“Go Outside and Play!” may have been a command you heard as a child, depending on where (and when) you grew up. Of course, the idea of children “playing” has changed dramatically as history and life styles have evolved. Most children in the U. S. are not expected to work, per se, and the advent of Child Labor Laws changed the plight of those youngsters who were once forced to work in factories, mines, or other dangerous situations. Now we must consider how children are using their time out of school and beyond household duties.
Today there are not as many children who are hearing the important admonition to play outside. There seems to be fewer and fewer opportunities for children to experience “free” play out-of-doors. Oh, yes, they are playing soccer, baseball, lacrosse, football, tennis, but as organized sports. Many are taking all kinds of lessons from piano to ballet, if their families have the means to send them. Otherwise, many children are in front of TVs, computers, video game consoles, or E-readers instead of spending time outdoors. Parents and care-givers may be eager to provide out door play opportunities for their children but must consider logistics and safety issues along with family values and societal expectations.
In some neighborhoods, safety is the first consideration for parents and caregivers. The very real dangers preclude unsupervised play and sometimes require that children be inside for their own protection. In these situations, one can hope that field trips or camping situations can be arranged for children deprived of every day possibilities of interacting with nature.
In certain neighborhoods, organized sports teams are an integral part of life, both in and out of school. The children playing these sports are regimented and striving to hone the skills needed to win. Even the ones who appear to be “picking daisies” in the outfield are supposed to be on task. Learning from others, learning to observe and refine that knowledge, knowing what to value (good examples) and what to discard (bad behavior) are all life skills that are invaluable. Preparing for any sport can be a step in preparing for living a valued, productive, rewarding life in every area. Playing in a “free range” setting can provide even more opportunities for leadership training and an appreciation of working with a variety of people. Along with those interpersonal skills, there are also the added advantages of gleaning benefits from the natural setting while engaged in play.
Outdoor time gives everyone the chance to gain from the bounty of nature: information about one’s very real surroundings; healthful exposure to the benefits of the sun and “fresh” air; connections to the earth and its inhabitants; actual contact with the soil (Many bacteria are essential to develop an effective immune system. *See: The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder in the list below ), firsthand experience with cause and effects of natural phenomena (erosion, wave action resulting in the loss of sand castles, effects of the wind, seed transportation, etc.). Time outdoors also allows the time to develop in other areas of the human experience, such as independent thinking, imagination stimulation, developing a sense of autonomy, etc. Both physical development and mental growth are greatly enhanced by time spent outside the confines of buildings.
Imagination can blossom when given the opportunity to roam free. Lying in the grass looking at the sky for even a few minutes (some little ones can only bear this activity for a short time and others become “lost” in the moment) seems to release the necessary brain connections to allow for a different level of thinking. Conversations may take a different turn when eyes are focused on the clouds, the flight paths of planes, and birds passing by. Children often seem to be more open with adults and express thoughts that have never been discussed before. “I was thinking…” can lead to an exchange of some fantastical story line involving giants living in the sky or a deeper discussion of where heaven is. Children’s imaginations need room to expand and unencumbered time to develop.
“Unplugging” from all machines frees the brain/psyche to work on its own in a way that has been curtailed since the invention of electricity. Digital input actually changes the brain and how it perceives information gained from projected pixels. Marie Winn’s books, The Plug in Drug: Television, Computers & Family Life 25th Anniversary Edition, [Penguin, 2002] and Children Without Childhood [Penguin, 1984, Pantheon 1983][winner of Grand Prix, International Janusz Korczak Competition–1985], are both exceptional examinations of the effects of interacting with images that come from digital sources. Winn also discusses the impact of material that is presented to children long before their developing brains are ready to deal with subjects beyond their maturity, especially in the areas of drugs, sexuality, and violence. Many adults will probably be more familiar with her books about nature, such as Red-Tails in Love 10th Anniversary edition–with updates [Vintage, April 2005], than her excellent observations about the societal changes in childhood today; but all adults interested in or concerned about the future of children would benefit from reading either of the afore mentioned titles.
