The Wonder of Nature by Moderator Jennifer Emmett

I am delighted to be a guest moderator for Connecting Children to Nature Through American Literature for the dates of June 26th - July 16th. I am the editorial director for children’s books at National Geographic, where we work hard to inspire kids to care about the planet. I'm also a mother of three nature lovers, ages 8, 5, and 4, and I love seeing my kids make their own nature connections, often with the help of books.

Over the next three weeks I’d like to discuss how books can help kids connect with nature in three ways: by inspiring wonder, by sharing information and modeling expertise, and by promoting stewardship.

This week's topic: The Wonder of Nature.

Crawdad Creek, by Scott Russell Sanders, illustrated by Robert Hynes (NGS 1999 & 2002), is a wonderful example of kids connecting with nature. Lizzie and Mike enjoy exploring the creek behind their house where they see animals of many kinds, find fossils and arrowheads, and hear the beautiful music of the wind and the creek. They try panning for gold. Lizzie says, “We never found any gold, at least not the kind you wear on a ring around your finger. But I felt rich all the same.”

Lizzie sees it clearly. Nature enrichens kids’ lives. Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder (Algonquin 2005 & 2008), has comprehensively demonstrated how much poorer a childhood can be if it is deprived of contact with nature. At National Geographic, we think books can be tools to inspire kids to get outside, by engaging their sense of wonder.

Two examples from our list. In One White Wishing Stone, by Doris K. Gayzagian, illustrated by Kristina Swaner (NGS, 2006), a mother and child share a day at the beach. With poetic language and magical illustration, the child is shown observing or collecting natural treasures, starting with one white wishing stone and counting up to ten tiny sandpipers. I like how this book models one lovely way in which a parent and child can discover nature together.

Another book that promotes family nature experiences is The Classic Treasury of Childhood Wonders, by Susan Magsamen (NGS, 2010), an absolute gem of a book. A collection of poems, stories, nursery rhymes, photographs, and art that embody childhood wonder, it also includes hands-on, practical activities that show kids how they can connect with nature in simple but powerful ways—building a snow family, or a sand castle, for example. One of my favorites is “Ideas for the Nature Wanderer,” where the child is encouraged to use his or her senses to listen, look, smell, touch—and think about nature.

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv quotes Rachel Carson who rather concisely explains why we need the wonder that nature brings us (at any age, but especially in childhood): “From wonder into wonder existence opens.”

So let’s all read up. And then go outside.

What stories can you share of how you or your kids have found wonder in nature? Did a book help capture that sense of wonder, or prompt the seeking of it? Have you read any of the books mentioned above? What do you think of them? What’s your take on nature deficit disorder, as identified in Last Child in the Woods?

Please share your stories and thoughts!


Cynthia said...

I have a goal to spend more time outside with my kids this summer! I look forward to reading some of these books as inspiration. Thanks!

Kate said...

When I was a kid I loved to explore streams, creeks, and rivers. No matter how many times I fell in! It felt like a totally different world outside in the woods where I could pretend to be a fairy, an explorer, or whatever I wanted.

I also have a friend who says her 5-year-old has and receives many many toys, but in the end rocks, ants, and sand are more interesting to her.

Thanks for moderating Jennifer! Looking forward to passing on to my friends who are mothers. And reading your nostalgic articles.

MJ said...

Great post, Jennifer. I'll have to share with friends!

As a child, I was lucky enough to grow up with 2 waterfalls and a creek literally in my backyard. My days were spent watching how things changed in and around the creek throughout the seasons, splashing in the waters to chase tadpoles, testing the ice forming with a well-pitched rock, and falling asleep at night to the lullaby of the falls. I miss that now, but enjoy my visits home to explore with my family.

I must admit that One White Wishing Stone is one of my favorite books on our list, and would add a title I grew up with: "Raggedy Ann Stories," wherein Raggedy has all sorts of adventures outside: watching ants pick up crumbs from a picnic, sailing high above children while tied to the tail of a kite, etc. Although she's a fictional character, she made me want to get out and see just what those ants were doing with those crumbs!

Jennifer Emmett said...

Thanks for the comments, Cynthia, Kate, and MJ. I agree that one of the things that really inspires wonder, especially in very young kids, is for them to see how a familiar bit of nature changes with the weather and the seasons. Going on a hunt for "signs of spring" has always been a magical family activity for us.

Hillary said...

I couldn't feel luckier to have grown up in New England and having been able to enjoy four distinct seasons. Having the warm summers on Cape Cod kept me curious about the wonders of the ocean. Winter ski weekends in New Hampshire and Vermont helped me to learn about the mountain terrain and how animals survive in the cold climate. Living in Boston afforded me the opportunity to see the leaves changing color in the fall and coming back green and lush in the spring. It really helped me to develop a love for the outdoors.

I hope that when I have kids one day they'll have the same opportunity to grow up in such a wonderful place. I'm sure these books will be great sparks to get them even more excited about nature!

Katie said...

Salamanders, dragonflies, frogs, deer tracks, and other magical wonders are some of the things we find at our West Virginia home. Crawdad Creek was one of the first books I read to my daughter after the discovery of a "slimy thing" in the water behind our gardens. She was fascinated by the "slimy things" which were salamanders and looks for them every afternoon since June.

Lori said...

Like many of the other folks who posted comments here, I also grew up exploring the woods, ponds and rock cliffs that surrounded my home. And I was (and continue to be) an avid reader. Every year for Father's Day, my family would go berry picking and we'd read "Blueberries for Sal" before we this day, berry picking reminds of that book!

Priyanka said...

As a kid my sister an I spent hours with our parents exploring the beaches near our home in Australia. We'd find sea shells, crabs, and even eels on the beach. We were always so excited to discover little creatures, and it was such a special way to learn about the natural world. We also loved to look through books about animals. And books are such a great way to get kids excited about the outdoors.

Spending time outdoors as a child allowed me to appreciate nature so very much. Now there is nothing I love more than kayaking on the lake or walking through the woods at one of my favorite places in the world: Seneca Creek Park in Maryland. It's where I get away and feel warm breezes in the summertime and just listen to the sweet sounds of nature all around me.

The books mentioned here all sound wonderful, and I especially love One White Wishing stone. It's just the type of book that will awe and inspire young children!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I am so happy for your insight. As always, it is clear, concise, and yet poignantly simple. Thanks for reminding us of the magic of One White Wishing Stone.