through Exploring Nature With Children and this curriculum is an absolutely wonderful resource! Right now I do not plan to use this week-by-week, but I may reference it as-needed if there’s some aspect of the natural world my kids seem to want to explore further.

Additional Resources on Outdoor Time:

5:30 PM | Dinner

We eat food. Together. Light candles. Pray for the meal. Share about our days.

A Note About Dinner Prep:

Often I prep dinner once my husband gets home shortly after 5 PM. He can play with the kids outside or inside and I can do dinner. Often, though, we have leftovers or do really simple meals that I can even prep during the day. If I do pre-prep I likely do that during lunch time since we are all in the kitchen anyway.

6:00 – 7:30 PM | Family Together Time

Outdoor adventures, board games, books, puzzles, animal shows, random trips out for ice cream, coloring, playing with Dad-as-a-jungle-gym, etc.

7:30 PM | Bedtime Routine

Bath, PJs and brush teeth, and then either my husband or I read to the kids for about 30 minutes before lights out.

Bedtime stories has always been a favorite time of day for me. We read for a long time! We read books we own, but I also keep a shelf of library books that I pull from a variety of sources. These are often seasonally appropriate or related to our preschool curriculum in some way.

8:00 PM | Bedtime

Phew. We made it!! Likely not without some messes and failures and fights and tears.

A Sample Week: Letter V

Putting ALL of this together I decided to share a sample week of what I planned out for our Letter V week (click here for the PDF version of what is below). Mostly I think it’s important to see how many categories are left blank on any given day. I’m not trying to check off ALL the boxes on every day. And the truth is: this week was a fuller than an average week in terms of my planning because we just did not have any scheduled outings. Normally one of these days would be left totally empty in terms of my planning.

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Just for a frame of reference, each day this week the morning block of activities where we sit together and read and do some preschool actives took maybe 20-35 minutes, except for Tuesday when we spent a lot of time learning a variety of orchestra instruments and did extra learning with videos and music and supplemental materials–that was probably more like a hour. Afternoon tea time & projects range from 20-40 minutes before we head outside.

And OF COURSE…

Obviously there are days where NONE of what I just mentioned is happening. We’re sick. We’re off our groove. We’re traveling. I just want to have a “break day” for no particular reason. Please do not read this and think I’m a perfect human and totally nailing it every day. There are good reasons and not-so-good reasons why our days sometimes are not fully perfect and flowing nicely. The truth is, though, I am glad it’s that way because it means we are normal.

Another thing I want to be clear about: I have 2 children, but in a way school right now is like schooling only 1 child. We have 1 curriculum, and basically my 2 kids are doing the same things with the exception of my son doing some more advanced language arts. This will change. Our daily rhythm will change. I am happy to shift things around when it is appropriate to do so!

EVERY SINGLE FAMILY is unique and different and what works for me will not work for you in the same way. It’s just a fact. But — I know that when I first started out this homeschool journey it was so so helpful for me to read other mom’s daily rhythms just to have somewhere to start! I understand it can feel overwhelming to start.

If I have any advice it’s this: dive in, and expect to fail. Sometimes the only way you’ll find your “groove” is to find out what doesn’t work through failure. When I started out Letter A with The Peaceful Preschool in May 2017 I did an INSANE amount of activities in a 2 week period! I cringe a little. But, here’s the thing — I don’t regret it. I had to know what was “too much” in order to know what was “just right.” And I had to learn that checking off all of the boxes on my to-do list did not inherently make our day a good day. And then I had to go back and re-read Teaching From Rest because clearly it didn’t sink in enough the first time!

Additional Resources on Rhythm

Small Beginnings: A Homeschool Starter Guide

This ebook is an EXCELLENT starting point for homeschooling with themes from Charlotte Mason. There is a whole section in here on rhythms. Rachael Alsbury & Kate Heinemeyer share their daily rhythms as well as so many more additional resources.

The Peaceful Preschool Curriculum

The introduction pages of this curriculum have SO MUCH guidance and wisdom for creating a Family Vision and ideas for establishing a daily rhythm. Included is a sample daily schedule. If you buy this curriculum do not skip these pages! For those following The Peaceful Preschool, I also recommend reading Kaitlyn from Simply Learning‘s daily rhythm here as well as Lyndsey from Treehouse Schoolhouse‘s daily rhythm here.

Simplicity Parenting

I mentioned this book already above but the chapter on rhythm in particular of this book is so good, aimed at simplifying our home environment and lifestyle.

Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace

This is not directly about “rhythm” per se but this serves as an excellent invitation to approach the daily grind with a peaceful heart. Sarah Mackenzie beautifully encourages us how to have reasonable expectations for our homeschooling days and how to simplify our goals to get at what really matters to us. Daily rhythms are always evolving and we, the homeschooler, set the tone. We are the atmosphere. The biggest take-home for me after reading this book was the fact that how we interact with our children matters more than getting through the curriculum material.

Encouragement for the Little Years (Cloistered Away)

This blog post was so lovely and encouraging to me last year before I began our homeschooling adventure. I re-read it whenever I am feeling crazy.

The Life Giving Home

Sally Clarkson has a lot of wonderful books on homeschooling and mothering, but this one in particular considers the rhythms of the home, and gives month-by-month ideas for creating a rich home environment full of intention. Charlotte Mason said that “education is an atmosphere” and our daily rhythms can be enhanced by cultivating a meaningful home atmosphere full of beauty, life, and order.

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