Bright Ideas

Resource Review: Taking Learning Outdoors

Natural Start

The latest issue of the International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education includes a new section of resource reviews, each to be organized around a theme. The theme for this issue is Taking Learning Outdoors, focusing on children’s books, activity guides, and resources that can help educators and parents make the most of the outdoors, particularly in summer time. Future themes will include explorations of fall and winter, with a spring focus on gardening.
The following are excerpts from the reviews included in the journal. To view the entire journal article, click here. And all the journal articles in the latest issue are listed here.

Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood 

American Forest Foundation, Project Learning Tree

This activity guide is organized in three sections, each focusing on a specific theme: the five senses, the four seasons, and the importance of trees. Each activity includes background for educators, how to introduce the theme, the featured experience, group experiences, and ideas for learning centers (art, outdoor play, discovery table, math and manipulatives, woodworking, and dramatic play). In addition, each activity includes reading and writing connections. Music is an integral part of the activities and an optional CD is available with songs by Billy B. The introduction provides tips on facilitating experiences for early childhood learners, teaching about nature, and learning about forests and trees. Safety in the outdoors, setting up an outdoor classroom, and taking neighborhood walks are a few of the topics found in the appendices.
Educators or parents must attend a workshop offered to obtain a copy of this guide. Contact your state Project Learning Tree coordinator for more information regarding attending or setting up a workshop. The National Project Learning Tree website lists state contacts.

Nature and Young Children, 2nd Edition 

By Ruth Wilson 
Ruth Wilson has been an educator for over 30 years and writing about nature and children for the past 20 years. She brings both her experience as a teacher and her love for teaching children about nature together in her latest edition of Nature and Young Children. The book addresses diverse topics related to early childhood and the environment, including themes such as gardening with children, how to include nature programs and playspaces for children with special needs, and how creative play in natural areas can foster the holistic development of a child. Each concept is presented with both the early childhood educator and environmental educator in mind.
One particularly valuable tool in the book (especially for those just venturing into the world of early childhood and environmental education) is an activity/learning grid, which correlates outdoor play activities to different subjects (language and literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies). This grid also includes the supporting materials needed to conduct the outdoor play activity. Activities included are dramatic play/cooking, construction, gardening, and field studies. 


by Julie Brinckloe
This is the tender story of a young boy whose attention is drawn to the soft glow of fireflies as he gazes longingly out the window on a warm summer evening. Though the evening sky is growing dim, the delight of catching the fireflies is overwhelming. He scurries with anticipation to the cellar to fetch a jar in which to capture the tiny, glowing creatures. Eagerly, he joins his friends, leaping with joy as they gather the precious fireflies into their jars. As the young boy retreats to his bedroom, admiring his cherished possessions, he realizes that their light is gradually growing dim. A wave of compassion sweeps over the boy as he realizes that he must release his captives, if they are to live. With bittersweet resolve, he opens the jar and releases his treasures back to the freedom of the night sky. Through this delightful story, Brinckloe reminds us all of our responsibilities: to lovingly care for even the smallest of earth’s creatures. 

Are you a Ladybug?

by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries
A simple, yet delightful little book tells the story of the life-cycle of a ladybug. Allen and Humphries tell the story through the perspective of the ladybug, explaining how it changes from an egg to an adult ladybug. With clear and simple text, the authors explain important facts about the ladybug. The engaging, close-up water color illustrations offer depth and precise detail to the narrative, which captivates the reader while they learn about the physical characteristics, diet, habitat, and natural enemies of the ladybug. The authors’ refreshingly simplistic style invites children to enter the world of a ladybug in an entertaining, yet scientifically valuable manner. 

The Caterpillar and the Polliwog

by Jack Kent
Jack Kent takes the reader on a journey with a sassy caterpillar, who befriends a simple polliwog and brags to all her friends that she will turn into something special someday. The polliwog is fascinated with this prospect and longingly wishes that he, too, could be like the caterpillar and turn into something special. He learns from the fish that he will also change into something special and assumes that he will also turn into a butterfly. As he faithfully observes the caterpillar’s metamorphosis, he is unaware that his body is also changing. Despite his dismay that he had not turned into a butterfly after all, he realizes that frogs are beautiful creatures, too. This whimsical story, showcasing cartoon-like characters, introduces young children to the basic facts of the life cycles and metamorphoses of the frog and the butterfly. The engaging illustrations and the believable personalities of the animal characters holds the attention of young children, while at the same time introducing them to important scientific concepts. The underlying message of this story relates the theme that all nature’s creatures are special and beautiful in their own way. 

Anna’s Garden Songs

Poems by Mary Q. Steele and illustrations by Lena Anderson
Mary Steele introduces 14 poems featuring fruits, vegetables, and plants grown in a garden. The poems, conveyed in a young girl’s voice, add to the distinctive qualities of this book. While the setting of the story, the young girl’s garden, adds charm and convenient credibility to the portrayal of each garden item, the real delight of the story are the illustrations. Using detailed watercolors the illustrator combines realistic features of gardens and their produce with whimsical and imaginative characteristics that appeal to young children. A mixture of authenticity, child-like wonder, and charming poetry, this book offers the perfect segue to introducing gardening to young children.

In the Small, Small Pond

by Denise Fleming
The brilliant colors and unique pulp-painting artistic qualities of this book won Fleming a Caldecott Honor in 1994. The setting of the story provides a backdrop to introduce the animals and plants found in a pond ecosystem. The frog guides the reader on a journey around the pond, showcasing one animal on each page, and recounting descriptive characteristics of the animals with the use of engaging and playful action verbs, alliteration, and rhyme. There is an undertone of growth and change as the story begins with the contrast of tadpole and frog, and concludes with the contrast of change in a pond ecosystem from summer to winter. The text is simple enough to engage a toddler, while the illustrations, rhyme, and rhythm of the story captivate older audiences. Fleming combines educational qualities, such as the appreciation of nature, together with the beauty of prose.