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.
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!