Books That Celebrate Getting Outside
There are so many benefits for children to being in nature, yet these days our lives are increasingly oriented towards indoor spaces. Sometimes kids need encouragement to leave their screens behind and explore IRL. Organizations like 1000 Hours Outside help families meet this challenge, and fun activities like this printable outdoor scavenger hunt or this find the tree game are great resources. The books below help remind us why being in nature is so wonderful. Below are books that celebrate getting outside, including picture books and books for grownups.
Books That Celebrate Getting Outside
Get your family excited about exploring nature with these fabulous books that celebrate getting outside!
Rainy Days is a unique padded hardcover book for young readers. Geared towards preschoolers, this sensory book helps children discover all the fun activities that can be done on rainy days, from splashing in puddles to searching for worms. It also introduces beginning STEM concepts, like how the rain helps the plants to grow. Includes a list of preschooler experiments that can be done in the rain.
How Many Squirrels Are In the World? is a fun new counting book from bilingual musician and writer Ben Fundersheimer, better known as Mister G. It is illustrated by Marcos Almada Rivero, who also illustrated Mister G’s Señorita Mariposa. (Read my review of his earlier book and album). A young girl notices a lot of squirrels around her one day and decides she’ll see how many squirrels are out there. She searches all over town, diligently counting, yet those frisky squirrels don’t make it easy, as they scurry from one place to another. Will she ever complete her quest? Based on the song of the same name, this is a great book to encourage kids to get out and see how many squirrels they can count! Includes lots of fun facts about this underappreciated animal that most of us take for granted.
Berry Song is a Caldecott Honor Book from Michaela Goade, who also won a Caldecott Medal for ///We Are Water Protectors///. This gorgeous book echoes Goade’s own childhood in Alaska, learning about the land from her Tlingot elders. As they harvest berries, their joyous songs connect them to the land and its creatures and also to their ancestors, whose wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. The book skillfully conveys this sense of interconnectedness and how this sense of rootedness shapes how we treat the land. Includes a note from the author about Tlingot values and how young people can work towards preserving wild lands and lifting up indigenous voices.
We Walk Through the Forest is a sing-along book that celebrates the magic of being out in the forest! My daughter loves looking at all the animals, like a rabbit, a lizard, and even a moose! And don’t forget the adorable puppy who is off on the adventure as well. Like all of Ferland’s books, she weaves learning into the story, in this case with lots of action words to get kids moving. Download the song, so your child can sing and dance along! Perfect for preschool and kindergarten.
Encourage your little gardeners with the wonderful book of poetry Behold Our Magical Garden. Beautifully illustrated, the volume contains original poetry reveling in the wonders and lessons of a school garden. These playful poems are sure to spark the reader’s imagination as well as curiosity about gardening. I also love that it celebrates working together as a school community.
Sometimes nature can flourish in unexpected places, if only given the opportunity and care needed to grow. Uncle John’s City Garden demonstrates the power of belief and hard work to make magic happen. Inspired by the authors own visits to her uncle’s garden in the projects of Brooklyn, NY, Uncle John’s City Garden chronicles a young girl’s efforts to help her older siblings as they work in their uncle’s garden one summer. They plant and weed and water and worry, but in the end all of their hard work pays off, as they eat succotash made from their own fresh vegetables – the best succotash they’ve ever tasted! A joyous celebration of gardening and a tribute to those wonderful adults who encourage children to see the possibilities in a patch of dirt and their own two hands.
Every Little Seed is a gorgeous picture book about the yearly rhythms of gardening and all the work that goes into tending them. But above all it is an ode to the tiniest little heroes of the garden – seeds, which carry the secrets of the plants within them. It is also a tribute to the way knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, as a young girl learns about gardening from her mother, who in turn learned from her father. Includes detailed information about seeds at the back of the book.
City Beet reminds me of the folktale of the gigantic turnip that required an entire village to harvest. A young girl and her elderly neighbor patiently plant and grow a beet, but soon they find it has grown too enormous to pull out of the ground! Though the girl offers to help, she is dismissed because of her small size. One by one, members of the community come to help pull the beet, but it doesn’t budge until the girl finally joins in. A beautiful lesson in community and learning to value everyone’s contribution.
Outside, You Notice captures the wonder of a child’s perspective on nature. It is filled with insightful observations, like how digging in the mud makes you feel more proud than dirty (though you still need a bath). It also contains notes throughout the book that go into the science related these observations, such as why flowers look and smell so wonderful. I also love that it showcases many different ways of being outdoors, helping children understand that there is no one correct way to enjoy nature!
What happens if you disturb a skunk? Two young friends are about to find out, when one of them sneezes near the sleeping creature! The rhyming text help children understand the warning signs that a skunk is about to spray, so they can get out of there quickly. But wait, there is a twist ending – the skunk used up his spray in an earlier attack, so it was all just for show! Includes a closer look at skunk and their stinky defense at the back.
Are your kids bored? Try the name game! This simple game encourages imagination and helps children engage with nature, as they invent creative monikers for the creatures they encounter, following the example of the young girl in the book. The name game is a perfect activity for a nature walk!
“Nature is full of wonder.” Thus begins My First Nature Book, which introduces kids ages 3 to 5 to the natural world. In simple language, it gives an overview of all the important topics, from the sky to the ground and everything in between. In addition to all the fun facts about the weather, seasons, plants, and animals, the book includes full page color photos. I love that the book doesn’t talk down to kids but treats them as budding scientists just beginning their journey of discovery.
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Emile and the Field is the first children’s book from award-winning poet and essayist Kevin Young, who is the poetry editor of The New Yorker and Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Emile loves the field near his home and how it transforms with each new season. Yet he doesn’t love how other children invade his field in the winter to go sledding. A loving tribute to nature and how its expansiveness opens our imaginations to the world and opens our hearts to include others.
A young girl and her familia mark the passing of the seasons through observing their beloved apple tree. They watch as the tree in their yard blossoms then gives delicious fruit for them to enjoy. And what better way to celebrate than with a picnic, featuring pie made from their very own apples! A delicious way to teach children about the life cycle of an apple and the sweetness of working together as a family. Sprinkled with Spanish throughout (easily understood from context but also explained in a glossary), the book is a celebration of family as well as nature. Includes a recipe for applesauce.
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is one of my favorite parenting books and one of the best books that celebrate getting outside. I have found myself sharing stories from the book with friends and even my children. It has pushed my thinking about what getting out in nature can mean in practical terms. The author is originally from Sweden but lived for many years in the US, so she has an intimate knowledge of each as well as experience raising children in both countries. I was fascinated by how much more oriented towards the outdoors Swedish culture is. But it goes deeper: the author also explores other attitudes that affect how little outdoor time American children get, such as the modern American fear of children being left to their own devices. Whereas in Sweden it is common for children to play outdoors and explore without adult supervision, in the US this is often criminalized. An insightful look at parenting differences, based on research and lived experience. Highly recommended.
Forest Bathing is not a book specifically for children, nor is it related to parenting, but I include it on this list of books that celebrate getting outside because it is a tribute to the restorative benefits of spending time in outdoors. Forest bathing is a modern Japanese practice, yet it taps into age old wisdom understood by cultures around the globe but mostly lost in today’s busy world. This lovely volume teaches us the science behind why humans need to be connected to the natural world. It is also a gentle guide to forest bathing, including how to let nature teach us life lessons, such as being less critical of ourselves. Importantly, it also includes tips for maintaining this mindfulness once we return to our busy lives.
What are your favorite books that celebrate getting outside?