Connections and interactions with nature are prime reasons for playing outside, simply for the chance to make physical connections through one’s own body experiencing the earth. Being out-of-doors involves all of the senses and increases the sensitivity of each if used to interact with the surroundings, no matter in what location—be it country-side, the sea-shore, city park, or the front steps of a house or apartment building. Interacting with nature can have a huge influence on children if they are guided to make observations and then allowed to do so. Joseph Bruchac (author and speaker) talks about sitting quietly and using an imaginary circle to define one’s space. Look. Listen. Smell. Touch. Observe. Then think about the things that could be heard, seen, smelled, felt. Next one can broaden the circle and consider the things that occur in a bigger expanse. Such exercises are invaluable in developing awareness of how each of us fits in our own community and just what other things, people, and creatures share that same space. (I just realized that I can hear the buses about three blocks from my house as they stop at the Metro station. Of course, if I listen I can hear the trains and the subway, but usually I do not pay any attention to them.) Awareness on this level has nothing to do with electronics—it only uses the senses to create awareness of surroundings. Time in the out-of-doors gives children a chance to make use of their own senses and to make observations that could not have occurred otherwise. Watching ants on the sidewalk tells one about organization, hard work, persistence, and the food chain among other things. I once followed a line of ants to see what they were doing all the way from the ant hill to the body of a dead blue jay. I was stunned that they were taking it for their own food. My grandmother gently explained that even insects have to gather food, a thought that had not yet occurred to my three-year-old mind. I still did not like ants until I came to understand their important work. Now I can be happy that they help clean up and aerate the soil.
Increasing awareness of the outdoor environment can help children in the transfer of learning skills such as patience, persistence, practice, persuasion, and performance. (No, I did not mean to propose “p” words, but they aren’t bad are they?) When challenged to write down (or tell about) their experiences, children are encouraged to stretch their vocabulary to describe their observations. In writing workshops, children are taught to observe and record; just as they do when outside on their own–making up stories about the people who inhabit the space between the fences in town or the hedge rows of farm land or telling about the frogs that found their way to a tiny pond in an urban setting. Watching birds parent their young can be worth more than entire books on child development. It is hard to imagine any parents who work harder to keep their family fed and then encourage them to strike out on their own. Watching baby mocking birds, whose fluffy, first feathers make them look bigger than their parents, follow the adults around begging for food with their mouths wide open makes for an entertaining and educational afternoon. (Reminds me of feeding teenage boys—really hard to fill them up!)
Independent decisions and a developing sense of autonomy can be stimulated in children when they are outside on their own. No one is looking over their shoulders. Rules are in play but decisions about where to dig, or build a teeny house, or the recipe for really great mud pies are all up to the child. They can experience a sense of real privacy that may not be afforded to them in any other way…they may be in plain view on the playground but not connected to other humans for a few precious moments. Adults observing a pre-school group on the playground are wise not to intervene (except, of course, in dangerous or bullying moments). Children build self-confidence when they understand that they can be in control of some aspects of their lives, especially when attempting things that may seem too hard or “scary,” such as jumping over a rain puddle. Imagine the consideration that goes into that process. “I am little but my legs are pretty strong. Mom will be mad if I get my shoes and pants wet. But I think I can make it!” Of course, there is a lot of learning from failures, as well. The smart adult will discuss the outcome and make arrangements for the child to help with the laundry and changing of shoes, and then encourage the child to judge just how big the puddle really is–next time. Of course, there are those who plow headlong into life and never learn to weigh the consequences of their actions—something that might have been learned at a young age if the opportunity had been available.
Observations of nature and interactions between species can serve as examples of how people can be different and yet very alike in many ways and serve as the teaching models for such concepts as: cooperation, sharing, friendship, honesty, kindness, etc. Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland documents forty-seven different stories of animals with unusual companions. Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships by Catherine Thimmesh also tells of animals of different species finding comfort and companionship with one another. People can observe animals and learn about how they interact and how humans could benefit from such interaction in their own situations. Seeing animals playing together, hunting cooperatively, forming families, providing for their young, punishing infractions, welcoming abandoned offspring, etc. can widen and enhance thinking about how humans might behave toward each other.
Connecting kinetic learning, special relationships, as well as judging actions with reactions and consequences are all part of playing, both indoors and out-of-doors. Out-of-doors opportunities are also saturated with connections to our world and can spur the development of awareness of the importance of preserving our earth for everyone.
