“He doesn’t despise the real woods because he has read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”
///This blog post is best read after listening to with my interview about books and nature on one of my favorite podcasts, Read Aloud Revival.
You can listen to Sarah and I talk books in episode 62, available here.///
One of the most important parts of the education I am giving to my kids is nature study. Now I know you won’t find nature study in any of the SAT prep classes, and you can’t take nature study as a college prep class either. And I am certain most people would not consider it an academic pursuit. But there are so many reasons why I incorporate nature study into my children’s education, and academics are just one of them.
First of all, I use nature study to cultivate a love for the natural world in my kids. I firmly believe that a love for nature will have a positive influence on them for the rest of their lives. Loving nature will give them a place of peace and refreshment in a busy world. Rather than seeking out those things elsewhere, perhaps in ways that are not even healthy, they will already know the quiet joy and tranquility that comes from a walk in the forest, or by hearing the crash of waves. That is a lasting gift.
Spending time in nature also teaches my kids the habit of curiosity and observation. They notice new things and wonder about them every time we are out in nature. Those are precious qualities to grow in my kids that will spill over into every other part of their life.
A love for nature will also cause a respect for it. And raising kids who respect nature is a passion of mine. That respect will grow into a passion for caring for nature and for preserving it. We need kids who see themselves as stewards of this beautiful earth God created.
And that brings me to the most important reason I pursue nature with my kids; cultivating a love for nature will bring my children closer to the Creator of nature.
I’ve seen it in my own life.
I know God better by spending time in His creation. And I know Him further by studying His creation.
Through nature, God comforts me, and brings me immense joy.
He reminds me of His power, His majesty, His goodness, His care, and His creativity. Every time we are out in nature, we see God. It continually points us back to Him.
Of all the gifts nature has to offer my kids, I believe this one is the greatest.
And so I work hard to constantly and consistantly fill our lives with nature. From simply spending time in the back yard, to weekly hikes in places close to home, and bigger trips to the grandest, most beautiful nature spots we can get to. I try to seep their lives in nature.
It takes work.
It takes planning. It takes gas. Iit takes time. It takes us away from our school books. Iit takes getting dirty, getting tired, getting frazzled, and carrying a baby, and maybe a toddler, on my body. For years.
It takes sacrifice.
Now maybe you are reading this and you are nodding in your head in agreement, while at the same time your heart is sinking.
“I don’t have those things,” you think.
“I don’t have a back yard.”
“We can’t spare the gas money.”
“I have no one to go hiking with.”
“I hate getting dirty.”
“We don’t have grand, natural spaces at our fingertips.”
“I can’t do this.”
Oh but friends, yes you can!
Perhaps it will look different for you than it does for me, but that is OK!
You can offer nature to your kids in the way that works best for you.
You may see only the roadblocks, barring your way to experiencing nature with your kids.
But there is a way, if only you will look at it differently.
I love this quote by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.
He says, “If you can’t live in the land you love, love the land you’re in.”
That quote really resonates with me because I have had a love for and a longing for nature for as long as I can remember. Yet, I grew up going camping only a handful of times, and we never had anything remotely like a weekly, or even monthly hike.
My mom was not what you’d call “outdoorsy”.
She loved and appreciated nature, but in a comfortable, more controlled way.
Like bird watching from the living room, or working in the garden.
She did not enjoy outdoor adventures, unless my dad was along.
And even then, they often made her nervous and stressed her out.
And she didn’t like dirt–on her, on us, or in the house.
She also had extensive back injuries that often made physical activity very difficult for her.
So I can’t recall her ever taking us on a hike.
And even if all those things weren’t standing in her way, our family was often strapped for money. So the extra money needed for long drives to spots of natural wonders, often just wasn’t available.
Many times my dad took our only car to work, so then we couldn’t even drive to nearby nature spots.
When my dad did have time, he took us on bike rides on country roads, out hiking, and to the beach as often as he could.
But it was never as much as I longed for.
As a result, I spent countless hours in the empty field across the street from our house. In spring, I had picnics hidden in the tall grass, with only the sky for my ceiling. I loved to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my cheeks as I picked golden, California poppies to bring to my room. I filled it with the nature I so loved.
I spent hot, summer afternoons, reading or playing dolls in the cool shade of our avocado trees. Or up in the tree forts my brother, Dad, and I would build in its branches.
In fall, there were no trips to see the autumn color. But I’d gather leaves from the sweet gum trees in our neighborhood, and press them in my books.
I convinced my friends to join my sea shell club.
