You might expect me to be sitting by the fireside during these recent Kansas snowstorms, but I’m using the time more productively to prepare for one of my favorite volunteer efforts – creating a love of nature in three to five year old children.
As a Kansas master naturalist, I enjoy working in the local gardens and nature centers and as a lifelong educator, I am dedicated to the idea of kids loving nature too. At Great Plains Nature Center, one of my favorite activities is a weekly group for preschoolers called “Little Nature Lovers.”
As you might expect, the attention span for this age group is short, so we have found a switch of activity about every 12 minutes works fairly well with parent help. My group does one fiction and one non-fiction book on a nature topic followed by a simple craft for them to take home.
The selection of the literature is extremely important. If your public library is like mine, it has thousands of books for children, but I look for books with particular qualities.
First, for both fiction and nonfiction, I look for books that reflect animals and life forms that are “real” and not personified. Sometimes I find a quality story that might have an animal talking, but I always point out to the children that “we” know that animals can’t really talk and that it is just a story. An example of this might be Owl Babies by Martin Waddel, wherein the baby owls do speak, but say what we might imagine any baby saying that was left alone. The book’s redeeming value is in introducing what owls eat and the hunting practices of owls. Still another example might be some of the books by Eric Carle, such as The Very Quiet Cricket, where speech is used, but characteristics of crickets can be found in the illustrations.
Second, I look for books that either have excellent and realistic illustrations, or photos. These are becoming much more available with the new national standards emphasizing nonfiction comprehension. I particularly like the books written by Jim Arnosky because the illustrations are full and beautiful and worthy of discussion as a picture book. I also like the Lerner “Pull Ahead” books that have photographs and excellent text. I am developing this week’s lesson on the eastern cottontail rabbit and chose Rabbits & Raindrops by Jim Arnosky and Cottontail Rabbits by Kristi Gallagher. The latter is a Lerner publication.
Finally, I look for good content that is accurate and appropriate for the preschool age. I like the Lerner publications for this reason as well. The pictures and text go well together and allow children to respond with their own prior knowledge. Sometimes I select books with great pictures and select the best of the information to avoid overload.
Many families are joining the effort to introduce their children to nature as well. If you are interested in pursuing the effort, I would recommend the “Children and Nature Network” for ideas and links. The website is at www.childrenandnature.org.