The following books represent ideas for stimulating outdoor play and its importance. Some of these titles are not readily available but are well worth a trip to the library or the internet. They are sorted into three groups: Picture Books, Chapter Books, and Parent and Caregivers. Many more titles can be researched at www.clcd.com
The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister
Linda Ravin Lodding
Ernestine’s next-door neighbor Hugo invites her to play after school. But poor Ernestine has every day of the week scheduled for her by her overeager parents. From sculpting and water ballet to yodeling, karate, and yoga, Ernestine goes frantically from lesson to lesson, supervised efficiently in most cases by Nanny O’Dear. And each day she wistfully watches Hugo happily playing. Finally Ernestine schedules something new for her and Nanny: a day of fun in the park. When it is reported to her parents that she has missed a lesson, they rush from one of her classes to another trying to find her. Exhausted, they begin to realize why Ernestine always looks so pale. And the whole family reconsiders their lives and schedules. The humorous text, replete with names like sculpture teacher Clay Lumpkin and karate Grand Master HiYa, holds a serious lesson for over scheduling parents. Ernestine’s unhappiness is clear on the jacket, where Beaky’s acrylic paintings show her pulling a wagon filled with equipment for her lessons, while she sorrowfully eyeballs Hugo at play and Nanny checks the schedule. Not quite cartoons, the characters are more doll-like with naturalistic bodies and large, expressive eyes. Full and double-page scenes of action set the stage for each activity, with characters designed to add to the humor. 2011, Flashlight Press, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).
Ernestine’s life is fully scheduled. No time to play with Hugo next door. Nanny O’Dear takes Ernestine to sculpt on Mondays, to water ballet on Tuesdays, to knitting sessions on Wednesdays, to tuba lessons on Thursdays, to yodeling practice on Fridays, to karate on Saturdays, and to yoga on Sundays. Poor Ernestine. She gets confused. Sometimes she yodels in yoga classes; other times she plays her tuba in the swimming pool. Mr. and Mrs. Buckmeister notice that Ernestine is looking tired and pale. One day on the way to her tuba lesson, Hugo’s ball bounces into her yard. She quickly tosses it back. No time for play. The next day, Ernestine takes matters into her own hands. She tears up her schedule. She leads Nanny O’Dear to the park. They flop on the grass and look at the clouds; they build a fort of twigs; and they make daisy crowns. When Little Old Lady Hoo calls Mrs. Buckmeister to report Ernestine’s absence from yodeling, she calls her husband and a frantic search ensues. They finally find Ernestine in the park and they discover the joy of open scheduling. Their lives change for the better. The didactic message intended for parents is saved by the gloriously funny illustrations depicting the absurdities of overdoing and over extending. 2011, Flashlight Press, Ages 5 to 8, $16.95. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph. D.
Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature
Jim Arnosky’s beloved nature expert, Crinkleroot, is back! Award-winning children’s book artist and naturalist Jim Arnosky features his iconic character in this fun and informative picture book. Crinkleroot, who was “born in a tree and raised by bees,” guides young readers through the natural world, taking them on a journey through the seasons, and giving examples of things they can do in their own backyards to protect the environment. Annotation provided by the publisher. 2012, Putnam, Ages 5 to 10, $17.99.
Days Like This: A Collection of Small Poems
Nineteen poems are brought together in this picture book, compiled and illustrated by Simon James. Each of the poems delights in some aspect of childhood or discovery. Poems by Eve Merriam, Ogden Nash, Charlotte Zolotow, and (of course) Simon James examine such varied diversions as picnics, seeds, sleeping outdoors, love, and guppies. James’ illustrations are at once humorous and safe; for example, in “Stepping Stones,” despite the precarious appearance of the people crossing the river, the reader knows they will certainly “reach the other side.” Children and their parents are sure to enjoy this cheery text many times. 1999, Candlewick, Ages 3 to 8, $17.99. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green (Children’s Literature).
Mourning on the Lake
Jan Bourdeau Waboose
In the timeless way of ancient cultures, a Native American grandfather teaches his young grandson to revere nature by taking him on a special day-through-night trip to mountain and woods. With few words and the patience of those who transmit their lessons by example, the Mishomis allows the boy, his Noshen, to experience in his muscles and heart the majesty of nature. When their hoped-for encounters with the eagle and the night animals of the forest are both realized, Noshen also learns he has the power to communicate his kinship with these other inhabitants of his earth and earn their respect. The illustrations are detailed and compelling in their beauty and sense of closeness between the generations. 1998, Kids Can Press, Ages 4 to 8, $15.95. Reviewer: Judy Chernak (Children’s Literature).