I collected rocks.
I interacted with nature in whatever ways I could.
And when I look back on those days of my unfulfilled longing for backpacking trips, and tide pool explorations, I see that some of my most significant interactions with the natural world, came not from time actually spent in nature, but from reading about it in books. The books I read were full of characters who loved nature as much as I did. And they were written by authors who knew about the natural world, and made it an important element in their books.
Those books filled a void in my nature hungry soul. They fanned the flame and fed it at the same time.
Books are an incredible way to bring nature into your child’s life. Especially if those road blocks are up, making your access to nature more difficult.
And if you are a family that already makes nature outings a regular part of your life, then reading books where nature plays an important role will only enhance your time outdoors.
“A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure. Books are experiences that make us grow, that add to our inner stature.” Gladys Hunt.
Reading these sorts of books introduced me to nature I might never have know otherwise. When I read The Yearling, I learned the names and characteristics of the flora and fauna of central Florida. Never in my life had I seen a swamp, or the dance of the whooping cranes, but after reading that beautiful book, I knew those places.
Nor had I been to the moors of England. But after reading The Secret Garden, I could feel their wild, cold, loneliness every winter, and their warmth and life in the spring.
Reading these books grew my love for nature in mighty ways. I began to look at plants, trees, and animals with new eyes. I wanted to know their names, just as they were named in the books I read. I can identify with the girl Richard Louv describes in his book: “One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it.” I wanted to know more about the world around me. In the end, my love for literature did more for me than encourage a love for nature. It taught me about nature, and incited a passion in me to learn more.
I suppose you could say I am now living out my childhood dreams with my own children as we adventure and learn together in nature. I am extremely grateful that I get to give this kind of life to them.
I could use our time spent outdoors as all I offer them in the way of nature study. We do a lot. And combined with nature journaling the discoveries we make while expiring, it could be enough. But given my childhood experience of reading literature that filled my head and heart with a different kind of natural experience, I am careful to offer that to my kids as well.
In fact, I’d be hard pressed to decide if I derive more joy from sharing these favorite books with them or actually exploring nature with them. So I make sure we do both!
One of the ways I enhance our learning experience while we read, is to nature journal through our books. As we read, I ask the kids to listen for the names of plants and animals. I’ll jot them down when we come across them. Later, we will look those things up in our field guides or on the internet. Once we have identified them, they will draw the in their nature journals. In this way, we interact with flowers, trees, bugs, birds, and animals that are not part of our everyday life. Nature journaling through books has been an incredible way to expand our nature experiences.
If you are anxious to introduce your family to the wonders of nature that can be found in literature, you’re in luck! Because I’ve created a booklist just for you!
I’m including poetry that inspires a love for nature, some favorite picture books, and a larger list for the growing readers.
I hope these books give you all the joy and passion for nature that they’ve given to my children and to me.
Learning to Love Nature Through Literature
A Booklist by Greta Eskridge
Mrs. Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
The Big Snow by Berta Hader
A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry
Good Night Owl by Pat Huchins
The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown
Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
The Burgess Bird Book and other books by Thorton Burgess
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston
One Small Square by Donald Silver
Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
The Golden Book of Birds
Books for Older Readers:
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Girl From the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Mandy by Julie Andrews
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis
Anne of Green Gables and many other books by Lucy Maud Motgomery
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
The Hobbit by J. R R Tolkien
Charlotte’s Web by EB White
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Little Britches by Ralph Moody
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O Dell
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan
Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling
Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling
John Muir’s Book of Animals by John Muir
Birds of the Air by Arabella Buckley
Cubby In Wonderland by Frances Joyce
“September” by Helen Hunt Jackson
“Robin Redbreast” by William Allingham
“The Eagle” by Alfred Lord Tennyson
“The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell
“The Rooks” by Jane Euphemia Browne
“May Day” by Sara Teasdale
“Maker of Heaven and Earth” by Cecil Frances Alexander
“A Thanksgiving” by John Kendrick Bangs
“The Use of Flowers” by Mary Howitt
“Over in the Meadow” by Olive A. Wadsworth
“Silver” by Walter de la Mare
“Fog” by Carl Sandburg
“The First Bluebird” by James Whitcomb Riley
“Bird Song” by Laura Richards
“Hurt No Living Thing” by Christina Rossetti
“Daffodowndilly” by Christina Rosesetti
“Autumn” by Emily Dickonson
“At the Zoo” by William Makepeace Thackeray
“October’s Party” by George CooperTrees by Sara Coleridge