In my post Barefoot Scientists: Why Nature Studies Matter I wrote about the plethora of learning opportunities outside our doors in springtime. As the season continues, I am reminded of the amazing resources that I rely on each year to enhance nature studies with my young sons. I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you. While each of these picks is guaranteed to knock your socks off, I encourage you to place them directly into your children’s hands as well. There are many excellent books published specifically for young readers, but kids will love getting their hands on “grown-up” nature guides as well.
For those living in rural areas, nature studies are all but an inevitable part of your children’s learning. For those residing in more developed suburbs and cities, it’s necessary to be mindful about seeking such opportunities with children; each of these books will assist you as you discover nature lurking in the most unlikely of spaces.
Really, if you use nothing but Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study, you’ll be ok. This amazing resource contains well over 800 pages of well researched information about the natural world. Although first published in 1939, Comstock, founder and first head of the Department of Nature Studies at Cornell, has written a comprehensive masterpiece that is as relevant today as it was on its first printing. Comstock explains nature studies as:
consisting of simple, truthful observations that may, like beads on a string, finally be threaded upon your understanding and thus held together as a logical, harmonious whole. Therefore the object of the nature-study teacher should be to cultivate in the children powers of accurate observation and to building within them understanding.
Comstock provides information to foster your child’s knowledge and love of the natural world. This gem of a book can be used year after year as the information it contains is appropriate for preschool on up through high school and beyond.
Although there are so many ways one might use a book such as this, I’ve found it best used in small bits. On our walks I will mostly encourage my sons to seek out their own discoveries and report original observations and hypothesis. However, I like to have one loose goal when we go walking together as this seems to have a unifying effect on our experience. With a shared goal in mind, the kids tend to become more collaborative and attuned to each other’s experience. The night before I might, for example, decide we’ll spend extra time observing our chickens the next day. From the comfort of my couch, I will spend the evening before curled up with Comstock’s chapter on poultry. Such preparation provides little known facts with which I can pepper our conversation as the need arises. Comstock’s book also includes questions one might use to get the ball rolling, poems, illustrations, photographs and experiment and craft suggestions. Really, if my homeschool shelves held just one book, for science loving kids, this is the one I’d choose.
My oldest son is a fan of the National Audubon Society’s Field Guides and he has collected them for years. This extensive series includes volumes on trees, birds, the night sky, insects and spiders and mushrooms to name just a few. He reads these for fun all year long and is empowered on the trail with the knowledge he’s gleaned from them. So often, Elias leads the talks we have outdoors, gleefully identifying native plants and colorful birds above.
Steven A. and Elizabeth May Griffin, authors of Bird Watching for Kids: A Family Bird Watching Guide, have put together a wonderful resource for kids and their families. This slim, easy-to-read volume is an enjoyable pick for any young aspiring birder. It covers all the basics one needs to know to have a successful time observing and appreciating birds and their habitats. The end of this book contains a bird watching log in which kids can record their ornithological adventures. Here lies great potential for penmanship and writing practice!
In writing Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children, Waldorf educator Carol Petrash has compiled a colorful collection of nature crafts and seasonal activities designed to connect young children with nature. Units on such fun as saucing apples, wheat weaving, pressed flower art and the ins and outs of making May baskets fill the pages. As an educator, I especially appreciate the first chapter in which she provides simple suggestions on setting up earth-friendly home and classroom activity spaces and also shares ideas on bringing nature indoors. This is the sort of book that just makes you feel good.
For guides to wild plants nothing I’ve found comes close to Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Each volume is loaded with colorful pictures and information to make plant identification easier–even for the novice. These books are small and easy to carry in a backpack along with your binoculars and bottle of water.
For games, books, tools and kits and equipment designed with teachers, outdoor educators, naturalists and parents in mind, Acorn Naturalist’s online shop will truly take your breath away!
Lastly, an essential must-read for parents and teachers alike is Richard Louv’s, Last Child In the Woods; Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. And maybe this is the book best to begin with. Well researched, Louv makes a sobering presentation of the impact of children’s disconnect with the natural world. Using compelling evidence he cites the multitude of benefits play in nature has on intelligence and creativity and likewise the dire consequences of a generation disconnected from nature. This book will motivate most folks to get outside, play in the dirt and have some fun.
Share with us your favorite nature study resources. How do you use them with your children?
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