For those of us who find it easy to get consumed by the stresses of work and school, this treasure reminds us to take a step back and appreciate the people and world around us. Simply and elegantly executed, Morning on the Lake will grow on readers of all ages. You will love it immediately for its exquisite and heartfelt illustrations; you will love it even more with each reading, as you take its quiet message to heart. In three independent yet related stories, Jan Bourdeau Waboose shows how a young Ojibway boy–Noshen–led by his patient and wise grandfather–Mishomis–begins to find his place in the natural world. In the first story, early morning tranquility on the lake is broken by the hoot of a loon. Noshen and his grandfather watch from their birchbark canoe as the bird performs an awe-inspiring dance announcing that the lake is his home. The second story takes place atop a rocky summit at midday, when an eagle swoops so low it ruffles Noshen’s hair. In the final tale, Mishomis takes his grandson on a moonlit walk in the woods, where Noshen’s eagerness to see the nighttime animals is realized when the two hikers come face-to-face with five pairs of yellow eyes. Waboose effectively uses different settings and different times of day to display the beauty of relationships between humans–especially between family members, across generations, and between humans and their environment. Her characters delight in nature as much as they do in each other’s company. Mishomis is never preachy or overbearing, guiding his grandson to certain interactions but allowing Noshen to discover things on his own. The book’s strength stems from both the author’s and illustrator’s keen knowledge of and respect for Canada’s great North Woods. Karen Reczuch’s illustrations, natural and soft without being overly sentimental, richly enhance the eloquent narrative. Decorating the title page and the first page of each story is spot art that looks so much like Indian beadwork that it easily passes for photographs. The book’s consistent layout, with text on the left and image on the right, is occasionally broken up by a spread–a design element that is used most effectively in the evening story when it coincides with the story’s suspenseful climax. On the last page, Mishomis carries a half-asleep Noshen to bed–helping young listeners to drift off feeling fulfilled, contented, at peace. 1998, Kids Can Press, Ages 5 to 9, $15.95. Reviewer: April L. Jones (The Five Owls, September/October 1998 (Vol. 13, No. 1)).
Robin, Where Are You?
Illustrated by Noah Woods
Grandpa and Lucy are birdwatchers with different goals in mind. When they go “birding” Grandpa looks for all different kinds of birds, but Lucy searches for an elusive robin red breast. As they walk through the trees, Grandpa teaches Lucy how to use her small binoculars to spot birds. He uses his large binoculars. They see several kinds of birds with Grandpa telling Lucy about each one. Lucy learns you have to be patient to bird watch and in the end she is rewarded when she sees a robin’s nest with blue eggs and the robin that lives there. This story is full of non-fiction facts presented as part of the tale. In addition, flaps to open add appeal to the readers. Underneath they will find more detailed facts such as the sounds, markings, and habits of the birds Lucy and Grandpa see. This book helps readers understand that an adventure does not always have to be loud and fast. Instead it can be as simple as a trek with someone else. Illustrations add to the text. The birds are clearly colored so youngsters can find them in their own environment after reading the book. This is an excellent, well-researched book to place on science shelves in preschool and early grade classrooms. 2012, Blue Apple, Ages 4 to 8, $17.99. Reviewer: Nancy Garhan Attebury (Children’s Literature).
