Children are natural scientists and love to explore the world around them. But sometimes their enthusiasm for the natural world wanes as they grow up and become engaged in friendships, structured activities, and technology. Here are some gifts to encourage your child's sense of wonder about the natural world.
There is no shortage of fabulous non-fiction children's literature about the natural world. Just the other day I found a "Like New" used hardcover copy of an amazing encyclopedia of extinct animals. My kids and I have particularly enjoyed books for the backyard naturalist. Our favorite books about trees include:
- Tell Me, Tree
- The Tree Book For Kids and Their Grown Ups
- What Tree Is That? A Guide to the More Common Trees Found in North America (to identify trees)
For a long time my daughter's favorite book was Are You a Snail?, one of the books in the Backyard Books series, all about the little creatures you might encounter in your own yard.
We also have several books in the series of Take Along Guides for kids, including:
I also recommend investing in some guides for grown-ups about your own area's flora and fauna. My children have loved pouring over these, if only to look at the pictures, and they are great to take on hikes and outings (along with the Take Along Guides mentioned above) to help identify any wildlife or plants you might encounter.
Recently at the library I found the book Where Does My Shadow Sleep: A Parent's Guide to Exploring Science with Children's Books, which includes chapters on exploring the natural world. Find additional ideas for books about the natural world in Bugs, Bogs, Bats, and Books: Sharing nature with children through reading, published by the American Library Association (contains book descriptions, no activities).
My kids are obsessed with checking the mailbox each day, and they love receiving magazines in the mail. It all started when the in-laws bought my son a subscription to a car magazine. I thought his car obsession did not need further encouragement, but when I saw how much he loved getting the magazine I thought I could use that enthusiasm to spark another interest. And I was right! I bought him a subscription to Ranger Rick Jr. and now he is just as obsessed with the animal kingdom.
When my son is a bit older I plan to get him Ranger Rick and continue getting Ranger Rick Jr. for my younger two. I love all the magazines published by the National Wildlife Federation. I actually subscribed to National Wildlife when I was a tween/teen (and Ranger Rick before that). Their magazines are printed on FSC-certified paper and your subscription helps support the National Wildlife Federation. National Geographic also has several kids' magazines. I don't like their elementary-aged magazine (National Geographic Kids) because it contains ads at the very beginning and very end, but we do have a subscription to National Geographic's Little Kids magazine which is ad-free and very fun for preschool-aged kids. Another option is to check out these magazines from your local library. We like to have our own copies so we can read them in the backyard and the bathroom, take them on car rides or stash in our desk at school, and sometimes cut them up to make our own collages or books.
We also are big fans of nature documentaries at my house. In my opinion, the best of the best include:
Even my 2yo is mesmerized by the cinematography of these sweeping, epic portrayals of life on Earth. We've watched all of them together as a family multiple times. As a bonus, almost all nature documentaries and TV shows discuss environmental issues, such as endangered species, plastic pollution in the ocean, or the encroachment by man upon animal habitat. A great PBS show geared towards elementary-aged kids about the cool things animals can do is Wild Kratts.
Toys, Games, and Tools
Here are a few other fun gift ideas for your budding naturalist:
- Take your child outside at night and explore the stars using the Guide to the Stars constellation wheel (would make a great companion to the book Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations)
- Learn to identify birds of North America while playing this 100-card Memory Game featuring photos of 50 species of birds.
- Study the bones of animals with these animal x-rays.
- Catch some insects for closer observation in this pop-up cage and then release the bugs and fold up your port-a-bug when you're done.
- While in your backyard, on a hike, or camping, take a closer look at songbirds with these binoculars, or at bugs with this loupe magnifier, or at plants, insects, feathers, and other objects with a handy pocket microscope.
- Learn to recognize the calls of common birds with these Wild Republic plush birds that play authentic recorded bird calls produced in cooperation with the National Audubon Society (we have the chick and turkey and my kids love them).
Zoos, aquariums, and natural history museums also encourage children's appreciation for our amazing planet and its organisms. We love to support and visit our local zoo, which has a number of small animals, many rescued or endangered. A one-time pass or membership to a zoo, aquarium, or natural history museum has the double benefit of encouraging your child's sense of wonder about nature while supporting work to study and preserve the natural world.
For more ideas and resources on keeping kids connected to nature, check out my post Kids and Nature.
How do you encourage a sense of wonder about nature in your family?
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