My very favorite book for exploring and sharing nature with kids is “This Book Was a Tree: Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natural World” by Marcie Chambers Cuff.
It’s both a hands-on book of crafts and activities, as well as a book of principles and ideas for reconnecting with the natural world. It’s a book for budding scientists, before they even know what science is.
“You don’t need expensive new equipment and supplies to get to know the world; you need only to have an open mind that asks good questions.” – Marcie Chambers Cuff in “This Book Was a Tree”
Through the lens of nature, “This Book Was a Tree” encourages kids to “touch, collect, document, sketch, decode, analyze, experiment, unravel, interpret, compare, and reflect.” Each project is designed to spark an insight, illuminate a scientific principal, or teach a positive behavior.
Sample activities include making a pinhole camera, sketching maps, creating different types of terrariums, inspirations for what to look for when wandering, creating sundials (and using them to schedule a day of exploration), tips for getting dirty, building card-based eco-calendars, measuring natural patterns like tree rings, making natural bug lotions, building nests, creating habitats, guerrilla gardening and so much more.
“All life is an experiment. The more you make the better.” – Emerson
While this book is about nature, it isn’t anti-technology:
A funny thing happened on the way to the twenty-first century. In between uploading , replying to texts, friending and unfriending, listening to podcasts, and Googling, we all drifted off the trail. It’s a complicated story, since, in many ways, our complex networked lives have mostly been improved with high-tech devices and gadgets. But, in the end , technology has displaced our exposure to the natural world.
I love how this book identifies kids as modern pioneers:
And now you— yes, you—are the modern pioneer. Not a leathery, backwoods deerskin-wearing salt pork and hominy sort of pioneer, or a lab-coat-wearing research type, but a strong-minded, clever, crafty, mudpie-making, fort-building pioneer.
“This Book Was a Tree” isn’t overtly a book about “saving” nature; rather, it’s about experiencing and learning about nature.
However, the truth is that we’ve never been more disconnected from nature, or more divorced from our surroundings. Around the earth, ecosystems are being converted into wastelands. Rather than preach or panic, “This Book Was a Tree” simplifies this reality into a practical coda:
“Just do the best you can with what you’ve been given and don’t try to do everything at once. Look around and identify a problem that needs solving, pick a few things to get done, and experiment with ecological alternatives. Every little bit helps.” – This Book Was A Tree
It’s more critical than ever that kids get outside, explore and learn about nature when they’re young. As “This Book Was a Tree” makes clear, authentic reconnection with the natural world comes via the most human pursuits of all: exploring, imagining, making and thinking.