David Suzuki and Sarah Ellis
Illustrated by Sheena Lott
While Kate and her father take a walk in a Pacific rain forest, he explains why he calls it a “salmon forest.” This is a life cycle book disguised as a story so readers see how interdependent the salmon are with the forest, the bacteria, the bugs, and the bears. Kate and her father call this a merry-go-round, a concept that young children may use to visualize how the salmon spawn and die. Then salmon offspring make use of the bugs that arise from the maggots that eat the carrion as food when they hatch. Or that the bear who eats the salmon then poops and the bugs that spawn there become food for the songbirds. There is plenty crammed into this story, including a family that is harvesting the salmon and smoking, drying, salting, or cooking them. While the text gives them no specific tribal name, the mother refers to “our people” and says they are called “the fish people.” Lott’s watercolors suggest the beautiful colors of salmon in the water and the splotchy light of the forest in summer when the salmon spawn. Brenda Guiberson’s Salmon Story (Holt, 1993) and Molly Cone’s Come Back, Salmon (Sierra Club, 1992) are for a slightly older reader and discuss the practices that have endangered the natural spawning of the salmon. But the artful presentation and the enjoyable day in the woods make this life cycle book easy for young listeners to enjoy. A recipe for teriyaki salmon is included as well as a short glossary, but leaves readers wondering, when father says that salmon at sea eat needlefish, herring, and something called oolichan, what that last one looks like. 2003, David Suzuki Foundation/Greystone Books, $18.95. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Susan Hepler, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
H. Werner Zimmerman
Snow days mean no school. For the two young boys in this book that means playing outside from morning until night with their only breaks being for hot chocolate and drier clothes. A snow day is definitely a treat, and the brothers in this book anticipate it, enjoy it, and hope for another! Falling snow keeps the children from going to school, but not from going outside. Upon hearing it’s a snow day, the school age brother leaves his lunchbox and schoolbag inside the house and immediately bursts out the door to start enjoying the day. At first it only his dog Mupps and his cat Mouse that follow him outside, but soon he’s joined by his younger brother as well. In their yard, the brothers make snow angels and catch snowflakes. Venturing further into their neighborhood, they join up with a group of older children. These children have shoveling on their minds. While the adults are snow-blowing crosswalks, digging out cars, and plowing the streets, the children watch and wave. Despite soaked clothing and frozen fingers, the afternoon brings games of hockey and tag for the children. When the games end, the two brothers start to head home–but not empty handed. They see something that’s just too irresistible to leave behind. This new diversion extends their time outside and makes their faces a little redder. When the children do go inside for their hot chocolate and dry clothes, Mupps and Mouse follow too. But the break is short for everyone as there is more fun to be had outside! Sliding down a monster slide keeps the children busy until suppertime. That’s when the fun outside finally stops and everyone heads back inside for the night. But with more snow falling, these two brothers have hope for a repeat of their fun day. Falling snow is peaceful and quiet. Werner Zimmermann captures this feeling in his illustrations for Snow Day. The watercolours used in the illustrations are toned down into soft, muted hues, and the background colours in the sky and snow are shades of light blues and grays. The illustrations are realistic in style and this harmonizes with the quietness of the story. In addition, the composition of the illustrations brings a feeling of closeness and friendliness to the story – this being most apparent on the outdoor skating rink page. All the children are drawn in close proximity to each other, and they all appear to be taking a break from a game of hockey to admire Mupps the dog. Many children will be familiar with the snowy scenes and the winter games illustrated in this story. As the pace of the story slows down, the sun starts to set, and the routine of bedtime draws closer. Elements from the beginning illustrations are repeated in the concluding illustrations. As the darkness sets in, the windows start to glow with light again and the snow seems to be falling in a spotlight around the brothers’ house. Once again, the brothers are looking out the window wondering what the snow is going to bring. Werner Zimmermann was born in Austria and grew up in Ontario. After spending four years at the University of Guelph studying Fine Art, he became a printmaking advisor, a teacher in the Animation Department at Sheridan College , and a writer and illustrator of over sixteen books for children. His illustrations can be seen in Pippin the Christmas Pig,Whatever You Do, Don’t Go Near That Canoe!, and Each One Special. He is the author of Henny Penny, and theAlphonse Knows Series. Category: Picture Books. Thematic Links: Winter; Snow; Brothers; School Cancellation; Winter Activities. Resource Links Rating: E (Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!), Gr. Preschool–1. 2007 (orig. 1999), Scholastic Canada, 32p. Illus., Ages 2 to 7, Pbk. $7.99. Reviewer: Tanya Boudreau (Resource Links, October 2007 (Vol. 13, No. 1)).
Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe
Vera B. Williams
This Reading Rainbow Book documents an out-of-doors adventure that all types of family groups would be lucky to share. Mother, Aunt Rosie, and two children make a three-day camping trip by canoe. Illustrations and storyline combine perfectly to allow the reader(s) to “go with” the campers on their journey. Such free time in nature is a gift to relish. Chosen for this list by Sheilah Egan.
