Erica Wisner wrote:I second the recommendation for "Blueberries for Sal" - a classic book that doesn't preach nature connection, just lives it. A great kids' story with sound-effects, based on an ordinary day foraging berries.
(Although a somewhat terrifying one for both of the mothers involved.)
The illustrations are realistic line art, beautiful book.
I remember particularly enjoying it as a kid, which speaks well too.
I think the Lorax, Hungry Caterpillar, etc. use "nature" as a cartoon category of objects and symbols. One is preachy, the other is cute and funny but has no particular accuracy (except the numbers come in order). I think it's fine to enjoy both, but I don't thing either does much for a pre-schooler's sense of connection to nature.
At this pre-school age, you're learning really basic stuff about nature.
Like, that things are alive. That they can be hurt, or die. That some are good to eat, some are not, and some are very bad to eat or to touch.
You are learning your body, including how to pee and avoid peeing yourself, eating on command instead of on demand, getting your shoes on the right feet, walking, running, picking things up, discovering friends and feelings and words.
Or just lying in someone's arms, or in a stroller, staring up at the light through the leaves if you're lucky.
One of the big goals in introducing a love of nature at this point is to encourage opportunities to fall in love. Gaze. Taste. Develop secret friendships.
If you introduce difficult moral issues about nature preservation, and the Original Sin of human despoilation of nature, it's kinda like teaching a pre-schooler all about sexual abuse before they know anything of love.
Basic lessons are necessary (if anyone talks or touches you in a way that makes you feel bad, tell a grown-up). But outside of that, we work to build trust, intimacy, and a strong sense of identity, rather than live in terror of the worst possible outcome. To teach a toddler to fear hugs instead of pedophiles can create lifelong difficulties in not just affection, but basic bodily and mental functions.
The corollary for nature might be: This is not the right age to preach about extinction or industrial pollution, especially to a kid who doesn't even have an allowance to spend and is powerless to make its own choices about whether to drive or bike, whether to buy leather or plastic, etc.
It's a very reasonable age to begin learning that things can die; I sometimes point out that I don't like to kill things unless I'm going to eat them, or they are going to eat me. So we try not to step on or squoosh anything that's just minding its own business.
If you get too deep into difficult, complex problems without a good solution, you can create nature aversion, where kids just feel anxious and guilty about everything whenever they venture off the beaten path outside, and end up playing little nature-based video games (or just indulging in urban hobbies) because it's more comfortable. This is the opposite of solid nature connection.
So as an educator: I look for books that
- instill love and fascination, with emotional relatability, beauty, and a little humor or drama
- that kids love to read (funny sounds, good word choices, surprises),
- that encourage kids and their families to spend time together honing those habits of observation and open-mindedness.
You're also learning basic human symbols and language, including numbers and starting to read words, to prepare for deeper studies in school or home-schooling.
For counting and observation, I'd suggest "Anno's Counting Book" which has no words - you just look at each page and look for new things in the picture, which usually come in sets of the number you're learning on that page. Goes through all the seasons, in a northern/New England sort of climate.
One of the funniest and most realistic books about animals I encountered as a child was "Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm." It may be out of print, but worth grabbing if you can find it.
Instead of telling you what animals "say," it goes into real farm tips like "Cows LEAN. They lean down fences. They lean down trees...." There are goats and cats with distinct personalities, flocks of mean geese, etc.
It is a farmer's book about farm animals, while still being very animal-friendly and city-kid-friendly (they don't go into butchering or gore, but don't pretend animals live forever either).
I also loved the Laura Engalls Wilder books, including "Farmer Boy;" the stories are good enough to read chapter by chapter to younger kids, and the language is well designed for older kids to read for themselves. Lots of older farm technology is described, lots of tiny house styles, lots of North American climates and farming and pioneer work from New York to the Dakotas. The attitude toward animals (and Indians) is not always PC, but accurate and well-meaning for the era the books describe. (The main characters are generally not bigots, but they do encounter bigots among their neighbors, and they do have some scary encounters with a few strangers but things generally end well.)
There are some wonderfully illustrated folk tale and fairy tale books, with detailed observations of nature, and with regional native art styles that are equally interesting to me.
I think folk tales are a huge cultural resource, conveying allegorically and through their patterns a deep sense of how cultures work, values and humor, the wide range of human motivations and personalities. I like the older ones that don't shrink from bad things happening to good people, but that usually end with worse things happening to the bad ones. And while I'm sometimes puzzled by them, I love reading tales from other cultures where the moral lessons are not always the ones I'd expect.
I would suggest looking for two things in particular for suitable nature-connection stories for raising particular children:
1) Folk and historic adventure tales from your own ancestors, that fit with your family's culture and values, and
2) Folk tales from the ancestral peoples who lived in your region, neighboring regions, and in similar climates worldwide.
For my inland Northwest climate, for example, my attention would perk up to see the Okanogan-Colville tribes mentioned in any collection of folk tales, or more broadly the Northwest tribes both inland and coastal.
Comparing my climate to others worldwide, I would be delighted to find folk tales from inland climates like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Poland and Russia, where adventures might feel exotic yet teach lessons relevant to our long-term sustainability here. (Snow, cold, drought, navigating forests, shrub-steppe, and rocky terrain, issues between valley farmers and hill people).
