Green Reading

Keep the Balance Between Academics and Free Play This Summer By Reading Nature Books

By Jeanne Brown

As parents, we know how important it is to find the proper balance in our children’s lives. We strive to keep them physically healthy, socially confident, spiritually nourished, and intellectually prepared for their adult lives. Typically, during the school year, our role is to complement their academics with sports, music, or other extracurricular activities. In the summer, however, we must find a different approach to strike the proper balance between keeping our kids academically fit and giving them the time to play outside and be active. One way that parents can help is to encourage their children to read books that help them re-connect with nature.

The “summer effect” on student achievement is well documented — the long vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction and causes children to suffer a backslide in reading skills. Teachers and educators urge parents to prevent kids from “getting dumber in the summer” by encouraging students to keep reading. However, we also face the problem that today’s kids are increasingly disconnected from the natural world. According to author Richard Louv, boys and girls now live a “denatured childhood.” In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv’s research and anecdotal evidence shows that children are spending less time in natural surroundings, making their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically; thus reducing the richness of the human experience. Not only can nature teach kids science and nurture their creativity, he says, but also nature needs its children: where else will its future stewards come from?

But how do we ensure that our kids don’t lose ground over the summer while still having fun in the sun? We can encourage them to read a book about hiking in the woods or going to the beach. Then, make a real life connection with the book by bringing them outdoors to explore the natural world.

Here are some popular books that offer ideas on how families can get outside. Read them with your children, pack a picnic and then head out to the great outdoors:

•    Take a Walk Books is a series of nature-adventure books that tune kids onto the natural treasures they can find in their own backyard.  

•    Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future, by Judy Molland, is filled with engaging outdoor activities, projects, games, and green living tips that help kids connect with nature.

•    Fodor’s Family Adventures, by Christine Loomis, focuses on longer vacations, not day trips, and includes names of books for kids who like archaeology, hiking, backpacking, and animals.

•    I Love Dirt!, by Jennifer Ward, presents open-ended outdoor activities to promote exploration, stimulate imagination, and heighten a child’s sense of wonder in our natural world.

Perhaps the most crucial part of reading with children over the summer is finding books that are appealing and motivate them to read. While this task may seem daunting, there are many resources and organizations that provide reading choices that can spark a child’s interest in nature.

•    Start with your public library. Head to the library with the kids and search through the plethora of both fiction and non-fiction selections.  

•    An Amazon.com kid’s library search under “science, nature, and how it works” revealed over 146,000 books on topics such as the environment, clouds, rocks, flowers, plants, and weather.

•    Search environmental organization websites for ideas. The

North American Association for Environmental Education (www.eelink.net) is my favorite source for books, book lists, and other environmental resources for children of all ages. The National Wildlife Federation publishes an e-newsletter (http://www.nwf.org/Kids.aspx) written to entice children. One article begins with “Hearing frogs is easy, but, if you want to see frogs, you have to be sly.”

•    Arm yourselves with a field guide, so you can identify birds, plants, rocks, or butterflies on your next hike.

•    Subscribe to nature magazines like National Geographic Kids, Your Big Backyard, and Ranger Rick. Older children can read articles about nature in local newspapers and current events magazines.  

Bring a shell field guide on your trip to the ocean to help identify the treasures you find on the beach. Look for a storybook on frogs to supplement your walk along your backyard stream. Or read a poem about birds the night before an early morning bird walk. It can be easy to help your children keep their interest in reading and learning during the summer break if you can translate the words on the pages into a nature adventure!

Jeanne Brown ([email protected]), a freelance writer and communications specialist, encourages all parents to teach their children how they can make a difference in protecting our planet.

Looking to experience Hands-On Science activities right here in our own area? Visit www.TheChildrensScienceCenter.org, where you and your children can “Explore, Create, Inspire.” The Children’s Science Center (CSC) is committed to building a place where children can grow in their love of learning.

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