My Side of the Mountain
Jean Craighead George
Illustrated by Jean Craighead George
Young Sam Gribley lives a comfortable life in New York City. But tired of urban living, he, with his parents’ knowledge, runs away to the Catskills Mountains; determined to live on the site of his great-grandparents’ old homestead. Leaving the city with few possessions, he sets off on the adventure of a lifetime. His initial nights on the mountain prove difficult as he struggles to stay warm and find food. Eventually, Sam adjusts, learns much about himself and becomes a true backwoodsman, eating off the land, making deerskin clothes, hollowing out the base of a large tree to live in and becoming part of the wilderness environment. He steals a baby peregrine falcon from its nest and adopts the bird he names Frightful. They become inseparable as Frightful helps his new “parent” hunt for food. This is a richly detailed book, filled with tales about living off the land. Nonetheless, it requires much suspension of disbelief concerning Sam’s impressive, albeit somewhat implausible, ability to survive alone in the wilderness and his parents’ willingness to let him do so. Still, this award-winning book has much to appeal to young readers searching for literary adventures. 1991 (orig. 1959), Puffin Books/Penguin Books, Ages 10 to 14, $15.99 and $5.99. Reviewer: Bruce Adelson, J.D. (Children’s Literature).
One Lucky Summer
Laura McGee Kvasnosky
Ten-year-old Steven Bennett is miserable when he has to move from Santa Cruz to Sacramento, leaving behind all his baseball-playing buddies and thrown together now with his new next-door-neighbor, ballet-dancing Lucinda. All his friendly overtures to Lucinda–mock-chasing her with his pet lizard, Godzilla and showing off a mouthful of half-chewed hot dog–fail. But when Steven and his mother go away for a week to a mountain cabin with Lucinda and her mother, the two children discover an abandoned baby flying squirrel in need of their help, and a friendship slowly develops between them. This is a quiet, pleasantly old-fashioned novel that savors the small pleasures of summertime–playing board games, competing in a just-for-fun “Siamese twins” swimming race, singing “You Are My Sunshine,” climbing in trees, observing nature. There are no laugh-out-loud funny scenes or big dramatic moments here, but the friendship between Steven and Lucinda develops plausibly and appealingly. The motif of hearing constant snippets from the stories that Steven tells himself about ongoing events is overworked, though it turns out to play a role at the end of the book (Lucinda likes making up such stories about her life, too;) nor do the pages of Steven’s nature journals reproduced throughout the text add much overall. But the various details of exactly how Steven plays with his orthodontic retainer are real and amusing. 2002, Dutton, $15.99. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
PARENTS AND CARE GIVERS
Connecting With Nature: A Naturalist’s Perspective
Robert C. Stebbins
At first, this book may remind readers of Richard Luov’s Last Child in the Woods. The author begins by telling readers that today’s children are very far removed from natural history, and as a result they are missing a major component of a rewarding life. But Stebbins comes to that conclusion from a different place–a life of curiosity and investigation, rather than a critical examination of school curricula. The author’s personal narratives and stories of other researchers will evoke nostalgia and great memories in readers “of a certain age.” As a result, the book is at once more readable and less reliant on what’s wrong with today’s educational system to make its points. That makes it a comfortable and memorable experience and one bound to inspire more close encounters with nature in readers and their students. The author was a renowned herpetologist and professor; his love of reptiles pokes through in the varied examples he provides. The text contains biological background (at a comfort level that most adults will appreciate) on topics such as evolution and biodiversity; there are also many activities that might be replicated in classrooms. Some will be familiar to teachers (like observations using Berlese funnels), whereas others are both simple and elegant (like comparing the reproductive potential of dandelions over several generations through observation and simple math). Descriptions of students imitating the predatory behavior of owls or listening for and imitating distress sounds will capture teachers’ imaginations. The activities aren’t “copier ready,” and probably shouldn’t be, since there’s always room for creativity. But there are ample details, so teachers at almost any level will feel comfortable adapting them. There are also many parallel activities (in Project Wild and other projects) that might be referenced once a teacher begins to look. Stebbins’ suggested activities with lizards probably merit an official caution, however. For today’s students, they may not be as safe or humane as they would seem to an expert like the author, and any teacher should exercise extreme caution when encouraging students to capture wild animals, even for very short periods of time. There are a few toxic reptiles in some states, some that can produce pretty uncomfortable bites, and there’s always the possibility that truly nature-deprived children might consider the capture of animals an excuse to abuse them. The need for that warning in itself is probably evidence that we have separated our younger generation so far from nature that the activities we did as children are no longer considered commonplace. This unpretentious book will motivate even the most standards-driven teachers to interweave true lessons in natural history into their curricula. To the author’s credit, he does so without relying on predictions of doom or guilt. That makes this book a most comfortable companion for a trip or those odd quiet moments when there’s time for reflection. Grades K-College. 2009, Llumina Press, 255p, $16.95. Ages 5 to adult. Reviewer: Juliana Texley (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)).
Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood
Created by Project Learning Tree
This environmental education curriculum guide, for educators of children ages three to six, has the potential to engage students in outdoor exploration and play. Over the past few years, more attention has been focused on the benefits of connecting children with the natural world starting at a young age, so this guide is very timely. Divided into three sections (Exploring Nature with Five Senses, Experiencing Trees through the Seasons, and Meeting Neighborhood Trees), the guide stands out among others because of its integrative nature. The hands-on activities integrate nature exploration with music, art, literature, mathematics, and physical education. A CD of nature-inspired music that is aligned with the eleven activities in the guide is included. Educators and children alike will have fun learning and doing the activities. Reading the guide made me anxious to find a group of young children with whom I could try the activities! Ideal users of the curriculum would be formal classroom teachers, preschool teachers, daycare providers, Head Start agencies, and non-formal educators. Everything an educator would need to conduct the activities is included. Each activity contains background information for the educator, an activity overview, objectives, assessments, and step-by-step instructions for completing the activity with a group of children. This book would be valuable to anyone working with young children or who is involved in their professional development. Grades K-1. 2010, Project Learning Tree, 112p. Ages 5 to 7. Reviewer: Sarah Haines (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)).
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Do you have a special childhood place where you escaped into a naturally peaceful retreat? Was it climbing a tall tree? Walking in an open field or in the woods? Perhaps it was beside a running stream or at a shell-strewn beach? When things get hectic today, can you still go there mentally for solace and reflection? Author Richard Louv writes about nature, family, and communities in this 310-page book, which draws you in as the author explores current research and shares personal observations about the alarming gap between children and nature. Is technology currently creating unintended consequences by providing a “de-natured” childhood? By delving into history and psychology as well as current trends in community planning and land development, Louv searches for answers as to why many of today’s children prefer to be indoors with electronic gadgets that seductively entertain. Those children and their families lack experiences like hiking, camping, and exploring the out-of-doors. Louv writes, “Our children are the first generation to be raised without meaningful contact with the natural world.” Ecopsychology includes nature therapy that links what we do to the Earth and what the Earth can do for us. Louv points out the link between outdoor activity and health. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show an obesity epidemic among children who spend thirty hours or more a week in front of electronics. A nature-child reunion can be a powerful part of the therapy for attention-deficit children and those with mental health problems. Direct exposure to nature can reduce stress and depression while improving cognitive abilities. It also nurtures what Howard Gardner has called the “naturalistic intelligence.” Recognizing that many of today’s youngsters merely read about nature or see it on television, we must provide them with more direct experiences in their local communities. Educators, scientists, community planners, and parents need to join together to help children get unplugged from media and reconnect with nature in a safe and welcoming environment. Helping them use their senses, to become leaders, and to develop stewardship of Planet Earth is deserving of our attention. Last Child in the Woods is a “must read” for every teacher. Grades K-8. 2005, Workman Publishing, 334p Ages 5 to 14, $13.95. Reviewer: Suzanne Flynn (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)).
The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder
Annotation: In this book the author argues that a strong connection to nature is essential for human health. Supported by research, anecdotal evidence, and personal stories, the author shows how tapping into the restorative powers of the natural world can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds. He outlines seven precepts he calls the “Nature Principle”, which include balancing technology excess with time in nature; a mind/body/nature connection, which he calls “vitamin N,” that enhances physical and mental health; expanding our sense of community to include all living things; and purposefully developing a spiritual, psychological, physical attachment to a region and its natural history. The book presents examples of these precepts, from studies of how exposure to common soil bacteria increases production of serotonin in the brain to designing shopping malls inspired by termite mounds. 2011, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Ages Adult.
To stay up to date on new books by this author, consider subscribing to The Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. For your free trial, click here.
If you’re interested in reviewing children’s and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to email@example.com.
Back to Top