And I will maintain ties with American pioneer stories, Canadian legends, English and Scottish and Irish and French and German and Dutch fairy tales, that speak to my family's path through the world and the lessons that have helped us survive and become who we are.
One of the most fun nature books for kids can be made by and with the kids.
Get some brown paper or whatever. (Ordinary white office paper is fine, but plain newsprint or brown paper works great and may be cheaper and more compostable in quantity. You can also use the recycled backs of paper or cardstock printed only on one side.)
Get something for a cover - I like felt with some fancy writing on it in puff-paint or stitching, but a couple layers of brown paper does just fine. Staple or stitch the pages together with the cover on. Write "My Nature Journal" or "Book of the Flower Hours" or "Clues from the Yard" or something like that. Each child's name can go on the cover too, if the covers are identical, or inside.
Get some shipping tape or clear Con-Tac paper if you can tolerate the plasticity, and want this to go quickly. If you have the patience, you can use very thin tissue paper, parchment, or wax paper, with wheat paste or white/bone glue, or fabric netting, but you will have to help more with the process. (Also, if you want to re-use the flowers for crafts, go with the tissue or wax-paper approach rather than tape, to better preserve the flowers; and target plentiful flowers where you can pick a lot extra, as they will become delicate and hard to handle.)
Go out and collect leaves, ferns, flowers. Press them onto the page and flatten them. Use the tape to completely cover them and hold them flat against the page.
Use just one side of each page, so the plant juices can dry out through the un-taped paper at the back.
On returning from the walk, press the whole book while the plan samples dry: put it on a flat shelf with a big dictionary on top, or slide it into a full bookshelf and then jam one more book in somewhere else.
Make a collection when you go to see new places, or in different seasons. Make spore prints from mushrooms, by letting the mushroom rest gills-down on the page overnight. (Color half the page black first for a better sense of what color the spores are; it's not just pretty, it helps with mushroom ID later on). Practice picking things carefully; removing the flower or leaf does little harm if carefully pinched or cut, but some plants are very sensitive to having their stems or roots pulled. A tiny leaf tip or tuft of moss can be more beautiful.
You can use these specimen journals to help find botanical ID's for plants, looking up their traits, or you can add little pictures of what you saw near them (bees, animals, waterfalls), or you can put in fairies and other fantasy elements and make it into a story book. You can also try making better and better-preserved beautiful examples, and turn them into nature-based gift cards for special occasions, or decorate cakes with the edible ones, etc. You can make leaf-rubbings on the underside (rib side) of any stout leaves in the book, or draw in other observations like landscapes, animal tracks, etc. and use them as a background for specimens collected nearby.
Mmmmm outdoor pre-school.
Another fun element that can be used in making nature-based books: Making paint by grinding things up and mixing them with glue or paste. The grinding-things-up process seems to be absolutely fascinating to many kids this age.
We used red bricks, charcoal, white clay, but you could also do turmeric, spinach leaves, beets, anything with strong color that stains badly. Plum-colored petunias and some other flowers and fruits (Burgundy Madness or similar shades for the petunias) make color-changing inks that will be bluish on alkaline-bleached paper, red on acid-process, and can change color if you paint them with lemon juice or squirt with clear ammonia (window cleaner).
I might suggest painting the cover, which could then be tape-laminated or shellacked with more glue, since these paints can be a little too coarse and messy for detailed drawing.
If you happen to have a Trackers, Montessori, or Waldorf preschool near you that does outdoor pre-school play, it's worth stopping by just to watch. A really good educator in this sphere can do amazing things with kids, including making games out of just about anything. I tended to be pretty high-energy when I did it, but I've also loved watching the calmer, soothing approach, particularly Waldorf with their songs and rituals that put the kids in a comfortable zone for relaxed, focused attention. The ritual of the bedtime story is a classic example of this kind of excellent patterning, the kids can pick the story but the pattern remains constant, and helps soothe busy bodies and minds into restful sleep.
Alicia Bayer wrote: Our oldest child is newly engaged, and she and her fiance have just moved into their first home that we were able to purchase debt-free for $4,000. I bought it with money from savings that I invested when my mother died, and they will pay me $200 a month for 20 months to pay it off. No mortgage. The house is very tiny and needs a TON of work but it's on two lots and all of us are already planning gardens and fruit trees. :)
Cris Fellows wrote:
Alicia, I was sure you must live in Youngstown Ohio! Since we bought my oldest son's house for $2500 and fixed it up from there. It is now beautiful and has a great garden. :). Also, I am so excited over your book!!!
Alicia Bayer wrote:
Cris Fellows wrote:
. It seems that this kind of deal is usually in the little towns. Is Youngstown small?
Youngstown is a dying steal town. Was on it's way to 200,000 in 70s/ 80s. Now it only has 60,000 ish. So the houses that are still viable in the city can often be gotten for very little. A lot have been torn down. We have lived in the city for 20 plus years. The three houses behind us have been torn down. We bought two of the lots for $900 and have a lovely urban permaculture thing going on. My son's house is a few blocks away.